FarmPolicy

December 16, 2017

Farm Bill Hearings; Biofuels; Climate Issues; Food Safety; and USDA Issue

Farm Bill Hearings- Rural Development

Two House Ag Subcommittees held hearings yesterday highlighting rural development and livestock programs in advance of the 2012 Farm Bill.

With respect to rural development, 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.’”

An audio replay of yesterday’s rural development hearing is available here.

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).

Farm Bill Hearings: Livestock Issues

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.”

Meanwhile, Lorraine Mirabella reported earlier this week at the Baltimore Sun Online that, “The proposed federal [GIPSA] protections, which the 2008 Farm Bill required the USDA to put in place, would give growers more time to fix problems before their contracts are canceled, require processing companies to give growers more notice before suspending delivery of birds to their farms and prohibit companies from retaliating against growers who speak out against their contracts.”

The article noted that, “But a trade group that represents the chicken companies and will be working to shape the new regulations argues that the existing system works to the mutual benefit of growers and production companies.

“‘They need each other,’ said Richard Lobb, a spokesman for the Washington-based National Chicken Council. ‘The companies wouldn’t be able to produce chickens or would have to produce them themselves if they didn’t have the contract growers, and the contract growers would have to take all the market risks if they didn’t have’ processors.”

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 productionrelated audio– MP3- 4:01.

In related news on the antibiotic issue, Gene Gregory, President of the United Egg Producers, penned a letter to the editor that was published in today’s New York Times that indicated that: In your July 12 editorial ‘A Humane Egg,’ you disparage the modern, sanitary housing systems for egg-laying hens, which have improved chickens’ health and well-being, improved consumer food safety and kept eggs a nutritious and economical staple on kitchen tables and restaurant menus nationwide.

“These modern systems allow hens to stand up, turn around, lie down and walk to clean water and nutritious food troughs. Groups like the American Veterinary Medical Association support these modern egg-laying housing systems.”

The new law will cost American family farmers, and ultimately California consumers, hundreds of millions of dollars.”

Biofuels

Reuters writer Charles Abbott reported yesterday that, “U.S. ethanol production would drop a modest amount if tax incentives costing $6 billion a year are eliminated, a think tank at Iowa State University said on Tuesday.

“The incentives — a 45-cent a gallon excise tax credit for U.S.-made ethanol and a 54-cent a gallon tariff on imports — are scheduled to expire at the end of the year. Almost all fuel ethanol is distilled from corn.

“Imports would remain at low levels if the tariff is removed, said the study by the Center for Agricultural and Rural Development (CARD), and domestic output in 2011 would be 700 million gallons, or roughly 6 percent, lower than with the tax credit.”

In related news, Philip Brasher reported yesterday at The Green Fields Blog (Des Moines Register) that, “A House committee is considering a 20-percent cut to the ethanol subsidy that is set to expire this year. A spokesman for the House Ways and Means Committee that a reduction of the tax credit from 45 cents to 36 cents was among ideas the panel was considering for a green energy bill. The subsidy, which is set to expire at the end of the year, would be extended through next year.

“It’s not clear when the committee will take up the bill, but a draft could be released in the next few days, said committee spokesman Matt Beck. The Hill newspaper, citing sources, said the committee’s action on the bill was likely to be delayed until September.”

The update explained that, “The chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., said a 9-cent cut in the ethanol subsidy was unacceptable. ‘If they don’t want to have a … bill, that’s a good way to do it,’ he said. However, he said a proposal floated by a leading ethanol industry group to shift some of the subsidy into retrofitting service stations and convenience stores to sell higher ethanol blends is considered too late and too complex. Peterson had been promoting the idea before it was proposed last week by the group Growth Energy. The proposal has split the industry. Groups including the Renewable Fuels Association and the National Corn Growers Association said they want the existing tax credit extended.”

Also yesterday, both POET and Growth Energy issued news updates, which noted that while on a visit to Ohio yesterday, Sec. of Ag. Tom Vilsack offered support for ethanol.

And the AP reported earlier this week that, “U.S. automakers say they’re on track to increase the number of vehicles that can run on fuel-saving ethanol, even as the ethanol industry falters and other technologies like electric vehicles capture the public’s attention.”

