FarmPolicy

August 1, 2014

2012 Farm Bill: House Ag Comm Hearings- PRE November 2010 Elections

JULY 2010

July 21- Subcommittee Reviews Farm Bill Specialty Crop and Organic Agriculture Programs, Audio replay available here. Official Transcript. FarmPolicy.com Summary:

A news release from the House Agriculture Committee yesterday stated that, “Today, Congressman Dennis Cardoza, D-Calif., Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee’s Subcommittee on Horticulture and Organic Agriculture, held a hearing to review specialty crop and organic agriculture programs in advance of the 2012 Farm Bill.

“The Subcommittee heard from producers from operations of various sizes that grow a diversity of products, and they provided insight on U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Farm Bill program implementation at the ground level.

“‘I am once again reminded of the extraordinary diversity of products and practices represented by the specialty and organic sectors of our nation’s agriculture industry,’ said Subcommittee Chairman Cardoza. ‘It is imperative we work together to address health and nutrition issues in this country by increasing accessibility to healthy fruits and vegetables. Based on what I have heard today, it is clear we have work to do but are on the right track.’”

In a news release from yesterday, Subcommittee Chairman Cardoza also indicated that, “Today’s hearing comes on the heels of the first round of field hearings conducted by the full House Agriculture Committee on the 2012 Farm Bill. The Committee convened a hearing on May 3, 2010 in Fresno, CA. To read more, please click here.”

In his opening statement from yesterday, Subcommittee Chairman Cardoza indicated that, “Specialty crop producers have never sought direct subsidies even though their sector represents over half, more than 50 percent, of the total crop farm gate value in the country.” (Related audio- MP3- 0:39).

Similarly, in his testimony at yesterday’s hearing, Ohio producer Robert Jones pointed out that, “Sixty percent of all the nation’s farmers do not raise Farm Bill program crops and therefore do not receive direct subsides. Please let me be very clear on this point, we do not want them. Ohio growers like myself are much more interested in becoming better growers, marketers and promoters.” (Related audio- MP3- 2:22).

Note that all of the opening statements from the witnesses at yesterday’s hearing, which included producers and no USDA officials, can be viewed at this House Ag Committee webpage.

Also at yesterday’s House hearing, Subcommittee Ranking Member Jean Schmidt (R-Ohio) highlighted the increasing federal regulatory burden that U.S. producers are facing. (Related audio- MP3- 1:55). “As we prepare for the next Farm Bill, it is critically important to consider the regulatory pressures are farmers are facing from this current administration,” she said.

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July 20- House Agriculture Subcommittee Reviews Livestock Programs in Advance of 2012 Farm Bill, Audio replay available here. Official Transcript. FarmPolicy.com Summary:

Chris Clayton indicated yesterday at the DTN Ag Policy Blog that, “USDA’s proposed rules on livestock competition [related USDA news release; related news article] are in jeopardy and will almost certainly have an extension to the public comment period following a hearing Tuesday by the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Livestock, Dairy and Poultry.”

Mr. Clayton indicated that, “Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., highlighted the complaints from packers and processors about the rules and demanded to know when USDA would make a decision on an extension of the comment period [related audio from the Q and A with Rep. Goodlatte available here (MP3- 7:27)].

“Undersecretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs Edward Avalos [opening statement] found himself trying to stick to the script by stressing, repeatedly, that the livestock rule ‘is a proposed rule’ and that USDA wants to hear from the industry. Avalos said USDA would make a decision on the extension soon. He also largely deferred to GIPSA Administrator Dudley Butler. Avalos indicated at one point that he personally has not met specifically with any packers or critics of the proposed rule.

“House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., said he had asked Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack last week to consider an extension of the comment period. Peterson said producers had expressed concern to him that some of their branded premium programs could be in jeopardy because of the impact of the rule.

The hearing was supposed to review livestock programs in advance of the 2012 farm bill, but the hearing became a searing bi-partisan criticism of the livestock rules proposed last month by the Grain Inspection Packers and Stockyards Administration.”

Philip Brasher reported yesterday at The Green Fields Blog (Des Moines Register) that, “Democrats joined Republicans on the House Agriculture Committee in slamming rules that the Obama administration proposed to restrict the market power of meatpackers.

“Rep. David Scott, the Georgia Democrat who chairs the subcommittee that oversees livestock issues, told Agriculture Department officials today that they went ‘well beyond’ what Congress intended and were trying to impose regulations that lawmakers had specifically rejected when they wrote the 2008 farm bill [related audio, MP3- 1:22]. Another Democrat on the panel, Walter Minnick of Iowa, called the regulations ‘silly.’ Rep. Jim Costa, D-Calif., said the rules would be a ‘lawyers’ field day’ [related audio, MP3- 6:49]. The chairman of the full committee, Minnesota Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., worried that the rules would make it harder to continue branded marketing arrangements between farmers and processors.

“One of the department’s few defenders, Rep. Leonard Boswell, D-Ia., said he believed the USDA had adequate legal authority for the regulations.”

(Note: To listen to a portion of Subcommittee Chairman Scott’s Q and A from yesterday, just click here (MP3- 4:01), while a complete audio replay of yesterday’s hearing can be downloaded here).

Mr. Brasher added that, “The proposed rules would among other things make it easier for producers to prove that the prices that packers were paying them were unfair and would bar packers from selling livestock to one another. The USDA’s undersecretary for marketing programs, Edward Avalos, insisted that the department had the legal authority for the regulations but he struggled to defend specific rules. He repeatedly responded to lawmakers by saying that thousands of farms had gone out of business under the status quo.”

Meanwhile, a release from yesterday by the House Committee on Agriculture Republicans indicated that a bipartisan group of lawmakers have written Sec. Vilsack asking for an extension on the comment period for the proposed rule.

However, a release yesterday from the National Farmers Union indicated that, “National Farmers Union (NFU) President Roger Johnson sent a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, urging the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) oppose any extension of time requested beyond the original 60-day public comment period established on the proposed rule, ‘Implementation of Regulations Required Under Title XI of the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008; Conduct in Violation of the Act.’”

A news release yesterday from the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) noted that, “NPPC, in a July 6 letter to GIPSA Administrator J. Dudley Butler, requested a 120-day extension of the comment period. It said the scope of the proposed rule and the lack of an adequate economic analysis of its impact on the livestock industry warrant an extension.”

Also at yesterday’s House Ag Subcommittee hearing, Rep. Steve King (D-Iowa) asked the panel for more perspective and overview on potential new regulations regarding the use of antibiotics in animal production- related audio- MP3- 4:01.

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July 20- Subcommittee Reviews Federal Rural Development Programs, Audio replay available here. Official Transcript. FarmPolicy.com Summary:

A news release from the Ag Committee yesterday stated that, “Today, Congressman Mike McIntyre, D-N.C., Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee’s Subcommittee on Rural Development, Biotechnology, Specialty Crops, and Foreign Agriculture, held a hearing to review the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s rural development programs in advance of the 2012 Farm Bill.

“The Subcommittee heard testimony from Dallas P. Tonsager [opening statement], Under Secretary for Rural Development at USDA and from rural economic development stakeholders utilizing rural development programs across America.

“‘Today’s hearing provided a good overview of the strengths and the weaknesses of our rural development programs given their current resources. I appreciate hearing from Under Secretary Tonsager and the USDA Rural Development administrators about their progress on Farm Bill implementation, the administration of Recovery Act funds, and issues we might consider for the next Farm Bill,’ Chairman McIntyre said. ‘Our second panel of witnesses provided good testimony and helpful suggestions, particularly on the complexity of the loan and grant application process, that I hope USDA will keep in mind as we move forward with the 2012 Farm Bill.’”

During yesterday’s hearing, Subcommittee Ranking Member K. Michael Conaway inquired about USDA’s “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” program (related audio-MP3- 3:24), and also asked witnesses on the second panel if federal allocations for farmer’s markets were as important as allocations for emergency first responders (related audio- MP3- 2:59).

