FarmPolicy

August 21, 2019

House Ag. Comm. Hearing -Votes; Biofuels; Climate Issues; Soybean Checkoff; and Biotechnology

House Agriculture Subcommittee Hearing- Quality Control Systems in SNAP

Yesterday, the House Agriculture Committee’s Subcommittee on Department Operations, Oversight, Nutrition and Forestry, held a hearing to review quality control systems in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

A House Agriculture Committee news release stated that, “The Subcommittee heard testimony from government officials and advocacy and industry groups about efforts to reduce the error rate in the SNAP program and to combat fraud and abuse in the system.”

Ms. Julie Paradis, the Administrator of USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service, provided a fascinating background and statistical overview on the recent upsurge in SNAP program participation rates. She also indicated that according to a report last month, “The SNAP national payment accuracy rate, for FY2009, had reached an all time high of 95.64 percent.” To listen to a portion of this overview, just click here (MP3- 1:08).

During the discussion portion of yesterday’s hearing, Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Oregon, inquired about the possibility of reaching a “tipping point,” or point of “diminishing returns” with respect to resource allocation for improving SNAP program payment accuracy. In addition, Rep. Schrader also asked about “unauthorized immigrants” and the SNAP program. To listen to a portion of this dialogue from yesterday, just click here (MP3- 2:38).

Meanwhile, Rep. Kathy Dahlkemper, D-Pennsylvania, asked the first panel of witnesses at yesterday’s hearing about the use of SNAP benefits at local farmers markets, a portion of this exchange is available here (MP3- 1:28). In the clip, FNS Administrator Paradis notes that, “Our goal is to have every farmers market in the country participating in the [SNAP] program.”

Subcommittee Ranking Member Jeff Fortenberry, R-Nebraska, expressed concern about health and obesity rates, and noted that data from the Healthy Incentives Pilot (HIP) would not be available for another two years. He went on to ask the second panel of witnesses yesterday an interesting theoretical question about a potential “new paradigm” in linking SNAP benefits to improved choice. He offered a hypothetical example: “Instead of a SNAP card having $100 on it, a SNAP card would have 100 ‘nutritional points,’ and that would also be measured as you buy certain foods and therefore the market would then respond to develop food products that would fit easily into the nutritional categorizations.” To listen to this interesting discussion on linking SNAP benefits to nutritional health, click here (MP3- 8:12).

An audio replay of yesterday’s Subcommittee hearing on SNAP is available here, while prepared testimony can be found here.

In other nutritional developments, a news release yesterday from Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Blanche Lincoln, D-Arkansas, noted that, “Today, [Sen Lincoln] returned to the Senate floor for the second time this week to speak on the need to pass ‘The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act’ to reauthorize child nutrition programs before they expire on September 30th. The bi-partisan legislation would make the most historic investment in child nutrition programs since their inception and is completely paid for.”

The release included remarks delivered yesterday by Chairman Lincoln.

House Agriculture Committee- Votes

A news release yesterday from the House Agriculture Committee indicated that, “Today, the House Agriculture Committee approved three bills for consideration by the U.S. House of Representatives.

H.R. 5509, the Chesapeake Bay Restoration and Improvement Act, is a bipartisan bill that will give farmers and ranchers in the Chesapeake Bay region additional tools to help them meet regulatory requirements imposed on them by the Environmental Protection Agency.”

H.R. 3519, the Veterinary Services Investment Act, establishes a competitive grant program at USDA to support efforts to increase access to veterinary care in underserved areas.”

And, “H.R. 5852, the Mandatory Price Reporting Act of 2010, reauthorizes mandatory price reporting programs run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for five years. It also adds mandatory reporting for wholesale pork cuts and electronic reporting for dairy products.”

With respect to the Chesapeake Bay bill, the American Farm Bureau noted yesterday that, “The Chesapeake Bay Program Reauthorization and Improvement Act (H.R. 5509) will help farmers while also benefitting communities in the bay’s watershed. The American Farm Bureau Federation is urging the House Agriculture Committee to approve the bill when it comes up for consideration today.

