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Policy Issues; Obesity Report; WASDE; and Climate Issues

Policy Issues: 2012 Farm Bill

Christine Souza reported today at the California Farm Bureau Online that, “Don’t get too comfortable with the policies and programs contained in the current federal farm bill: That was the message that the chairman of the House Agriculture Committee brought to farmers and ranchers attending a field hearing in Fresno last week.

“Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., said farmers should expect ‘fundamental changes’ in farm policy and said there will be ‘little room for the status quo’ in the next farm bill, because of budgetary pressures and a public increasingly skeptical of traditional farm programs.”

The update noted that, “‘Don’t just get stuck in the idea that we have to have the same thing we’ve always had. Take a look at how we could do this better. Is there a way that we could have a more efficient, effective system, maybe with less money?’ Peterson said. ‘That is why I wanted to start a year early, so that we could have extra time. I want you to get engaged to work with us, to see if there is a way we can make changes that work for agriculture.’

“During the field hearing—one of a series happening around the country—Peterson told farmers and ranchers from throughout the state that he is looking for improvements to the current bill as Congress prepares to draft agricultural policy that will take effect in 2012.”

Peterson placed emphasis on developing a crop insurance and revenue-based system that could transition away from traditional farm support payments,” the update said.

The House Ag Committee Farm Bill hearings resume again tomorrow with a hearing in Washington, D.C., a schedule of upcoming hearings is available here.

EPA Regulation

Chris Clayton reported yesterday at DTN that, “Thousands of farmers, poultry growers and livestock producers with more than 9 million acres in the Chesapeake Bay watershed that stretches from New York to southern Virginia will likely face more environmental regulation following a lawsuit settlement announced Tuesday by the Environmental Protection Agency.”

The DTN article pointed out that, “Under the settlement EPA will propose, by the end of 2012, new regulations to control fertilizer and animal waste that will go into effect by the end of 2014. USDA said farmland accounts for about 9 million acres in the watershed, roughly one-fourth of the entire land total in the basin, which includes all or parts of Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and New York.

“The settlement agreement parallels work being pushed by EPA, following an executive order by President Barack Obama, to place more stringent controls on ‘basin wide target loads for nitrogen and phosphorus’ as EPA rolls out its Total Maximum Daily Load, or TMDL plan for the bay.”

According to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, EPA will require states to offset any new nitrogen, phosphorus or sediment loads going into the bay. EPA also will be required to establish a tracking system to determine if more pollution is entering the watershed,” the DTN article said.

Meanwhile, a news release issued yesterday by the House Ag Committee Republicans indicated that, “This week during The Ag Minute [MP3], guest host Rep. Jean Schmidt, member of the House Agriculture Committee, discusses the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) agenda and how it could harm the entire agriculture industry. Rep. Schmidt and her Republican colleagues on the Agriculture Committee sent a letter to the EPA expressing concern over its most recent policy proposal to mandate a zero-drift standard for pesticides.”

In part, Rep. Schmidt noted that, “Instead of mandating an unachievable standard, the EPA ought try and help farmers and ranchers reduce drift through a focus on outreach, education, research and other efforts to promote the use of drift reducing technologies.

The fact is that the EPA’s reckless agenda could affect the entire American agriculture industry with endless litigation. The rewrite of the pesticide labels could saddle consumers with higher costs and restrict access to the safest, most abundant and affordable food supply in the world.”

In recent developments regarding the EPA pesticide issue, Ken Anderson reported yesterday at Brownfield that, “The EPA says it will reconsider its controversial proposal to ban any drifting of herbicide, pesticide or fungicide spray.

“The American Farm Bureau’s director of congressional relations, Tyler Wegmeyer, says it’s great news for farmers and ranchers.

“‘We’re still sleeping maybe with one eye open—but it looks like they’re going back to the drawing board on this,’ says Wegmeyer. ‘We’re going to keep our eyes on it, but the proposal they originally came out with, it looks as though they’re not going to go through with it—so that is good news.’”

The Brownfield update, which included a link to an audio interview with Mr. Wegmeyer, added that, “Wegmeyer says the proposal was impossible and impractical. ‘The original proposal that EPA put forward on spray drift was a zero tolerance—essentially saying that if you sprayed any sort of chemical that had an adverse effect, that it would be a violation of the label.’”

“Know Your Farmer” Developments

Jerry Hagstrom reported yesterday at DTN (link requires subscription) that, “USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan said Monday she would hold briefings on Capitol Hill within the next two weeks about the ‘Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food’ program after a letter earlier this month from three Republican senators criticized the initiative.

But she also urged organic and local food producers not to add fuel to the fire by mounting a campaign in USDA’s defense.”

Mr. Hagstrom explained that, “Merrigan said Monday that, in her enthusiasm for promoting the program around the country, ‘Perhaps I neglected spending time on briefing people on the Hill.’ She also said that she believes the senators will find many elements of the program that they like.