JUNE 2010

June 28thHouse Agriculture Committee Holds Farm Bill Field Hearing in Fayetteville, North Carolina, Audio replay available here. Official Transcript. FarmPolicy.com Summary:

The House Agriculture Committee held a field hearing in North Carolina yesterday to review U.S. agriculture policy, as the Committee begins the process of writing the 2012 Farm Bill.

A House Ag Committee news release from yesterday pointed out that, “This is the ninth in a series of field hearings scheduled across the country to consider new ideas regarding federal food and farm policy. Four Members of Congress attended today’s hearing and heard testimony from eight witnesses on a variety of farm policy issues.”

At yesterday’s hearing, North Carolina farmers Frank Lee (audio clip, MP3-1:33) and Allen McLaurin (audio clip, MP3-3:21) provided perspective on the Farm Bill safety net, highlighting provisions that they viewed as important. Their testimony touched on trade, including the WTO cotton case with Brazil, as well as program payment limitation issues.

Opening statements from all of the witnesses at yesterday’s hearing can be viewed here.

Near the conclusion of yesterday’s hearing, Rep. Bob Etheridge (D-NC) pointed out that although Farm Bill debates have historically been bi-partisan, regional and geographic differences often create some stumbling blocks in policy development. In addition, Rep. Etheridge reminded the audience that budget issues would be a concern in developing the next Farm Bill. He specifically noted that in the last Farm Bill, the Ag Committee sought additional funding from the Ways and Means Committee that ended up bolstering funding for some nutrition programs.

To listen to a portion of yesterday’s comments by Rep. Etheridge, just click here (MP3-1:13).

Recall however that at a Farm Bill hearing on April 21 in Washington, D.C., Ag Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) pointed out that, “We also have to be realistic in terms of our budget situation. I think most of us on this committee are not interested in running up the deficit. In fact, we are probably more interested in trying to get the deficit under control and so, as we move ahead with this Farm Bill, I am not going to be looking for additional resources. I think we have to live within the baseline that we currently have for the Farm Bill. We will proceed in that manner.”

At an April 30 Farm Bill field hearing in Des Moines, Iowa, Chairman Peterson stated that, “I think that last comment kind of ties into something I want to say, and that is that we are not going to have any extra money for this farm bill. We’ll be lucky to hold onto what we got. I saw on some of the testimony people wanting to raise loan rates because they are ridiculously low. If we get down to loan rates, we’re out of business. It ain’t gonna happen. The money it costs to raise the loan rates, you know, I just – it’s not realistic. So one of the reasons we’re starting this hearing process early is to see if there’s a more efficient way, a better way to provide the risk management tools, the safety net, the conservation that we all want to do.”

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June 24House Agriculture Subcommittee Holds 2012 Farm Bill Hearing, Audio replay available here. Unofficial FarmPolicy.com transcript of hearing, available here. Official Transcript. FarmPolicy.com Summary:

Bloomberg writer Alan Bjerga reported yesterday that, “Growers of corn, cotton and other crops may have to accept reduced subsidies in the next farm bill as budget-cutting becomes necessary to contain record deficits, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson said.

“‘We’re not going to have any new money; we’ll probably have less money,’ the Minnesota Democrat said today at a hearing in Washington of the House Agriculture subcommittee that oversees commodity programs. ‘We’re going to have to make it work,’ he said.

“The hearing was called to solicit opinion from farmers on U.S. agriculture policy as Congress begins to craft legislation to replace the current farm bill. That measure, passed in 2008, authorized $289 billion over five years for all Department of Agriculture programs, including food stamps for the poor and farm subsidies.”

(FarmPolicy.com Note: To listen to Chairman Peterson’s comments from yesterday in their entirety, just click here (MP3-3:34)).

Mr. Bjerga explained that, “At today’s hearing, Illinois Farm Bureau President Philip Nelson said the structure of the 2008 bill should be maintained even if overall funding is reduced.

“‘We do understand the constraints of this farm bill, but we have real concerns when we start shifting resources from one area to another,’ said Nelson, speaking on behalf of the American Farm Bureau Federation, the largest U.S. farmer group.

“Some adjustments may be necessary, said Gary Murphy, the board chairman of the Houston-based US Rice Producers Association. ‘Rice farmers are certainly not seeing any windfalls’ from farm programs, said Murphy, who grows about 7,000 acres of rice, cotton, corn and soybeans in Missouri. ‘Neither are our brethren who produce other crops.’”

Philip Brasher reported yesterday at The Green Fields Blog (Des Moines Register) that, “The fixed annual payments that grain, soybean and cotton farmers have been getting since 1996 are surfacing as a major issue facing lawmakers as they move toward writing the next farm bill. The payments [related graph], which total about $5 billion a year, including $500 million sent to Iowa, offer one of the only significant pots of cash that lawmakers could tap into if they’re going to overhaul commodity programs without any new source of money, which is highly unlikely given the budget deficit. The payments date back to the 1996 Freedom to Farm law, which was supposed to wean farmers off of government support by providing declining amounts of direct payments that would eventually end, which never happened.

“Craig Lang, the president of the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, told me in May that the payments are hard to defend. Today, a representative of the National Farmers Union echoed that concern in testimony to the House Agriculture Committee. Kent Peppler said the payments are particularly hard to defend in years when commodity prices are relatively high. Rob Joslin, an Ohio farmer who is president of the American Soybean Association, said the money winds up in the pockets of landowners because the payments are factored into land rents.”

Mr. Brasher added that, “However, groups such as the National Cotton Council and the National Association of Wheat Growers signaled strong support for the payments. Minnesota farmer Erik Younggren said the payments provide a ‘reliable cash flow tool’ that enables farmers to obtain operating loans.

The National Corn Growers Association was silent on the issue in its prepared testimony.”

Crop Insurance, the Standard Reinsurance Agreement (SRA) and budget related concerns were key topics of discussion at yesterday’s House Subcommittee hearing.

To listen to some remarks on crop insurance and the SRA from Subcommittee Chairman Leonard Boswell, D-Iowa, just click here (MP3-1:49).

Subcommittee Ranking Member Jerry Moran, R-Kansas, followed up the comments from Chairman Boswell and developed the crop insurance issue and the latest SRA proposal further by highlighting related Farm Bill baseline issues.

To listen to comments on these issues from Rep. Moran yesterday, as well as additional remarks from Chairman Boswell, just click here (MP3-6:38).

Rep. Jim Marshall, D-Georgia, also asked panel participants yesterday more generally about crop insurance and the overall safety net; to listen to this discussion, just click here (MP3-6:33).

Also yesterday, the WTO Brazil Cotton Case was touched upon in both testimony from Eddie Smith, Chairman, National Cotton Council, and in a question from Rep. Larry Kissell, D-NC. To listen to related audio on this issue from yesterday, click here (MP3-1:53).

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June 17House Agriculture Subcommittee Holds 2012 Farm Bill Hearing, Audio replay available here. Unofficial FarmPolicy.com transcript of the hearing, available here. Official Transcript. FarmPolicy.com Summary:

A House Ag Committee news release from yesterday stated that, “House Agriculture Subcommittee on General Farm Commodities and Risk Management Chairman Leonard Boswell, D-Iowa, today held the Subcommittee’s first hearing to review U.S. farm safety net programs in advance of the 2012 Farm Bill.

“The Agriculture Committee has begun the process of writing the 2012 Farm Bill, holding field hearings in eight states. Today’s subcommittee hearing is the next step in the process.

“The Subcommittee heard from U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Under Secretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services Jim Miller.”

The release added that, “‘It was good to have the opportunity to continue the Committee’s discussion about how our current farm safety net is working and how we can improve it in the next farm bill. It was also important that members of the Subcommittee had the opportunity to ask questions about the latest draft of the Standard Reinsurance Agreement [SRA] that was submitted last Friday,’ said Subcommittee Ranking Member Jerry Moran, R-Kansas.”