“‘This bill is a commonsense approach to the work that is needed in the Chesapeake Bay watershed,’ said AFBF President Bob Stallman. ‘It offers an opportunity to improve water quality by working with farmers and ranchers. Perhaps most importantly, it provides a viable, effective alternative to other measures which view this problem as a ‘zero-sum’ game that would not just limit opportunities for agriculture in the watershed but would, in all likelihood, spell the end of agriculture for many farm families.’”

A news release yesterday from the National Corn Growers Association stated that, “Today, the House Agriculture Committee voted to pass The Chesapeake Bay Program Reauthorization and Improvement Act, H.R. 5509. The bi-partisan bill addresses water quality challenges in the Chesapeake Bay and establishes a workable nutrient trading program under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which will provide incentives for producers to implement additional conservation practices on their land.

“‘We appreciate the committee’s work on this important piece of bipartisan legislation,’ said Production Stewardship Action Team Board Liaison Jamey Jamison. ‘This bill uses a common sense approach to improving water quality while maintaining a strong farm economy.’”

On the Veterinary Services Investment Act bill, a news item from Rep. Adrian Smith, R-Nebraska, indicated yesterday that, “[Congressman Smith’s] legislation addressing veterinary shortages in rural communities overwhelmingly passed the House Agriculture Committee this afternoon. The Veterinary Services Investment Act (H.R. 3519) would authorize the Secretary of Agriculture to award competitive grants to help develop, implement, and sustain veterinary services.”

“‘This was a great step toward fixing the veterinarian shortage which plagues many rural communities. Large animal vets, in particular, are integral to small, rural communities but are often scarce. The Veterinary Services Investment Act seeks to stem this tide,’ Smith said.”

And a news release yesterday from the National Pork Producers Council stated that, “The National Pork Producers Council today applauded the House Agriculture Committee for approving legislation to reauthorize the law requiring meat packers to report to the U.S. Department of Agriculture the prices they pay producers for animals.

“The committee passed H.R. 5852, sponsored by panel Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., to reauthorize for five years the Livestock Mandatory Reporting Act, which is set to expire Sept. 30. The committee bill also adds to the reporting law provisions requiring reporting of pork exports – by price and volume – and of wholesale pork cuts.”

Recall that a news release from earlier this week from the Senate Agriculture Committee stated that, “U.S. Senator Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), Chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, today joined Ranking Member Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), in introducing bipartisan legislation that would reauthorize mandatory price reporting for five years. This bill will guarantee transparency of the livestock marketing sector and help improve producers’ ability to access fair market prices.”

Yesterday, Nebraska Senators Mike Johanns (R) and Ben Nelson (D) also signed on as co-sponsors of the Senate legislation regarding mandatory pricing.

Biofuels

Joe Ruff reported yesterday at the Omaha World-Herald Online that, “It’s time for the federal government to move beyond offering tax credits to companies that combine ethanol with gasoline, said the CEO of the fourth-largest ethanol producer in the country.

Instead, he said, government incentives are needed for companies that install special pumps at gas stations and design cars capable of handling higher amounts of the fuel additive.

“‘Let’s build the infrastructure,’ said Todd Becker of Green Plains Renewable Energy in Omaha. ‘Roads, rail, pipelines — all had some kind of tax incentives or loan guarantees. It’s happened in every single industry, even semiconductors.’”

Yesterday’s article noted that, “This is a critical time for the ethanol industry. Congress could eliminate or reduce the ethanol industry’s $6 billion tax credit by about 9 cents a gallon, from 45 cents to 36 cents.”

“Growth Energy, whose position Becker backs, has called for phasing out the credit in favor of infrastructure incentives. The Renewable Fuels Association, on the other hand, said it is important to extend the credit while also expanding infrastructure efforts.

Even without the credit, ethanol is competitive in price with gasoline, Becker said. Now the industry needs government approval to move from blending 10 percent ethanol with gasoline to 15 percent and the ability to move the product more efficiently across the country, he said.”

Meanwhile, The New York Times editorial board stated today that, “Congress must soon decide whether to extend federal tax subsidies for renewable energy that expire at the end of the year. The subsidies for wind, solar and geothermal energy are necessary to give these energy sources the help they need to compete with oil, coal and natural gas. While it renews those subsidies, Congress should end tax breaks for corn ethanol, which can stand on its own and is of dubious environmental benefit.”

