FarmPolicy

December 16, 2017

Climate Issues; Biofuels; Farm Bill Issues; Animal Agriculture; and Ag Economy

Climate Issues

Carol Davenport reported yesterday at Politico that, “The next three weeks represent Democrats’ last, best shot at getting an energy and climate change bill passed this year.

In the White House and the office of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, it’s moment-of-truth time. People on every side of the energy debate say that Reid must unveil a concrete plan backed by a full-court press from the president this week, or the entire effort will fall apart in the run-up to the midterm elections.

“After weeks of indecisive caucus meetings and passionate but vague speeches calling for ‘comprehensive energy legislation,’ Reid’s office on Friday assured POLITICO that clarity, at long last, is coming.”

The article indicated that, “The majority leader is set to meet this week with the five Senate committee leaders who hold jurisdiction over slices of energy and climate legislation. He will give them a scaled-down menu of options prepared by his staff and tell them to assemble an energy package that could get 60 votes. The options will break down into three core elements, and the question will be how the leaders choose to combine them.

“The first and easiest piece is a Gulf-spill response measure to reform offshore drilling and raise disaster liabilities on oil companies….The second element is a clean-energy bill that would require a boost in renewable electricity produced by sources such as wind and solar…The third, biggest and most contentious piece is a price on greenhouse gas emissions — a policy at the heart of the climate change debate.”

Yesterday’s article added that, “So while the date has yet to be set for Reid’s meeting, lobbyists and staffers say they are already starting to see the contours of legislation that is likely to come to the Senate floor — an oil-reform plus clean-electricity measure that sidesteps limits on carbon emissions — and they are gearing up to make the most of the package.”

Darren Goode and Ben Geman reported yesterday at The Hill’s Energy Blog that, “It is officially crunch time for Democrats who are struggling to craft a far-reaching energy and climate change bill slated for debate on the Senate floor this month.

“After weeks of public and private political sales pitches, senators pushing bills that respond to the BP oil spill and boost ‘clean’ energy find their fate in the hands of Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

Reid faces a delicate balancing act as he seeks to appease a spectrum of Democrats — including liberals clinging to the prospect of greenhouse gas limits — while winning over Republican votes he concedes are needed to pass any bill.”

Bloomberg writer Simon Lomax reported today that, “The U.S. Senate, which is expected to take up an energy bill within weeks, has ‘very little time’ left this year to debate legislation, [John] Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat, told reporters in Washington yesterday.

“Lawmakers face ‘a lot of pressures, including election pressures, and we’re just going to have to kind of be realistic’ about which energy proposals can win enough votes to become law this year, he said.”

And Anna Palmer reported today at Roll Call Online that, “Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.) plan to huddle privately this afternoon with environmental groups to discuss progress on a slimmed-down energy bill.”

Meanwhile, in a separate article posted yesterday at Politico, Coral Davenport pointed out that, “Congress may or may not pass a serious climate bill this year, but one thing is certain: It won’t be business as usual.

“While Republicans and polluting industries will celebrate, most know their victory will be fleeting and, with or without a bill, they’ll soon face a cascade of onerous and expensive new regulations that could fundamentally reshape the nation’s economic, environmental and legal landscape.”

Ms. Davenport explained that, “That’s because the Obama administration spent the past year setting up a series of rules and international frameworks on climate control that were intended to prod Congress into action, sync up with whatever legislation did pass and, as a last resort, kick in as a backstop, should Congress fail to act.

It looks increasingly like Plan C — which even President Barack Obama has characterized as a worst-case option — will prevail. And as those rules slide into place, look for the climate change battles to take plenty of dramatic twists and turns.”

Biofuels

Reuters writer Tom Doggett reported today that, “Ethanol and other renewable fuels must account for 7.95 percent of total gasoline sales in 2011 to meet Congress’ mandate for 13.95 billion gallons of renewable fuels expected to be produced next year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said on Monday.