A portion of Rep. Moran’s opening statement from yesterday’s hearing, in which he talks about the latest SRA proposal, can be heard here (MP3-2:11). Rep. Moran indicated that, “I do want to express my concern that this subcommittee or the full committee is not having a hearing to review what we are told is the final draft of the standard reinsurance agreement.”

Subcommittee Chairman Leonard Boswell asked Under Sec. Miller about the proposed cuts in the latest SRA proposal in the discussion portion of yesterday’s hearing. Under Sec. Miller provided a general overview of the issue and also briefly addressed potential budgetary baseline implications resulting from the suggested cuts in spending. To listen to this exchange, just click here (MP3-4:03).

The significance of the budgetary baseline impact of the latest SRA proposal was highlighted in much greater detail later in yesterday’s hearing in questioning by Rep. Moran. To listen to an in-depth discussion on some of the budgetary baseline variables associated with the SRA proposal, click here (MP3-7:56).

Julie Harker reported yesterday at Brownfield that, “Concerns about the USDA’s final draft of the Standard Reinsurance Agreement for crop insurance protection cropped up during a House Ag Subcommittee reviewing 2008 Farm Bill safety net programs.

“Kansas Republican Jerry Moran says the third draft released late last week had some surprises, ‘I am particularly concerned about the new method of administering and operating – a new and more rigid cap on agent commissions. And, they have inserted other miscellaneous provisions that have never appeared in previous drafts.’”

An expanded and in-depth discussion of some of the details of the SRA proposal, which were highlighted yesterday by Rep. Moran, can be heard here (MP3-10:18). This detailed discussion included explanations from Under Sec. Miller as well as from Bill Murphy, the Risk Management Agency Administrator.

Meanwhile, Reuters news reported yesterday that, “A comparative handful of U.S. farms — 4,000 — enrolled this year in a new federal program designed to protect grower revenue, said a top Agriculture Department official on Thursday.

Revenue protection is mentioned frequently as the preferable option in the 2012 farm law to succeed traditional crop subsidies, which are triggered by low prices. Revenue programs shield growers from poor yields as well.

Enrollment in the Average Crop Revenue Election, a farm program option, is far below projections. Farm groups say the revenue protection plan is too complex and needs revision.”

(FarmPolicy.com Note: Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, R-MO, inquired at yesterday’s hearing as to why the participation rate in ACRE was low, to listen to a portion of this discussion, click here (MP3-2:32)).

Yesterday’s Reuters article added that, “It will be mid-August by the time USDA opens enrollment in the land-idling Conservation Reserve, said Jonathan Coppess, head of the Farm Service Agency. Rep. Jerry Moran, Kansas Republican, said a late-summer signup would put winter wheat growers at a disadvantage.

“Some 31.3 million acres are enrolled in the reserve at present. Contracts on 4.5 million acres expire on Sept 30. Maximum enrollment is 32 million acres.”

MAY 2010

May 18House Agriculture Committee Holds Farm Bill Field Hearing in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Audio replay available here. Unofficial FarmPolicy.com transcript of the hearing, available here. Official Transcript. FarmPolicy.com Summary:

As it turns out, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Alabama) asked a panel of farmers at yesterday’s hearing the same question he had asked Texas producers on Monday, “If we were able to get the crop insurance reimbursement rates higher…with a premium that you felt good about…would you be willing to opt out of the direct payment and counter cyclical payment programs for that very favorable crop insurance program?”

To listen to some of the responses to this question from yesterday, just click here (MP3-3:31).

DTN Ag Policy Editor Chris Clayton reported yesterday that, “In contrast to some statements at other field hearings, farmers in South Dakota testified that some elements of the farm program aren’t as important as in the past. [Kevin Scott, chairman of the South Dakota Soybean Association] said his members don’t consider direct payments as important as in the past because of current commodity prices. However, Scott added that bankers have put a lot of emphasis on direct payments when it comes to financing operations.

“‘The direct payment is something that is consistent and can be identified,’ Scott said.”

More broadly, Mr. Clayton indicated that, “Unlike Southern farmers who say some newer risk-management programs don’t work for their crops, farmers from South Dakota and neighboring states didn’t outright condemn the Average Crop Revenue Election (ACRE) program. But in what has been a constant theme in some hearings, leaders from some groups testified that ACRE would be more effective if it were based on county yields and also if the program were not so complicated to explain to landlords.”

“Rodney Gangwish, a farmer from Shelton, Neb., and former president of the National Corn Growers Association, enrolled 70 percent of his acreage in ACRE as a put option against a catastrophic event. He noted there were no other choices in the farm bill that offered that kind of risk protection. So Gangwish was willing to give up 20 percent of his direct payments in return.”

“Scott and Gangwish both said they signed up for ACRE for risk protection, though it did not pay out on their 2009 crops. Overall, ACRE has not been heavily embraced across most of the country. A USDA official told the committee that about 18 percent of producers in South Dakota and 10 percent in North Dakota enrolled in ACRE last year. The enrollment period for ACRE on this year’s crop ends June 1,” the DTN article said.

(FarmPolicy.com Note: Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas) asked the first panel of farmers at yesterday’s hearing for more specific details regarding the ACRE program, to listen to this interesting exchange, just click here (MP3-2:53)).

And Ken Anderson reported yesterday at Brownfield that, “The ACRE program was one of the main topics of discussion. In general, growers like the revenue protection the program offers, but also agree that it needs to be more localized. Gary Duffy of Oldham, South Dakota is the president of the South Dakota Corn Growers Association.

“‘I know what my production history has been. As a marketer, I’m somewhat guessing on the price—but to have that state trigger, it’s kind of tough to get your arms around it,’ Duffy says. ‘So I think that’s one of the things we would like to do is to get it more localized, at least down to the county level.’”

Mr. Clayton added in his DTN article from yesterday that, “One overriding theme from Tuesday also was the strong support for ethanol as farmers asked lawmakers to extend the 45-cent ethanol blenders’ credit and push ahead to raise ethanol blend levels to at least 20 percent of gasoline and even higher.”

Ken Anderson reported yesterday at Brownfield that, “Several of the farmers who testified at Tuesday’s farm bill hearing in Sioux Falls stressed the importance of a growing ethanol market to Midwest corn growers. One of them was Rod Gangwish of Shelton, Nebraska, a former president of the National Corn Growers Association.

“‘The topic of the extension of the tax incentive for ethanol—the flexible fuel vehicle requirements—and the increase in the blending of ethanol from E10 to E15—do not fit within the parameters of the farm bill,’ Gangwish said, ‘but they are significantly related to the profitability of my business.’”

“House Ag Committee member Stephanie Herseth-Sandlin of South Dakota says that ethanol has played a big role in reduced farm program spending. ‘The VEETC and the blend wall—while they may be outside of the parameters of the farm bill—we know how important having an additional market in biofuels has been to reducing the amount of payments that we’ve made to corn growers and other producers in the commodity title,’ she said.”

An update posted yesterday at the Argus Leader Online (Sioux Falls) reported that, “Gary Duffy, president of the South Dakota Corn Growers Association, said the Federal Crop Insurance Program is the most important program for all producers.

“‘Crop insurance is the greatest risk management tool producers have. No one knows what Mother Nature is going to do and the risk she brings to our industry,’ he said. ‘Crop insurance is efficient, effective and a program that works for all crops.’”

The Omaha World-Herald reported yesterday that, “Congressman Adrian Smith (R-NE) today joined with eleven other members of the House Agriculture Committee in Sioux Falls, S.D., to review U.S. agriculture policy as part of the process of writing the 2012 Farm Bill.”

The article noted that, “‘We should be working to create policies which will strengthen American agriculture and provide long-term stability for our nation’s producers to compete in the international market place.’

“‘Such economic policies will foster sustained growth in rural communities. My goal for the next Farm Bill is to build on the successes we have heard about in previous field hearings and to craft policies which will provide long-term stability for our nation’s producers,’ Smith said.”

