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Budget; Climate Issues; Biofuels; Ag Economy; Food Safety; and Animal Agriculture

Budget

DTN Political Correspondent Jerry Hagstrom reported yesterday (link requires subscription) that, “Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Blanche Lincoln on Wednesday unveiled a bill to reauthorize the child nutrition programs that would increase funding for school lunch and other programs by $4.5 billion over 10 years, with some of the money coming from the budget for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program.

“The bill covers a five-year reauthorization of the National School Lunch Program; School Breakfast Program; Special Supplemental Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC); and the Child and Adult Care Food Program. Although USDA operates these programs, this bill is separate from the farm bill, which authorizes the food stamp program as well as farm and conservation programs.

Lincoln, D-Ark., said the bill would pay for the increased funding for the meals programs through a $2.2 billion shift in the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), which would slow immediate spending but index it to inflation in the future, a $1 billion reduction in USDA purchases of commodities for school meal programs, and a $1.2 billion reduction in the food stamp nutrition education program.”

The DTN article noted that, “Environmental groups expressed dissatisfaction with the use of the EQIP program to pay for child nutrition programs. ‘The farm bill should not be used for offsets,’ said Ferd Hoefner, the policy director of the Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. ‘But if it is going to be used, then the cuts should be distributed in a proportional manner to all titles: commodity, crop insurance, energy and conservation.’”

“Senate Agriculture ranking member Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., said in a news release that he supports the bill, but has ‘concerns with some of the offsets,’” the article noted.

Mr. Hagstrom indicated that, “The $4.5 billion increase in funding for nutrition programs is less than half of the $10 billion increase over 10 years that President Barack Obama proposed in his fiscal year 2011 budget, but Lincoln said it would provide ‘a path’ to achieve Obama’s goal of ending childhood hunger by 2015. The biggest increase in the past has been $500 million over 10 years, Lincoln said in a news release.”

A statement on this development released yesterday by Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack noted in part that, “Though we believe that additional access and nutrition goals can and should be accomplished by passing a more robust bill that supports the President’s request of $10 billion in additional funding, the bipartisan announcement today is a very positive step forward.”

Jane Black stated yesterday at the All We Can Eat Blog (The Washington Post) that, “The bill would allocate $1.2 billion to increase the number of children receiving food, an effort to meet President Obama’s pledge to end childhood hunger by 2015. The remaining $3.2 billion would be used to improve the quality of meals. This includes an extra 6 cents per meal per student for schools that meet new, stricter nutrition standards and funding for schools to establish school gardens and to source local foods.

“The bill also would mandate that the Department of Agriculture develop nutrition standards for all foods sold in schools, not just what is served in the lunch line. Standards for so-called ‘competitive foods’ have long been controversial in previous years. Some school districts argued that the money earned from vending machines and a la carte lines helped to support sports and arts programs. Food companies were concerned about losing access to millions of school children. But, Lincoln said in a conference call with reporters, this time, ‘there was a lot of common ground around that.’”

Philip Brasher reported yesterday at the Green Fields Blog (The Des Moines Register) that, “Legislation unveiled in the Senate would allow the government to start restricting what’s sold in school vending machines and increase subsidies to schools that offer more healthful meals.

“Much of the extra money for the schools would come from reducing the planned growth of a program that helps crop farms and livestock operations pay for measure that conserve water and soil and reduce runoff of manure and other pollutants.

The proposal spares subsidy programs for grain and cotton farmers from cuts.”

Mr. Brasher added that, “Conservation groups were not pleased, however, that Lincoln proposed rolling back the spending increases for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program that had been authorized in the 2008 farm bill. The Obama administration had already proposed some reductions in EQIP and other conservation programs in its proposed 2011 budget.”

An update posted yesterday at the Ag Mag Blog (The Environmental Working Group) stated that, “Senator Lincoln’s proposal is an impressive move toward breaking the cycle of obesity that plagues America’s children. Unfortunately, however, it wrongly pits kids against conservation. In a critical miscalculation, she would cap the amount of money spent on the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) to pay for the nutrition increase. EQIP, a program chronically underfunded and repeatedly targeted for cuts, helps ensure cleaner water, soil and air for the children in rural communities.

“The senator would be much smarter to look to the bloated farm subsidy program.

“According to the US Department of Agriculture, average farm income is well above US household income. Despite this, Lincoln declined to make even small cuts in the lavish commodity subsidy program that could have easily paid for her nutrition initiative.”

Sen. Lincoln was a guest on yesterday’s AgriTalk Radio Program with Mike Adams, and the budget was a topic of discussion. To listen to a portion of the conversation between Mike Adams and Sen. Lincoln on this issue yesterday, just click here (MP3-4:13).

House Ag Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) was also on yesterday’s AgriTalk Radio Program. To listen to a portion of his comments from yesterday regarding budgetary issues and the farm bill, just click here (MP3-3:12).

In more general news regarding the agricultural budget, an update posted on Tuesday at WALB News Online (Georgia) (video included) stated that, “South Georgia agriculture leaders are lobbying against proposed budget cuts to the 2008 Farm Bill.”

“The Obama Administration has proposed cutting more than one billion dollars from mandatory funding, especially in farm conservation programs. Peanut programs want to make sure the government pays peanut handling and storage payments for the farmer.

“Peanut Buying Points Association Executive Director Tyron Spearman said, ‘The contract that we had with the Congress for five years, if they will leave that alone and we can maintain that with no increase in costs, we will be lucky farmers and lucky people in agriculture.’”

Climate Issues

Darren Samuelsohn of Greenwire reported yesterday at The New York Times Online that, “Lawmakers at the heart of Senate energy and climate negotiations revealed key details today of their legislative proposal during a closed-door meeting with major industry groups they are courting in hopes of winning over Senate moderates and avoiding an expensive advertising war.

“Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) shared an eight-page outline of their draft legislation that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions over the next four decades, including provisions to limit business costs while ramping up domestic production of oil, gas and nuclear power.

“According to several sources in the meeting room, the bill calls for greenhouse gas curbs across multiple economic sectors, with a 2020 target of reducing emissions by 17 percent below 2005 levels and an 80 percent limit at midcentury. Power plant emissions would be regulated in 2012, with other major industrial sources being phased in starting in 2016.”

The article stated that, “In a bow to industry demands, the senators’ proposal would pre-empt U.S. EPA climate regulations under the Clean Air Act and halt dozens of state climate laws and regulations now on the books. Also, only facilities that release 25,000 tons per year of greenhouse gases must participate in the climate program.”

“Overall, the bill will include eight titles: Refining, America’s Farmers, Consumer Refunds, Clean Energy Innovation, Coal, Natural Gas, Nuclear and Energy Independence. And it will set up new nationwide standards for energy efficiency and renewable energy, as well as ideas on carbon market regulation crafted by Sens. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine).

The senators collected their eight-page document from the industry officials before the meeting ended, and they declined comment on those details as they left the session. Nonetheless, several sources at the meeting confirmed the specifics shared by the senators,” the article said.

Mr. Samuelsohn explained that, “Kerry said a full outline of the bill will be delivered Tuesday to a larger group of senators who have been working over the last year on the climate and energy issue. The senators also hope to send their proposal to EPA and the Congressional Budget Office by the end of next week for a five-to six-week interagency analysis, although the timing on that depends in part on two legislative counsel staffers who are out on maternity leave.

“‘It’s just the logistics of getting the language done,’ Kerry said. ‘So I’m not going to tell you exactly. But our target is somewhere toward that period of time or during the break.’”

Meanwhile, Ben Geman reported yesterday at The Hill’s Energy and Environment Blog that, “The top lobbyist for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said Wednesday that the broad climate change and energy bill under construction in the Senate is moving in a direction that’s ‘largely in sync’ with industry goals.

“Bruce Josten, the chamber’s top lobbyist, spoke to reporters Wednesday after a host of industry trade group officials met in the Capitol with Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) about the bill the senators are crafting.

“Josten’s comments were hedged and careful, but they were far removed from the Chamber’s strong criticism of the climate bill the House approved last year.”

Biofuels

Jim Snyder reported yesterday at The Hill’s Energy and Environment Blog that, “A number of groups are asking EPA for the chance to challenge any new information the agency weighs as it decides whether to raise ethanol blend limits to 15 percent.

“It’s a diverse bunch. Forty-one associations — from the American Petroleum Institute to the less well known Association for Dressings and Sauces — ‘respectfully but strongly’ urged EPA to give them additional time to comment any new ‘data, tests, or studies’ that EPA may consider in its rulemaking.

“In a separate letter, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers also asked for more time to comment. Alliance spokesman Charles Territo said the concern was that they public record would not include reaction to recent tests designed to measure the effect of higher ethanol blends on engines.”

The Hill update added that, “Ethanol groups like Growth Energy and the Renewable Fuels Association have lobbied the administration and Congress to allow higher levels of ethanol be blended with gasoline. The current threshold is 10 percent, which ethanol producers contend functions as a cap on their market.”

Ag Economy

Reuters news reported earlier this week that, “Fertilizer maker CF Industries expects U.S. corn prices to range from $3.50 to $4.00 a bushel for the long term, Chairman and Chief Executive Stephen Wilson said on Tuesday at the Reuters Food and Agriculture Summit in Chicago.

“‘We know it is a commodity,’ Wilson said. ‘We know it will be lower than that at times, and will be higher than that at times, but it seems like we have settled into a range where it is high enough to provide incentive to farmers to plant, and it is low enough to make ethanol producers at least cash-positive.’

Corn prices have fluctuated wildly during the past few years amid growth in the ethanol industry and concerns about crop size due to variable growing conditions around the United States.”

Recall that recent analysis by agricultural economists at the University of Illinois provides a closer look at potential corn production and price scenarios for 2010, “Alternative 2010 Corn Production Scenarios and Policy Implications.”

Food Safety

Reuters writers Christopher Doering and Roberta Rampton reported yesterday that, “Congress will pass a new law to overhaul the antiquated U.S. food safety system by the end of the year, U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, an influential House lawmaker, said on Wednesday.

“The first major reform of the system in 50 years could be followed by another close look at how meat and poultry are inspected, and the changes may create friction with trade partners, said the chairman of the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee.

“‘I have every confidence that we are going to pass food safety legislation and this legislation is going to get to the president for a signature and that that’s going to happen this year,’ said Connecticut Democrat DeLauro, who was speaking at the Reuters Food and Agriculture Summit.”

Animal Agriculture

The AP reported yesterday that, “Some Michigan agriculture organizations have a beef with Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm over her proclamation encouraging residents to not eat meat for a day.

“Granholm declared this coming Saturday ‘Meatout Day’ in Michigan earlier this month. Her proclamation encourages residents to choose not to eat meat in observance of the day and to try different recipes rich with vegetables, fruit and whole grains.”

The article added that, “The Michigan Farm Bureau blasted the proclamation as ‘unconscionable and an insensitive slap in the face’ to livestock farmers and meat-eating residents. The Republican-led Michigan Senate passed a resolution Wednesday urging the Democratic governor to rescind the proclamation.

“‘This is like telling people not to buy Fords or Chevys that are made here in Michigan,’ said Sen. Ron Jelinek, R-Three Oaks.”

Keith Good