“Merrigan made the statements in reaction to a question at a conference sponsored by the Wholesome Wave, a foundation that encourages good nutrition and doubles the value of food stamps used at some farmers markets.”

The DTN article noted that, “[Sec. of Agriculture Tom Vilsack] also addressed the issue last week, according to a Saturday report in the Pittsburg Tribune-Review. After speaking at an anti-poverty conference in the Pittsburgh area, where he grew up, Vilsack said the letter was ‘really an unfortunate circumstance.’

“Vilsack added that he considered the letter ‘inappropriate’ because ‘these senators have not taken the time to understand and appreciate our ‘Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food’ program,’ the newspaper reported.”

Competition Issues

The Washington Insider section of DTN reported yesterday (link requires subscription) that, “Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., is calling on the Justice Department to keep its hands off the antitrust exemption enjoyed by dairy cooperatives. In a letter to Christine Varney, the chief of DOJ’s antitrust division, Schumer urges her to leave untouched the antitrust laws as they relate to dairy cooperatives. ‘I’d like for the Department of Justice to publicly commit to not pushing for repeal of the [Capper-Volstead cooperatives] law or trying to administratively go around the intent of Congress,’ says Schumer in his letter.”

Marc Heller reported on Sunday at the Watertown Daily Times Online (New York) that, “Mr. Schumer, D-N.Y., wrote to the chief of the Justice Department’s antitrust division, Christine A. Varney, urging her to leave the antitrust laws alone as they relate to dairy cooperatives — putting him somewhat at odds with Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., who has hinted that the laws may need a closer look.”

“A spokesman for Mr. Schumer, Maxwell Young, said the senator is concerned that weakening the antitrust protections would hurt small cooperatives. Dozens of smaller co-ops continue to do business in the Northeast, although their access to the more lucrative beverage milk market has been diminished by the dominance of DFA [Dairy Farmers of America] and its affiliated cooperatives.”

Mr. Heller added that, “Mr. Schumer’s letter follows a Judiciary Committee hearing with Ms. Varney, as well as her visit to Batavia in March to meet with farmers and Mr. Schumer. At the hearing, Mr. Leahy suggested officials take a look at the Capper-Volstead provisions, and Ms. Varney agreed.”

The article added that, “The Justice Department and the U.S. Department of Agriculture have been holding workshops on antitrust concerns in agriculture and a dairy-specific meeting is scheduled for June in Wisconsin. The National Milk Producers Federation, representing cooperatives, will figure heavily in that meeting.

“A National Milk Producers Federation spokesman, Christopher Galen, said the organization ‘will be explaining and defending the critical importance of Capper-Volstead, and the important of farmer-owned organizations as a way to collectively serve the needs of individual farmers.’”

Nutrition Spending

In a separate article posted yesterday at DTN, Jerrry Hagstrom reported (link requires subscription) that, “The nation’s federal nutrition programs now feed one in four Americans, but people need to eat more nutritious food, Agriculture Undersecretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services Kevin Concannon said Monday. A foundation that promotes better nutrition suggested that the food stamp program should be changed to encourage people to eat more fruits and vegetables.

“At a Washington conference sponsored by Wholesome Wave, a Connecticut-based foundation that promotes better nutrition, Concannon said the number of people who get food stamps rose to 39.7 million in February, the last month for which data is available. That’s an increase of more than 7 million beneficiaries since February 2009. He also said that almost 32 million children eat school lunches and that 49 percent of infants are on the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, known as WIC.

“Concannon said the economy was responsible for much of the increase in food stamp, school lunch and WIC participation, but he also noted that USDA has been involved in a major effort to inform people about the programs.”

Obesity Report

In a related development, Robin Givhan reported in today’s Washington Post that, “In a tremendous show of administration muscle, Cabinet officials Tuesday stood shoulder to shoulder onstage with Michelle Obama to reveal results of the White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity: a 124-page report laying out 70 recommendations and a gentle warning that, while the federal government can’t solve the obesity epidemic, it is prepared to take action where others don’t .

“The task force, created by the president as part of the first lady’s ‘Let’s Move’ campaign, which launched in February, defined success by the numbers: returning this country to a childhood obesity rate of 5 percent by 2030. The current rate is about 20 percent.

“Members of the task force, chaired by White House domestic policy adviser Melody Barnes, focused their efforts on five areas: prenatal care, empowering parents with nutritional information and community support, getting healthier foods into schools, increasing access to healthy foods in neglected urban and rural neighborhoods, and making sure that all kids are physically active.”

Janet Adamy reported in today’s Wall Street Journal that, “Health advocates hailed the changes as a promising step toward tackling one of the nation’s biggest health threats. Nearly one in three children ages 2 to 19 is overweight or obese, and medical spending tied to adult obesity totaled $147 billion in 2008, according to the White House proposal.”

In related news, Marc Heller reported yesterday at the Watertown Daily Times (New York) that, “Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand is pushing for Congress to ban trans fat in the federal school meal program. But if that does not happen — as appears quite possible — she is putting renewed pressure on the Obama administration to do so on its own.