Other topics and farm policy variables that were discussed yesterday included the following:

- Biofuels; and Research, Dr. Kevin Kephart, Vice President for Research and Dean of the Graduate School, South Dakota State University, Brookings, South Dakota (MP3-1:49).

- The blend wall, Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Nebraska) (MP3-1:49).

- Research; and Biofuels, Rep. Tim Walz (D-Minn.) (MP3-3:42).

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May 17House Agriculture Committee Holds Farm Bill Field Hearing in Lubbock, Texas, Partial Audio replay available here. Unofficial FarmPolicy.com transcript of the hearing (Panel One Only), available here. Official Transcript. FarmPolicy.com Summary:

Alyssa Dizon reported today at the Avalanche-Journal Online (Lubbock, Texas) that, “Producers from every major agriculture commodity group in Texas told agriculture legislators that provisions of a financial safety net was their common concern for the next farm bill.”

The article noted that, “‘I thought we had good testimony from a very broad range of agricultural interests,’ said U.S. Rep. Randy Neugebauer, R-Texas. ‘It’s important to come out here where agriculture is actually happening.’

“The select 13 witnesses submitted written testimonies to the committee and gave five-minute presentations regarding what has and has not been effective for their industries in the current farm bill. The most popular issues mentioned were crop insurance, international trade, environmental challenges and conservation programs.”

Most favored the USDA direct and counter-cyclical programs and marketing loan programs under the 2008 bill, which assisted in increasing production input costs and financial stability. Those same individuals cited problems with payment limitations, eligibility standards and complex application processes for some of USDA’s farm and conservation programs.”

Today’s article added that, “‘My intention is to get this bill out of the house by December of 2011 and try to get this bill done on time,’ [Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn] said.”

Katie Bauer reported yesterday at KCBD-11 Online that, “[B]ut one issue Congressman Neugebauer hopes to see updated is crop insurance guidelines.

“‘What we hear time and time again from our producers is that the current crop insurance program is not working well for them it doesn’t cover the risks that they are taking, it doesn’t give them adequate coverage, doesn’t give them very many choices,’ said Neugebauer.

“Ideal would be to see better coverage, more flexibility and a tool that allows producers to manage those risks.

“‘One of things that you have to do is have a farm bill that covers all of agriculture it would be nice if one size fit all, but what you heard from of the witnesses just awhile ago is that one size does not fit all,’ said Neugebauer.”

Jaime Gerik reported yesterday at Fox 34 News Online that, “Reps with Plains Cotton Growers say they’ll fight to protect crop insurance and conservation programs that could be cut in the upcoming bill.”

And DTN Political Correspondent Jerry Hagstrom reported yesterday from Lubbock (link requires subscription) that, “House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., said here Monday he would like to eliminate all limitations on government payments to farmers due to the size of their payments or incomes.

“After a hearing on the 2012 farm bill at which several witnesses complained about the way Congress had written and USDA has implemented the 2008 farm bill’s rules on payment limitations, Peterson told reporters, ‘I hope we can make changes so we don’t have to have payment limits in the future.’

“Peterson said he is ‘all for local foods and organic’ production, and big farmers ‘should be treated equally’ with small farmers in getting payments. Noting that most of the food produced in the United States comes from the 300,000 to 350,000 biggest farms, Peterson said those operations still need a safety net.”

Mr. Hagstrom pointed out that, “‘The corporation has been demonized in this country,’ by people pushing payment limits. ‘That’s completely baloney,’ Peterson said, adding that when he was a practicing certified public accountant, he had farmer clients who were ‘family farmers’ seeking the best structure for their businesses.

“The Environmental Working Group has complained that the Obama administration’s recent release of farm subsidy data by individual was not as complete as the information the Bush administration released. Congress changed the law to say that USDA could decide whether to aggregate all payments under individual names, and the Obama administration chose not to spend the money to do it. Peterson said, ‘I have no problem with the way [the Obama administration] has handled it.’

Peterson also proposed changing the definition of a farm in USDA’s Agricultural Census from producing $1,000 in farm products, to a higher level of production. Using that Census data, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack charged that the vast majority of farmers get most of their income off the farm and need more help, but Peterson said he considers that discussion and the payment limits issue ‘a distraction.’”

In addition, Chairman Peterson provided perspective and analysis on some other important policy variables during the course of yesterday’s discussion:

- Potential future differences in program specifics between crops, trade with Cuba, crop insurance and the cotton WTO Brazil issue. (MP3-5:17).

Other topics and farm policy variables that were discussed yesterday included the following:

- Safety net issues, Peanut Producer Jimbo Grissom (written testimony) (MP3-3:29).

- Crop insurance, Producer and crop insurance agent Ronnie Holt (written testimony) (MP3-3:34).

- Cap and trade, Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Tex.) (MP3-4:11).

- Cap and Trade, (Rep. Adrian Smith (R-Neb.) (MP3-1:51).

- Antibiotics issues and livestock, (Rep. Adrian Smith) (MP3-1:38).

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May 15House Agriculture Committee Holds Farm Bill Field Hearing in Troy, Alabama, Audio replay available here. Unofficial FarmPolicy.com transcript of the hearing, available here (searchable PDF file). Official Transcript. FarmPolicy.com Summary:

Melissa McKinney reported on Saturday at WSFA-12 Online that, “Members of the House of Representatives Agriculture Committee were all ears as one by one farmers shared their concerns for an industry they say is facing serious obstacles–like droughts, flooding, and rising production costs.”

The update noted that, “Committee members–including 2nd Congressional District Representative Bobby Bright–admitted money will be tight in 2012. It’s all the more reason to get a clear understanding of what farmers need most.

“‘Let these leaders take it back to Washington, and voice those issues there and resolve those issues. That will be a victory that we can accumulate for the farmers here in our district,’ he says.”

Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) provided perspective and analysis on some important policy variables during the course of Saturday’s discussion; here are some highlights on particular subject matters.

- The farm safety net, and crop insurance (MP3-5:04).

- Local food production versus traditional commercial agriculture (MP3-3:13).

- Payment limits. (MP3-0:18).

Other topics and farm policy variables that were discussed included the following:

-Cap and trade, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Virginia) (MP3-5:00).

- Crop insurance perspective from rice, Rep. Glenn Thompson (R-Pennsylvania) and Joe Mencer, a rice producer from Arkansas (MP3-1:37).

- Timber and second generation biofuels, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Alabama) and Dr. Steven Taylor, Auburn University (MP3-3:49).

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May 14House Agriculture Committee Holds Farm Bill Field Hearing in Morrow, Georgia, (Due to technical limitations at the hearing site in Morrow, Georgia, the hearing was not webcast, so no FarmPolicy.com audio is available from this discussion). Official Transcript. FarmPolicy.com Summary:

A news release issued on Friday by the House Ag Committee stated that, “Today, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin C. Peterson held a field hearing in Morrow, Georgia to review U.S. agriculture policy as the Committee begins the process of writing the 2012 Farm Bill. This is the fifth in a series of hearings scheduled across the country to consider new ideas regarding Federal food and farm policy. Nine Members of Congress attended today’s hearing and heard testimony from eleven witnesses on a variety of farm policy issues.”

The release added that, “‘I’m delighted to host the Agriculture Committee here in my district in Morrow. Agriculture is the backbone of Georgia’s economy, and this hearing will give Georgia’s farmers a chance to not only showcase their great work, but also to discuss how the policies we make up in Washington affect their day-to-day operations,’ [Congressman David Scott of Georgia, who serves as Chairman of the Agriculture Committee’s Subcommittee on Livestock, Dairy and Poultry] said. ‘Moreover our state is at the cutting edge of improving our nation’s food safety systems. So, Chairman Peterson’s decision to bring the Agriculture Committee to Georgia will provide a wonderful opportunity to highlight the efforts of UGA, Georgia Tech and the CDC to keep our food supply safe.’”