Meanwhile, DTN Political Correspondent Jerry Hagstrom reported yesterday (link requires subscription) that, “Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack defended Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson’s handling of agricultural issues Monday but also acknowledged EPA has made some mistakes in handling farm issues and said he is trying to help farmers in their relationship with the agency.

“In the question and answer session after a speech to the National Association of Conservation Districts Board, Vilsack said that EPA often finds itself in the center between laws written by Congress and lawsuits filed over those laws.”

The DTN article added that, “But Vilsack added that he believes EPA officials do not ‘get into the countryside’ enough and do not communicate well with farmers. In that context, Vilsack said, he has set up a regular series of meetings with Jackson and representatives of livestock, row-crop and specialty-crop producers.

“But Vilsack also said that he had found that when EPA analyzed the potential for corn-based ethanol as an alternative fuel in reducing carbon emissions, EPA did not understand that corn productively had risen dramatically in the last 15 years. Once EPA officials were made aware of the increased productivity, the agency was able to rule that corn-based ethanol could play a much more positive role, Vilsack said.”

Climate Issues

Reuters news reported today that, “With time running out on the congressional calendar, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said on Tuesday he was still grappling for consensus among Democrats to forge a new climate and energy bill;” while Darren Samuelsohn indicated yesterday at Politico that, “The Senate climate bill has been at death’s door several times over the past year. But with the days before the August recess quickly slipping away, the case may truly be terminal now.”

Darren Goode reported yesterday at The Hill’s Energy Blog that, “Senate Democrats are gathering Thursday to see if they can get closer to determining details and a strategy for moving a climate and energy plan that may hit the floor next week.”

Food Safety

Lyndsey Layton reported yesterday at The Washington Post Online that, “Frustration over a food safety bill that is stalled in the Senate has prompted infighting among some prominent Democrats.

“Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.) sent a sharply worded letter Friday to Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), accusing her of holding up Senate action on a landmark food safety bill that easily passed the House on a bipartisan vote last July.”

The Post article stated that, “Dingell wrote the House bill, which would grant vast new authorities to the Food and Drug Administration and mark the first serious reform of food safety laws in 70 years. The measure was headed for easy passage in Senate until the spring, when Feinstein said she wanted to add language that would ban a controversial chemical, bisphenol A or BPA, from food packaging.”

USDA Issue

Karen Tumulty and Krissah Thompson reported in today’s Washington Post that, “A fuzzy video of an Agriculture Department official opened a new front Tuesday in the ongoing war between the left and right over which side is at fault for stoking persistent forces of racism in politics.

“Shirley Sherrod, a black woman appointed last July as the USDA’s Georgia state director of rural development, was forced to resign after a video surfaced of her March 27 appearance at an NAACP banquet. In a speech, she described an episode in which, while working at a nonprofit organization 24 years ago, she did not help a white farmer as much as she could have. Instead, she said, she sent him to one of ‘his own kind.’”

The article added that, “The sensitivity to Sherrod’s comments — particularly in an agency that has a history of discrimination against minority farmers — was evidenced by the dispatch with which Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack ordered her to resign.

“Both Vilsack and an official at the White House denied Sherrod’s assertion, in an interview on CNN, that her firing had come at the instigation of the White House. The decision, they insisted, was Vilsack’s alone.”

The Post authors pointed out that, “A video of the full speech — which runs more than 45 minutes — shows that Sherrod was trying to make a very different point from the one her critics saw in her inelegantly worded account of the episode with farmer Roger Spooner. An examination of her own prejudice, she said, taught her that ‘there is no difference between us.’

“‘The only difference is the folks with money want to stay in power. It’s always about money, y’all,’ she said. ‘God helped me to see that it’s not just about black people. It’s about poor people. I’ve come a long way.’

“Ultimately, she did help the farmer — and on Tuesday, his family was among those who came to her defense. ‘She’s a good friend. She helped us save our farm,’ Spooner’s wife, Eloise, told CNN. ‘She’s the one I give credit for helping us save our farm.’”

The AP reported yesterday that, “Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says he will reconsider the department’s decision to oust a black employee over racially tinged remarks after learning more about what she said.

“Vilsack said in a statement early Wednesday morning that he will ‘conduct a thorough review and consider additional facts’ about his decision to ask Shirley Sherrod to resign.”

Keith Good

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