“In 2010, renewable fuels are expected to account for 8.25 percent of total gasoline sales to reach the mandate of 12.95 billion gallons.

“As the American economy recovers, gasoline demand will increase and so will the amount of renewable fuels required to be produced. The higher gasoline demand, however, will make renewables a smaller share of total fuel sales.”

The article pointed out that, “Already, exporters, livestock feeders and ethanol makers are going through the U.S. corn stockpile faster than farmers can grow the crop. The U.S. Agriculture Department has estimated 4.7 billion bushels of corn in 2010/11, an increase of 200 million bushels from a year ago, will go toward ethanol.

“Christopher Thorne, a spokesman with Growth Energy, an ethanol industry group, said ‘there is more than enough corn to meet all demands.’”

Mr. Doggett indicated that, “The United States still has a long way to go to meet Congress’ goal of producing 36 billion gallons of biofuels a year by 2022.

“The EPA said the proposed 2011 overall volumes and standards are as follows:

* Biomass-based diesel (800 million gallons; 0.68 percent)

* Advanced biofuels (1.35 billion gallons; 0.77 percent)

* Cellulosic biofuels (5 million-17.1 million gallons; 0.004-0.015 percent).”

“Matt Hartwig of the Renewable Fuels Association, a trade group, said EPA’s ‘lack-luster estimate of supply of cellulosic ethanol should be a wake-up call to the Obama administration’ that it needs to improve its loan guarantee program to make it more accessible to these producers.”

Bloomberg writers Kim Chipman and Mario Parker reported yesterday that, “Cellulosic ethanol, made from switchgrass, wood chips and agricultural waste such as corn cobs, has been promoted as having a smaller carbon footprint than fuel made from corn because it provides less incentive to cut down trees or plow up prairies to create cropland.

“The Obama administration said it will continue to evaluate the market as it works to make the cellulosic standard final in coming months. The EPA ‘remains optimistic’ that the commercial availability of cellulosic biofuel will continue to rise over the next few years, the agency said.”

With respect to the issue of government loan guarantee programs, a news release issued yesterday by the Renewable Fuels Association stated that, “The Government Accountability Office (GAO) today issued a report urging the Department of Energy (DOE) to make changes to its current loan guarantee program to make it more effective. The Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) has been highly critical of the program, repeatedly urging DOE to review and adjust its program so as to more fairly evaluate applications from cellulosic and other next generation ethanol companies.”

Yesterday’s RFA release added that, “‘Access to capital is a chief hindrance to the commercial deployment of cellulosic ethanol technology,’ said RFA President and CEO Bob Dinneen. ‘DOE has created a loan guarantee program that in theory is helpful, but in practice has proven difficult if not impossible for cellulosic ethanol companies to access. If the goals of the RFS are to be met, the Obama Administration must make sure loan guarantee programs are workable and accessible for qualified companies, regardless of their technology. Currently, such a scenario does not exist. Incorporating our comments with GAO recommendations would be a good place to start.’

“In October 2009, the RFA wrote to DOE expressing concerns raised by its cellulosic ethanol producer members. In the letter, the RFA raised a number of issues that created unfair and unnecessary challenges for cellulosic ethanol companies.”

Meanwhile, Sec. of Ag. Tom Vilsack indicated in an item posted at the Richmond Times-Dispatch Online that, “When President Obama was sworn into office, he made a commitment to moving America toward a new energy future and building a 21st-century clean energy economy. The tragedy of Deepwater Horizon — which continues to unfold each day and will have a lasting impact over many years — shows us the worst possible result of America’s dependence on oil. The tremendous economic and environmental costs of the Gulf oil spill make more apparent than ever the need to make the president’s vision a reality.

“America can no longer rely on energy sources that are growing increasingly difficult to find and utilize. We cannot accept an energy future that allows oil producers, whether they are controlled by a foreign state or a corporate board, to dictate how we will power our country. We must take back control of our energy security and energy independence. The costs of maintaining the status quo are too high.”