Scott Angle Dean and Director College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences noted in his opening statement that, “It is predicted that we need to double world-food production by the year 2050. Unfortunately, many areas of the world will be unable to respond to this challenge.”

“In 2007, the U.S. imported $79 billion of food, feed and fiber while we exported $116 billion of the same. We have the opportunity to widen this surplus even more. As noted, the Southeast is especially well positioned for increased production. The Port of Savannah and an efficient transportation infrastructure make this is an ideal region for growth.

It is my opinion that past federal policies have not always focused on southeastem agriculture. However, with the need for this region to step up production, we must have good policies coming from the new Farm Bill that will allow this region to meet the challenge and obligation to produce more food for the rest of the world.”

A news release issued on Friday by the Georgia Peanut Commission indicated that, “Peanut farmers support the marketing loan program but the current program prices are set too low to be a true safety net for producers, says Armond Morris, chairman of the Georgia Peanut Commission, in testimony before Members of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Agriculture. Morris testified today before the House Agriculture Committee Farm Bill Hearing at the National Archives Southeast Region in Morrow, Ga.”

The release added that, “According to data, presented by Morris, from the University of Georgia’s National Center for Peanut Competitiveness, the peanut variable costs have increased 52 percent per acre since 2002. U.S. farmers are also competing with other countries like Argentina, China and India where environmental costs, other regulations and labor rates are much less than U.S. input costs, Morris explains.

“Morris continues by stating, the loan repayment rate for peanuts has not functioned appropriately since the 2002 Farm Bill and the committee included language in the 2008 Farm Bill that has not been adhered to. When setting the loan repayment rate, USDA has not taken into account the world market prices, Morris says. Thus, the USDA posted price for peanuts set every Tuesday afternoon is too high.”

Another important aspect of the farm bill includes feeding programs at USDA. Peanut butter is a long-time participant in the school lunch program. According to Morris, the peanut industry does not have the resources to reach even a small percentage of these nutrition programs illustrating the nutritional value, low cost and long shelf life of peanut butter,” the news release added.

And Ronnie Lee, a Member of the Board of Directors Southern Cotton Growers, Inc. noted in his opening statement that, “The centerpiece of the upland cotton program and traditional commodity programs has been without question, an effective marketing loan program. It provides a safety net for producers but does not harm the competitiveness of U.S. commodities. It is a program component that makes sense, that works, and that serves many critical purposes. Because it is well-understood and a fundamental part of commodity policy, the marketing loan gives rural banks the confidence they need to make critical operating loans available.”

Mr. Lee added that, “The 2012 farm bill debate, however, will take place with several new and increased points of pressure. Record budget deficits will put intense pressure on funding. The WTO Brazil Case puts cotton’s marketing loan and counter-cyclical programs under special scrutiny even though the cotton program, as revised by the 2008 bill, has never been evaluated by a WTO Panel. Ongoing negotiations in the Doha Round of trade negotiations could result in a dramatically altered landscape for domestic commodity support. If circumstances arise that make it impossible to maintain a reasonable safety net using existing delivery mechanisms, the cotton industry will look at alternatives.

“As evidenced by recent sign-ups, the ACRE program has not been a very attractive alternative for cotton farmers in our region or across the Cotton Belt.”

Mr. Lee pointed out that, “The 2008 farm bill contained significant changes with respect to payment limitations and payment eligibility. In general, the limitations were made more restrictive, and the adjusted gross income test was substantially tightened.

In addition to the legislative changes, we believe that USDA over-stepped the intent of Congress in key payment eligibility provisions and issued regulations that are overly complicated and restrictive. Sound farm policy provisions are of little value if commercial-size farming operations are ineligible for benefits. The vast majority of these are true family farm operations that have expanded in size in an attempt to lower per unit cost of production (economy of scale). While we oppose any artificial payment limitations, we advocate administering the current provisions within the intent of Congress and strongly oppose any further restrictions.”

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May 13House Agriculture Committee Hears from Ag Policy Experts About 2012 Farm Bill, Audio replay available here. Unofficial FarmPolicy.com transcript of the hearing, available here (searchable PDF file). Official Transcript. FarmPolicy.com Summary:

Reuters writer Charles Abbott reported yesterday that, “Congress should ban sugary sodas from the $58 billion-a-year U.S. food stamp program as a step to combat the obesity crisis, the House Agriculture Committee was told on Thursday.

“Wellesley College professor and food expert Rob Paarlberg suggested the ban during a hearing to review the 2008 farm law, which includes food stamps as well as crop subsidies. Food stamps help low-income people buy food. One in eight Americans receives food stamps.”

Yesterday’s article stated that, “‘I would argue caloric soda should be made ineligible for purchase under SNAP, like tobacco and alcohol,’ said Paarlberg, using the new name for food stamps, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. He later said sugary sodas are ‘a huge part of the obesity problem.’

“Committee chairman Collin Peterson told reporters, ‘It clearly is something we need to look at.’

“‘We need to look at what effect, if any, we’re having on the obesity situation. Is the SNAP program contributing to that?’ said Peterson. ‘That’s the first question, before we talk anything about money.’”

(FarmPolicy.com Note: To listen to extended comments on this issue by Dr. Paarlberg from yesterday’s hearing, just click here (MP3-5:02); also, an entire audio rebroadcast of yesterday’s hearing is available for replay or download here.)

Mr. Abbott noted that, “First Lady Michelle Obama unveiled a 70-point plan on Tuesday to reduce childhood obesity rates within a generation. The report called for larger enrollment in public nutrition programs, putting healthier foods in school meals and encouraging Americans to eat more fruits and vegetables.”

Philip Brasher reported yesterday at The Green Fields Blog (The Des Moines Register) that, “The White House plan for attacking childhood obesity ran into resistance today from a key player on Capitol Hill. The chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, Rep. Collin Peterson, said he doesn’t think that increasing the number of people on food stamps or subsidizing fruits and vegetables are solutions to obesity.

“The White House plan, released on Tuesday, called for expanding enrollment in food stamps and using the next farm bill to expand production of fruits and vegetables. The plan sets a target of increasing fruit and vegetable supplies 70 percent by 2020.

“‘I do not believe the solution to obesity is spending more money on fruits and vegetables,’ the Minnesota Democrat told reporters during a break in a hearing on farm policy.”

Mr. Brasher explained that, “The White House was not specific in how fruit and vegetable production should be subsidized. An Iowa State University economist, Bruce Babcock, warned Peterson’s committee against directly subsidizing farmers, saying that would cause growers’ prices to crash. It would be better, he said, to subsidize transportation or other costs necessary to get produce to markets where fresh produce is now hard to get.”

(FarmPolicy.com Note: To listen to some of Dr. Babcock’s analysis on this issue, which was provided in a response to a question by Rep. Kathleen Dahlkemper (D-Penn.), just click here MP3- 2:11.))

Jerry Hagstrom reported yesterday at DTN (link requires subscription) that, “[Chairman] Peterson also said he does not understand why anti-hunger advocates keep saying there is a simultaneous problem of hunger and obesity.

Jean Kinsey, a University of Minnesota economics professor, replied that when people are hungry ‘they tend to eat what is available,’ and that those foods are usually cheap, high in fat, dense in calories and nutritionally poor. Kinsey said that the most frequent question she gets is ‘Why doesn’t our government subsidize the production of fruits and vegetables like (or instead of) corn and soybeans?

“Peterson told the reporters, ‘I do not believe the solution to obesity is spending more money on fruits and vegetables. That might be part of the solution. I don’t know where we get the money to do that.’”

(FarmPolicy.com Note: To listen to remarks on this issue by Chairman Peterson from yesterday’s hearing, just click here (MP3-5:27). As a side note, on the issue of farm payments, Chairman Peterson indicated in a prelude to his comments on nutrition issues that the 10% of farmers who are getting 60% of farm payments generate 80% of production. The fact that payments follow production makes sense, he noted.)