“Mrs. Gillibrand, D-N.Y., wrote to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack Monday, urging the USDA to take artificial trans fat out of public schools through a rulemaking procedure that is already under way at the department.”


Yesterday, the World Agricultural Outlook Board released its monthly World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates (WASDE) report. A brief summary of the update by Melvin Brees, was posted yesterday at the Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute Online.

Bloomberg writer Jeff Wilson reported yesterday that, “In a survey released in March, U.S. farmers indicated they planned to sow 88.798 million acres (39.5 million hectares) with corn this year, up 2.7 percent from a year earlier. That crop will be harvested in the marketing year that starts Sept. 1.

Average yields may fall to 163.5 bushels an acre from an estimated 164.7 bushels for last year’s crop, leaving production at 13.37 billion bushels, compared with a revised 13.11 billion collected last year, the USDA said. The government in February projected a crop of 13.16 billion bushels, based on an average yield of 160.9 bushels, from 89 million acres planted.”

The Bloomberg article added that, “The amount of corn used in livestock feed will fall to 5.35 billion bushels from 5.375 billion estimated for the 2009-2010 year, the department said. About 2 billion bushels will be exported, up from 1.95 billion estimated for the year that ends Aug. 31, the USDA said.

A record 4.6 billion bushels will be used to make ethanol, up from an estimated 4.4 billion for the current marketing year, the department said.”

For more detail on the WASDE report and livestock, see this news item from the American Farm Bureau Federation; for additional analysis regarding the WASDE report and ethanol, see this USDA Radio News item from yesterday which includes comments from USDA Chief Economist Joe Glauber.

Ian Berry reported in today’s Wall Street Journal that, “Corn prices rose on lower-than-expected U.S. government forecasts of inventory levels.”

“The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimated that stocks of corn will be 1.738 billion bushels at the end of the 2009-10 crop year, according to a report released Tuesday. Ending stocks for 2010-11 are seen at 1.818 billion bushels. Ending stocks represent the amount of grain left at the end of the year after supplies and usage are factored.”

The Journal article added that, “While the USDA report may be supportive for corn prices in the near term, supplies are still projected to be ample longer-term, analysts said.”

Climate Issues

Jim Tankersley reported yesterday at the Los Angeles Times Online that, “After months of negotiations and weeks of delay, Sens. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) will unveil their plan to limit greenhouse gas emissions and spur clean energy growth Wednesday — and the biggest challenge will be selling the notion that the bill has any chance of passage.

“Kerry and Lieberman’s efforts took a major hit when their Republican co-architect, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, walked away from the bill shortly before its scheduled rollout last month.”

Reuters writer Richard Cowan reported yesterday that, “The legislation, being offered by Democratic Senator John Kerry and Independent Senator Joseph Lieberman, faces a tough battle for passage in the Senate this year — especially without a Republican sponsor.

“Besides cutting carbon pollution, it contains incentives to expand U.S. nuclear power generation and offshore oil drilling. But in the wake of the huge, April 20 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the proposal includes protections for coastal states that do not want oil drilling off their shores.

“The climate bill would be Kerry’s counteroffer to the U.S. House of Representatives, which passed a somewhat different version of climate control legislation nearly a year ago.”

Jim Snyder and Ben Geman reported yesterday at The Hill’s Energy and Environment Blog that, “The measure would block state cap-and-trade programs and creates new limits on the Environmental Protection Agency’s power to regulate greenhouse gases. Business groups say such measures are needed to provide regulatory ‘certainty,’ but activists argue they curtail effective tools for limiting heat-trapping gases.

Kerry has expressed optimism the bill can gain traction but acknowledged uncertainties. ‘[Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid (D-Nev.) wants to do it. The president wants to do it. Whether we can or not, we will wait and see,’ he told reporters Tuesday.”

Michael O’Brien reported yesterday at The Hill’s Energy Blog that, “Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said he’ll huddle with key chairmen after an end-of-month recess to discuss the future of energy and climate legislation.

“Reid acknowledged the energy and climate bill set for unveiling Wednesday by Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), but signaled he wouldn’t figure out how to proceed with that and other energy and climate efforts until after the Memorial Day recess.

“‘What I intend to do after that is let this bill be seen by everyone that is interested in the subject, and I think the week that we get back after the Memorial Day recess, and I’ll get all the chairmen together and take a look at what we need to do with energy for this year,’ Reid told reporters at the Capitol following a weekly caucus luncheon.”

Meanwhile, Tom Steever reported yesterday at Brownfield that, “‘I’d be surprised if it’d [climate legislation] even come up for a vote,’ [Iowa GOP Sen. Charles Grassley] told reporters Tuesday. ‘If it does come up for a vote I think it’s only because the Democrats have to show that they do have the votes or don’t have the votes to satisfy the advocates for cap and trade.’”

Keith Good