Sec. Vilsack added that, “At the same time, a failure to embrace renewable energy represents a lost economic opportunity for the nation, particularly for rural America. Our farms, forests, fields, and oceans are a wellspring of clean energy resources just waiting to be tapped. As we work to utilize alternative energy sources like biofuels, woody biomass, and anaerobic digesters, farmers and ranchers can benefit from new markets for bioenergy crops and agricultural byproducts — including those produced on land that is marginal for production of traditional crops. Biofuel facilities will provide permanent, good-paying jobs in small towns and bolster rural economies. As we increase energy production from wind, solar, and geothermal sources, demand for equipment such as wind turbines and solar panels will spur the return of manufacturing jobs to America.

“By pursuing these innovative technologies, we can strengthen our rural communities and create good jobs that can’t be exported.”

Farm Bill Issues

The AP reported yesterday that, “Forty years ago there were 40 dairy farms in the small town of Rochester, Vt. Now there’s just one.

“‘We are the last one left in our valley. We want to stay there,’ said Beth Kennett, who milks 100 cows with her husband and two sons. Newly introduced legislation aimed at stabilizing milk prices is giving them hope that they will survive, she said Monday.”

The AP article stated that, “The bill, introduced by U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., on June 24, would set the amount of milk to be produced quarterly and penalize farmers who produce too much.

The Dairy Market Stabilization Act, co-sponsored by U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., would ‘bring price stability to the dairy industry and provide family farmers with a fair price for their production — a price that will allow the industry to thrive and family farms to stay in business,’ Sanders said Monday in announcing the bill.

“‘What this says in simplest terms, you have a certain base price in your milk, you produce more, and then you’re not going to penalize everyone else, you’re going to have to pay a fee for it and that’s going to go into a pool,’ Leahy said.”

In other developments, a news release from USDA yesterday stated that, “Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced Recovery Act investments for 11 businesses in 9 states to strengthen rural economies by supporting local and regional food systems. Deputy Under Secretary for Rural Development Victor Vasquez made the announcement on behalf of Secretary Vilsack at the annual conference for the National Rural Economic Developers Association.

“‘Our farmers are the most productive in the world, supplying much of the nation’s food, and in so doing, are creating the create jobs that are necessary to strengthen our economy,’ said Vilsack. ‘By connecting farmers and ranchers more closely with consumers of food, we are creating new economic opportunities for producers and helping consumers to access healthy, nutritious food.’

“These announcements come as part of USDA’s ‘Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food’ initiative, which seeks to create new economic opportunities, to promote local and regional food systems that help keep wealth in rural communities, and to encourage a national conversation about what we eat and where it comes from in order to benefit producers of all sizes.”

In a more general and wide-ranging look at a variety of important issues, including the development of the next Farm Bill, Agri-Pulse Senior Editor Stewart Doan recently interviewed Former USDA Chief Economist Keith Collins. The discussion, which also touched on issues such as the Standard Reinsurance Agreement (SRA) and the state of the U.S. agricultural economy, is available for download at the Agri-Pulse homepage.

To listen to a portion of the Agri-Pulse discussion that focused on the Farm Bill, the budget, crop insurance and direct payments, just click here (MP3- 4:52).

In other Farm Bill related news, Carolyn Lochhead reported yesterday at the San Francisco Chronicle Politics Blog that, “There should be no lingering doubt about Michelle Obama’s passion for her ‘Let’s Move’ anti-obesity campaign. This is not some cookie-baking exercise. It’s an effort to change American culture in a way that is simultaneously radical and conservative. Today she gave a funny, warm and deeply serious address to the NAACP, urging the venerable civil rights organization to join her anti-obesity crusade with the same intensity it battled Jim Crow.

“‘We are living today in a time where we’re decades beyond slavery, we are decades beyond Jim Crow,’ the First Lady said, ‘when one of the greatest risks to our children’s future is their own health.’