Mr. Hagstrom added that, “Tied to that notion of eating more fruits and vegetables, Neil Hamilton of Drake University also disputed recent criticism of the Obama administration’s ‘Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food’ program as aimed at hobby farmers and affluent consumers. Hamilton called for continuation of the program, saying it helped create farmers markets where millions of Americans can exercise their preference to buy fresh food from local farmers whose earnings stay in the community.”

In a related article discussing a separate issue related to soda, Tim Craig reported in today’s Washington Post that, “The beverage industry is mounting an expensive campaign to derail a D.C. Council proposal for a citywide soda tax, setting up a two-week showdown between some city grocers and health advocates over how best to curb childhood obesity rates.

“To pay for a council initiative requiring city schools to serve more fresh fruit and vegetables to students, council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) has proposed a 1-cent-per-ounce tax on bottled and canned soda that contains sugar. Diet soda would be exempt.”

Meanwhile, Gannett writer Maureen Groppe reported yesterday that, “Congress should replace direct payments to farmers with a more effective and appropriate safety net, Purdue University agriculture economist Otto Doering told lawmakers Thursday.

Doering said direct payments don’t address the volatility of crop prices, are viewed negatively by the public and are expensive.

“‘The goal of income parity of farm people versus urban people has been achieved,’ Doering said during a House hearing on agriculture policy. ‘Our chief concern now should be volatility.’”

The article indicated that, “[Doering] advocated a safety net tied to crop prices that would be balanced with the crop insurance and disaster programs.

Congress has undercut the crop insurance program because of its willingness to hand out disaster assistance, Doering said.”

In a separate issue that came up at yesterday’s hearing, Philip Brasher reported yesterday at The Green Fields Blog that, “[Neil Hamilton, who runs the Agricultural Law Center at Drake University, has] got the ear of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and is a nationally recognized proponent of local food initiatives as a way of getting more farmers on the land and serving the growing demand for locally produced foods. The Obama administration’s emphasis on local foods and helping small-scale farmers has irked many in conventional agriculture, including in Iowa, the No. 2 recipient of federal farm subsidies after Texas. ‘If we’re going to have a prospering main street … it’s not going to be because someone has a lifestyle as a farmer,’ said Rep. Jerry Moran, R-Kansas.

“Hamilton, who probably fits Moran’s definition of a lifestyle farmer, stood his ground. Under existing farm policy, rural populations have declined and the number of farms has been dropping, he said. At another point in the hearing, he said that the small-scale farmers who serve farmers markets in cities such as Des Moines are filling a demand and ‘taking urban money back’ to rural areas, Hamilton said. He and his wife raise vegetables for sale to local restaurants near Waukee. He’s founder the Slow Food Des Moines chapter.

“Enter another Iowan, Democratic Rep. Leonard Boswell, to play peacemaker. ‘There is not a threat to production agriculture,’ he said. ‘There’s room for both.’”

(FarmPolicy.com Note: To listen to more detailed comments from Rep. Moran regarding the importance of production agriculture in rural America, just click here (MP3-5:00.))

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack was a guest on yesterday’s AgriTalk Radio Program with Mike Adams, and the subject of USDA farm policy focus with respect to production agriculture and the “Know Your Farmer” program were discussed. To listen to an audio clip from yesterday’s AgriTalk show, just click here (MP3-5:44).

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May 4House Agriculture Committee Holds Farm Bill Field Hearing in Cheyenne, Wyoming, Audio replay available here. Official Transcript. FarmPolicy.com Summary:

Bill Jackson reported on May 5 at the Greeley Tribune Online (Colorado) that, “A U.S. Forest Service official told a group of agriculture producers Tuesday that the bark beetle problem has reached epic proportions, saying ‘100,000 trees a day are falling and that will continue every day for the next 10 years.’

“Rick Cables, a regional forester with the U.S. Forest Service in Golden, said the dead trees will have drastic consequences on the watershed from those forests, which supply water to 177 counties in the western U.S.

“Water quantity and quality, conservation programs, the bark beetle problem and the nation’s dairy industry were topics topping the agenda Tuesday morning at a U.S. House Committee on Agriculture hearing to review agriculture policy in advance of the 2012 Food, Conservation and Energy Act, commonly referred to as the farm bill.”

The May 5 article noted that, “‘Agriculture currently constitutes the one segment of the nation’s trade portfolio that results in a trade surplus,’ [Jerry Cooksey, a wheat producer from Roggen, Colorado] said. As president of the Colorado Association of Wheat Growers, Cooksey said his organization is in line with the national organization, which supports ‘a robust trade agenda including passage of pending bilateral free trade agreements.’”

(FarmPolicy.com Note: In his opening statement, Mr. Cooksey also addressed some aspects of the Farm Bill safety net, including Direct Payments and the new Average Crop Revenue Election (ACRE) program. To listen to a portion of some of his comments, just click here (MP3-1:19). Later in the hearing, Ranking Member Frank Lucas (R-Oklahoma) referenced Mr. Cooksey’s comments on Direct Payments and noted that, “Direct Payments are the most WTO compliant, and in a world where we have watched the cotton people be taken limb from limb over their program, being WTO compliant is critically important” (audio, MP3-0:37). Mr. Cooksey also addressed the ongoing negotiations over the Standard Reinsurance Agreement and expressed concerns about potential reductions in the agricultural baseline stemming from these talks (audio, MP3-0:53)).

In his Greeley Tribune article from today, Bill Jackson also noted that at yesterday’s Farm Bill hearing, “[Les Hardesty, a dairy producer from Greeley] said the nation’s dairy industry is starting to see recovery from a ‘disastrous 2009,’ but that recovery is slower than anticipated.

“‘While I understand and appreciate the timeline you have outlined for farm policy development, I want to stress that the idea of waiting until 2012 to reform dairy policy leaves many of us concerned,’ Hardesty said. ‘Many of my neighbors are wondering if they will make it to 2011. Keep that in mind as you continue your discussions. Dairy leaders are working hard to develop consensus within the industry yet this year.’”

(FarmPolicy.com Note: Mr. Hardesty also outlined four basic elements of change to national dairy policy in his comments at yesterday’s hearing (audio- MP3-2:42). And at the end of his opening statement, House Ag Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) noted that, “I was in California yesterday talking to some folks, we have got some work to do get those guys in the tent, but we are making good progress.”)

With respect to dairy, Jerry Hagstrom reported on May 4 at DTN (link requires subscription) that, “Speaking of testimony on other parts of the farm bill in hearings in Iowa, Idaho and California, Peterson said that he experienced few surprises so far except that, ‘I was led to believe dairy was more united than they actually are.’

“Jamie Bledsoe, a Riverdale, Calif., dairy producer, testified that a new dairy safety net ‘must be herd-size and region neutral and must not send signals that more production is welcome when farm milk prices are low.’ The milk income loss contract program, the benefits of which are limited by herd size, ‘is not working,’ Bledsoe said.”

Mr. Hagstrom, who was reporting from Fresno, California, also noted that, “The U.S. sugar program will not need changes in the 2012 farm bill except to help the growers enter the renewable fuels market, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson said here Monday.

“The sugar program ‘is working exactly as it is supposed to. I don’t foresee big changes in sugar.’ Peterson, D-Minn., said after the third in his series of field hearings on the 2012 farm bill. Peterson’s own Minnesota district is one of the biggest sugar-producing regions in the country.”

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May 3House Agriculture Committee Holds Farm Bill Field Hearing in Fresno, California, Partial Audio replay available here. Official Transcript. FarmPolicy.com Summary:

Robert Rodriguez reported yesterday at the Fresno Bee Online that, “Help for struggling dairies, incentives for reducing air pollution and support for a legal farm work force are among the items on California agriculture’s wish list for the 2012 Farm Bill.

“Nearly a dozen farmers testified to members of the House Agriculture Committee during a hearing Monday at the Fresno City Council Chambers.”