“She blamed cultural changes that have taken place within her own lifetime that have seen children grow inactive, watching endless hours of television and consuming regular diets of junk food.”

Yesterday’s update added that, “Obesity is as serious a risk to African Americans as bad schools, youth violence and HIV/AIDS she said. Black children are far more likely than white children to become obese, and nearly half are expected to develop diabetes. ‘People, that’s half of our children,’ she said.”

Animal Agriculture

Rod Smith reported last week at Feedstuffs Online that, “Leaders of the Ohio agricultural sector and The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) recently signed an agreement concerning farm animal care that will keep an HSUS initiative off the Ohio ballot this fall.

“As an educator, as a restaurant or retail store manager, as a policy-maker or regulator or as an individual, there are some things you should know about this agreement.”

Mr. Smith stated that, “In 2008, HSUS carried an initiative to the California ballot proposing that all farm animals not be confined or tethered, ‘for all or the majority of any day,’ in such a way that an animal cannot sit or lie down, stand up, turn around or extend its limbs without touching another animal or the side of an enclosure. The measure was directed at housing practices such as keeping pregnant sows and veal calves in individual stalls and egg-laying hens in conventional cages.”

Armed with its California success, HSUS moved to another ballot initiative state — Ohio — with a Prop 2-like initiative.

However, Ohioans anticipated this and moved first, voting last year to establish the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board. The board, as its name suggests, will establish standards for the care and well-being of farm animals and has spent much of this year getting organized.

“The standards will be based on ethics and science, and the concept was for animal scientists and welfare specialists in Ohio to set standards for Ohio rather than outside interests such as HSUS.”

The Feedstuffs article pointed out that, “HSUS actually got almost everything it wanted, and a lot of Ohio farmers, based on the feedback Feedstuffs has received, have expressed disappointment in that regard.

“The agreement requires that the livestock board establish standards that require all new housing for pregnant sows built after this year to be group or pen housing and that all existing gestation stalls be phased out in 15 years.

“Know that sows are inseminated in stalls and farrow (give birth) in stalls because it’s efficient and safer for the sows, their piglets and the workers; in between these two processes is gestation, and the agreement calls for the elimination of gestation stalls — not stalls in the first and third stages. During the gestation period, sows are to be in groups, or pens.”

The article added that, “The biggest HSUS win in the agreement was the provision that no new permits can be granted for the construction of modern, conventional cage houses for egg-laying hens, although producers can expand production at existing facilities.

Know that 85% of all hens are currently housed in cages that meet standards established and updated by an independent committee of animal ethicists and scientists — standards that cover hen space, access to feed and water, air quality, beak trimming, molting without feed or water withdrawal and hen handling and transportation.”

And, an update posted yesterday at United Egg Producers Certified stated that, “There is no substantial quality difference between specialty and traditionally-produced eggs, a new government study shows.

“A team of researchers at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Egg Safety and Quality Research Unit compared traditional eggs, cage-free, free-range, pasteurized, nutritionally-enhanced and fertile eggs to determine if there were physical quality and compositional differences. While there were differences in size and weight, albumen height, shell strength, membrane strength and total solids, the researchers concluded that no egg type maintained the highest or lowest values. The study was published in the July issue of Poultry Science.”

Ag Economy

A DTN article from yesterday (link requires subscription) reported that, “Corn condition ratings improved slightly in the week ended July 11, according to USDA’s Weekly Crop Progress Report. The percentage of the crop rated good to excellent increased by 2 percentage points…[and]…Corn silking, at 38 percent, is 12 percentage points ahead of average and 23 percentage points ahead of last year’s pace.”

“Soybeans blooming, at 40 percent, is 3 percentage points ahead of average and 18 percentage points ahead of last year. Percent setting pods came in at 8 percent, 1 percentage point ahead of average.”

Keith Good

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