The article noted that, “Jamie Bledsoe, a Riverdale dairy operator and president of Western United Dairymen, detailed how high production costs and low dairy prices have put many California dairymen in a financial tailspin for at least the last 18 months. Bledsoe urged the committee members to create a farm safety net program that looks not just at low milk prices, but also the high costs of grain, forage and energy.

“Also gaining attention during the May 3 hearing was a non-traditional farm bill issue — the call for immigration reform.”

As lawmakers heard opening statements and perspectives on farm policy issues from the witnesses at yesterday’s hearing, Frank Rehermann, a rice producer from Live Oak, California provided some details on the state’s rice production and how some safety net provisions have impacted producers. To listen to a portion of Mr. Rehermann’s comments, in which he addresses crop insurance, marketing loans, counter-cyclical payments, direct payments and the new Average Crop Revenue Election program, just click here (MP3-5:20).

House Ag Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) also provided insight into his perspective on crop insurance and the future direction of the Farm Bill safety net; a portion of his comments from yesterday can be heard here (MP3-6:00).

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May 1- House Agriculture Committee Holds Farm Bill Field Hearing in Nampa, Idaho, Partial audio replay available here. Official Transcript. FarmPolicy.com Summary:

An update posted on Friday at AgWeekly Online (Twin Falls, ID) reported that, “The House Agriculture Committee will hold a hearing in the heart of sugarbeet country [Saturday], and local sugar growers are expected to applaud members for the way they’ve designed the farm safety net.

“‘Congress, in its wisdom, designed a sugar policy that is working to the considerable benefit to consumers and at zero cost to taxpayers, and is giving the remaining American sugar farmers a chance to survive,’ said Galen Lee, a local beet farmer from New Plymouth and president of the Nyssa-Nampa Beet Growers Association, who is scheduled to testify.

“‘And, it fully complies with the rules of the World Trade Organization,’ he added.

“Lee, speaking on behalf of the 1,100 grower-owners of the Snake River Sugar Company, will urge Congress to continue this successful sugar policy as it designs the next Farm Bill.”

Brad Iverson-Long reported on Saturday at the IdahoReporter Online that, “Leaders of several Idaho agricultural associations told a congressional panel in Nampa on Saturday that they want to see changes to federal immigration law, including a more robust guest worker program, as well as some tweaks to the country’s food production policy.

“‘We are pleased that you are here today in Idaho to listen to our concerns,’ Fred Brossy, an organic farmer from Shoshone told members of the House Agriculture Committee, which met to discuss the next federal Farm Bill, scheduled to be finished in two years. ‘Farm Bill programs often appear focused primarily on the Midwestern region of the country,’ Brossy said.”

“Republican Rep. Mike Simpson (R-ID) also attended the meeting,” the article said.

Mr. Long indicated that, “Producers in different sectors offered different ways that the next Farm Bill could help agriculture in Idaho. Charles Lyons with the Idaho Cattle Association said he wants to get rid of ethanol subsidies, which drive up food costs for cattle. ‘It jerked the guts out of the feeder industry here in Idaho,’ he told members of Congress. He also said conservation and environmental regulations that are part of the federal plan are extremely burdensome.”

The article added that, “Scott Brown, president of the Idaho Grain Producers Association, said that Idaho farmers support the direct payments they can receive from the federal government. ‘The direct payment has served as a stimulus program for Idaho’s many rural families and communities,’ he said. ‘Direct payments translate into farmers purchasing equipment, seed, chemicals, parts, and fuel.’ The chairman of the House committee, Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minnesota, has said that traditional farm subsidies may need to change in the next Farm Bill due to federal budget issues. ‘Your decisions could have a profound ripple effect on the rural fabric of our country,’ Brown said.”

(FarmPolicy.com Note: To listen to extended comments from Mr. Brown regarding Title I commodity programs and crop insurance, just click here (MP3-3:33). To listen to a portion of Chairman Peterson’s comments on some Title I issues, including direct payments, just click here (MP3-2:40). And to listen to remarks on issues associated with the baseline, payment limits and title I safety net allocations from Rep. Simpson, just click here (MP3-2:37)).

Anna Webb reported on Sunday at the Idaho Statesman Online that, “[Rep. Walt Minnick (D-ID) said he believes the current bill punishes efficient producers and discriminates against large producers of commodities and specialty items like organic crops – an expanding field.

“‘Compliance with existing programs is too paper-intensive,’ Minnick said. ‘We need to help people spend less time farming the government, and more time farming the land.’”

(FarmPolicy.com Note: To listen to a portion of Rep. Minnick’s opening statement from Saturday’s hearing, just click here (MP3-3:23)).

APRIL 2010

April 30House Agriculture Committee Holds Farm Bill Field Hearing in Des Moines, Iowa, Audio replay available here. Unofficial FarmPolicy.com transcript of the hearing, available here. Official Transcript. FarmPolicy.com Summary:

DTN Ag Policy Editor Chris Clayton reported on Friday that, “Farmers in Iowa told congressmen changes are needed in the farm safety net’s new revenue program as lawmakers cautioned about the fiscal challenges they will face trying to write the next farm bill.

“The House Agriculture Committee is starting work on the farm bill early and is raising questions regarding what should be changed in the farm safety net and crop insurance. On Friday, six members of the committee listened to testimony all afternoon at an Iowa field hearing. They heard from crop producers, livestock producers, a dairy farmer, a representative of the crop insurance industry and dairy and biodiesel processors.”

(FarmPolicy.com Note: To listen to opening remarks from Ranking Member Frank Lucas (R-Oklahoma) regarding some of the Farm Bill’s goals, as well as a perspective on Sec. Vilsack’s earlier testimony to the Committee, just click here (MP3-2:03). To listen to a portion of the closing statement from Rep. Lucas, in which he notes that, “Sometimes we work with administration and sometimes we educative administrations,” just click here (MP3-0:52).

Mr. Clayton explained that, “One theme running through the first panel of farmers who testified is that the crop producers don’t see a benefit in signing up for the Average Crop Revenue Election program created in the 2008 farm bill.”

(FarmPolicy.com Note: To listen to a detailed discussion from Friday’s hearing regarding ACRE, which features a question from Rep. Leonard Boswell (D-Iowa), as well as comments from Chairman Peterson, just click here (MP3-6:06) and here (MP3-0:39)).

The DTN article stated that, “Richard Bayliss, a crop farmer from southeast Iowa, said some form of revenue protection is needed, particularly for new and beginning farmers. But ACRE has been too complicated and ‘challenging to accurately determine its usefulness.’ Bayliss had a list of complaints about ACRE, including the statewide yield trigger, the four-year commitment and the 30 percent cut in the loan rate. Then there is the difficulty explaining ACRE to elderly landlords who understand the traditional program and benefit from direct payments.”

Friday’s DTN article added that, “Peterson said Congress made ACRE too complicated and that the only reason the program made it into the farm bill was an estimated cost savings of roughly $1 billion over the life of the bill. Still, Peterson said he thinks ACRE could be retooled. Peterson has recently indicated ACRE may work better with county triggers instead of state triggers.

“‘There is some potential with the revenue program, but it’s got to be reworked quite a bit,’ Peterson said.”

Mr. Clayton pointed out that, “Bayliss suggested raising the crop loan rate to a more realistic level would be a better benefit for farmers than ACRE. Yet, that would raise the costs of farm programs.

“Peterson shot down the notion that the safety net could be improved by raising the loan rates, largely citing the challenges ahead in dealing with the federal budget.

“‘It ain’t going to happen,’ Peterson said. ‘The money it costs to raise the loan rate, it ain’t going to happen.’” (Related audio from hearing available here (MP3- 0:54)).

Dan Piller reported in Saturday’s Des Moines Register that, “Insurance agent Bob Skow said proposals in Obama’s 2011 budget to overhaul federal aid for crop insurance would result in price cuts of 30 percent.” (Related audio from hearing available here (MP3-1:42).

Also at Friday’s hearing, Rep. Boswell asked about the impacts of the expiration of the biodiesel tax credit, and in part, Chairman Peterson indicated that some have noted that the issue could be resolved by Memorial Day. To listen to this discussion, just click here (MP3-2:33).

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April 21House Agriculture Committee Holds First Hearing on 2012 Farm Bill, Audio replay available here. Unofficial FarmPolicy.com transcript of the hearing, available here (searchable PDF file). Official Transcript. FarmPolicy.com Summary:

A news release issued yesterday by the House Ag Committee stated that, “Today, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson held a hearing to discuss U.S. agriculture policy in advance of the 2012 Farm Bill with U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.”

A prepared transcript of Sec. Vilsack’s opening remarks from yesterday’s hearing can be viewed here, while a shorten version of excerpts from his testimony can be viewed here; in addition, a power point presentation Sec. Vilsack referenced in his testimony is available here.

DTN Political Correspondent Jerry Hagstrom reported yesterday that, “The Obama administration will leave the writing of the 2012 farm bill largely up to the congressional agriculture committees, but the administration believes the bill should contain a safety net for farmers as well as provisions to help create better off-farm jobs in rural America, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told the House Agriculture Committee on Wednesday.

“At the committee’s first hearing on the 2012 farm bill, Vilsack said USDA ‘would provide an outline or framework on the farm bill, but there is no intention to provide you with a complete farm bill.’ Previous administrations have varied in the scope of farm bill proposals they have made to Congress. The agriculture committees have often ignored or pushed back against administration proposals.”

Mr. Hagstrom indicated that, “House Agriculture ranking member Frank Lucas, R-Okla., told Vilsack he did not talk enough about the farm safety net and said he fears the administration believes increasing high-speed Internet service and other nonfarm programs are ‘the primary issues.’ Lucas asked Vilsack if the administration’s proposals in the fiscal year 2011 budget to cut direct payments, crop insurance and conservation programs would be an indication of its farm-bill proposals.

“Vilsack replied that there may be opportunities to use those resources in an efficient way, but he also pledged to handle the negotiations with crop insurance companies over their subsidy levels in a way to protect the baseline for the farm bill.

Lucas said he was afraid the Obama administration will turn rural America into ‘a bedroom community where people drive to work every day and drive back,’ but Vilsack said that is not his goal. He said that jobs in biorefineries and firms using broadband Internet service would help people stay in rural America.”

To listen to the entire spirited exchange between Ranking Member Lucas and Sec. Vilsack from yesterday’s hearing, just click here (MP3-9:08).

Philip Brasher noted yesterday at the Green Fields Blog (The Des Moines Register) that, “Some conventional growers have bridled at the USDA’s emphasis under Vilsack on subsidizing and providing other assistance to small-scale farms and processors.

“But Vilsack argues that promoting local food production will not only keep people on the land but also build public for farm programs in general.”

Reuters writer Charles Abbott reported yesterday that, “U.S. farm groups and lawmakers must consider whether fundamental change is needed in farm subsidies that date from the Depression, said the head of the House Agriculture Committee on Wednesday after the opening work on the new farm bill, due in two years.

“Chairman Collin Peterson told reporters the Average Crop Revenue Election, an option created in 2008, has ‘elements we need to look at for the future.’ ACRE is the first program to shield farmer revenue from poor yields as well as low prices.”

Mr. Abbott added that, “‘I think it will be very difficult to pass a status-quo farm bill in 2012,’ said Peterson, a Minnesota Democrat. ‘I think it’s inadequate.’

“For one thing, he said, there will not be enough money to increase crop subsidy rates as high as some backers want.

“The committee has scheduled four field hearings through May 4, with more possible. ‘I’m trying to get people to look ahead here,’ said Peterson.”

The Reuters article added that, “Besides mentioning ACRE as a possible model, Peterson said attention also was being given to a ‘whole-farm revenue’ concept. It could allow more cropping flexibility than ACRE, which is tied to growing a specific crop. In the long run, he said, the United States could move to an insurance-like support system.”

In a separate update posted yesterday at the Green Fields Blog, Des Moines Register writer Philip Brasher indicated that, “The chairman of the House Agriculture Committee is looking to make fundamental changes in the way that corn and other crops are subsidized when Congress writes the next farm bill in 2012.

“Rep. Collin Peterson said the current subsidy programs overlap with each other and with crop insurance. And there will be no money available to increase the subsidy rates under existing programs and some commodity groups want, he said.”

Mr. Brasher added that, “One idea is to link subsidies more to swings in farm revenue as opposed to commodity prices. ‘Let’s come up with the best risk management system that we can,’ he said.

The Minnesota Democrat, who lingered to talk to a few reporters after a hearing today, also sees the current subsidies being integrated in some way with crop insurance. In fact, in 20 years, crop insurance is likely to be the single way that the government subsidizes farmers, he said. The concept of crop insurance is easier to sell to urban voters than the conventional subsidy programs.”

With respect to yesterday’s hearing, an audio replay of a portion of Chairman Peterson’s opening statement is available here (MP3-4:01).

Meanwhile, Dow Jones news reported yesterday (article posted at DTN, link requires subscription) that, “It’s been over three months since the U.S. Congress allowed the government tax incentive on soybean oil-based biodiesel production to expire and the damage to the idled industry is becoming irreparable, U.S. lawmakers said Wednesday.

“Reps. Steve King, R-Iowa, and Steve Kagen, D-Md., voiced frustration over the loss of the $1-per-gallon government tax incentive that expired on Dec. 31. King said, in one instance, a biodiesel plant in Iowa was being dismantled and shipped to India.”

The article stated that, “It is up to Congress to renew the biodiesel tax incentive, but it was U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack that King and Kagen voiced their frustrations to during a House Agriculture Committee hearing.

“Vilsack said he sympathized with their despair. He told King that he has had discussions about the situation with President Barack Obama and the president supports renewing the tax incentive.”

To listen to a portion of the exchange between Rep. King and Sec. Vilsack on this issue from yesterday’s hearing, just click here (MP3-1:33).

Also at yesterday’s House Ag Committee hearing, Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D-North Dakota) questioned Sec. Vilsack on the implementation of the 2008 Farm Bill’s disaster relief programs; Rep. Leonard Boswell (D-Iowa) posed questions to Sec. Vilsack on the child nutrition programs; Rep. Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) asked Sec. Vilsack for more details about the standard reinsurance agreement negotiations for crop insurance (audio replay, MP3-1:09); and Rep. Adrian Smith (R-Nebraska) asked Sec. Vilsack about trade issues (audio replay, MP3-1:04).

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April 20, 2010House Agriculture Committee Reviews Dairy Policy in Pennsylvania, Audio replay available here. Official Transcript. FarmPolicy.com Summary:

On the issue of dairy policy, a news release issued yesterday by the House Ag Committee stated that, “Today, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin C. Peterson of Minnesota held a hearing in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania to review dairy policy challenges and opportunities.

“The Committee heard testimony from the Pennsylvania Secretary of Agriculture, a professor of agriculture economics, and a panel of witnesses representing dairy farmers and processors in Pennsylvania.”

In his opening statement before the Committee yesterday, Pennsylvania’s Sec. of Agriculture Russell Redding discussed the risk management principles of crop insurance and suggested that this type of approach could potentially be applied to the dairy sector more broadly. To listen to his remarks on this matter, just click here (MP3-2:55)

During the “Q and A” portion of yesterday’s Panel One discussion, Rep. Tim Holden (D-Pennsylvania) asked for some more specifics regarding the potential of crop insurance risk management programs and the dairy sector. To listen to this discussion between Rep. Holden and Pennsylvania Sec. of Ag. Redding, just click here (MP3-3:43).

After additional questions and discussion, House Ag Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) weighed in with some of his thoughts and perspective on the risk management – crop insurance issue as potentially applied to the dairy sector, as well as to other aspects of agricultural production; to listen to his interesting remarks from yesterday, just click here (MP3- 0:45).

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