The Times noted that, “Ethanol, which in this country is made almost exclusively from corn, has been subsidized since the early 1970s, partly because it increases octane levels while helping to reduce certain pollutants, most notably carbon monoxide. Refineries that blend the ethanol with gasoline now get a 45 cent tax break for every gallon they produce. That break is no longer needed… A bipartisan group of senators, have rightly begun to question the subsidy. So have many members of the House Ways and Means Committee. Even the powerful ethanol lobby is showing signs of cracking, with Growth Energy, an ethanol trade group, suggesting a four-year phaseout. It would be far better to end it now. There are many more useful ways to spend taxpayer dollars.”

Climate Issues

Evan Lehmann of Climatewire reported yesterday at The New York Times Online that, “The Senate’s small energy package unveiled last night flirts with Republican opposition and turns its cheek to clean-power Democrats. Its first vote, nonetheless, is planned for next week.

“Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) resisted mounting efforts in his own party to include a renewable electricity standard (RES) in his last-ditch attempt to pass an energy bill this summer, even as several Democratic senators openly questioned his assertions that the electricity standard lacks support.

Reid instead raced toward debate this week on the $15 billion bill that offers $5 billion in rebates for energy efficiency retrofits in homes, $3.8 billion to encourage the use of natural gas trucks, and $400 million to study electric cars. The measure would be paid for by increasing a tax on the oil industry.”

Darren Goode reported yesterday at The Hill’s Energy Blog that, “Senate Democrats and Republicans appear on a collision course that would sink chances of passing oil-spill and energy legislation amid disagreements over both substance and process.

“Democratic leaders Wednesday foretold the likely failure of the package and blamed Republicans for obstructing it and other legislation.”

And The Hill’s Ben Geman reported yesterday that, “Top Senate Republicans came out swinging Wednesday against Democratic energy and oil-spill response legislation that Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) unveiled late Tuesday night.

At a press conference in the Capitol, senior Republicans attacked several specific provisions while calling the overall bill a hastily crafted product that Democrats want to speed through the Senate.”

Soybean Checkoff

DTN Ag Policy Editor Chris Clayton reported yesterday Tuesday (link requires subscription) that, “Leaders from the United Soybean Board and American Soybean Association both indicated Tuesday that the two groups need to work better together, after waiting a year and a half for an audit of the checkoff to be completed.

Following an 18-month investigation of the United Soybean Board, USDA’s Office of Inspector General stated this week in a letter that the agency ‘found insufficient evidence’ to support allegations made by the American Soybean Association that the USB had misused soybean checkoff dollars.

“The report by the OIG sent to the office of Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, provides an anticlimactic end to a public row between the United Soybean Board and American Soybean Association over checkoff spending and an employee who no longer works for a checkoff export group.”

The DTN article stated that, “Phil Bradshaw, a farmer from Griggsville, Ill., and chairman of the United Soybean Board, said in a conference call with reporters that the report found no basis for the allegations by ASA, but did suggest USB increase oversight of the U.S. Soybean Export Council, which Bradshaw noted has already occurred.

“‘The USDA report speaks for itself,’ Bradshaw said.”

Mr. Clayton noted that, “Since the dispute began, ASA and USB have put together ‘the group of eight,’ four representatives from each group to talk further about plans for what Bradshaw described as a ‘facilitated conversation’ to find areas where ASA and USB can work together. Bradshaw said he has a good relationship with American Soybean Association President Rob Joslin and said he thinks the two groups are ready to move forward in the best interest of soybean farmers.

“‘I think this is behind us. I hope it is,’ Bradshaw said.”

Biotechnology

Philip Brasher reported yesterday at The Green Fields Blog (Des Moines Register) that, “Critics of agricultural biotechnology used the increasing problem with herbicide-resistant weeds to call for tighter regulation of biotech crops.

“Rep. Dennis Kucinich, who chaired a House hearing Wednesday on the spread of Roundup-resistant weeds, said the Agriculture Department has been too quick to approve new varieties of herbicide-tolerant crops and other biotech products.

“‘Now, more than ever, farmers need to have a Department of Agriculture that takes care to preserve and protect the farming environment for generations to come,’ Kucinich said.”

Yesterday’s update added that, “Rep. Aaron Schock, R-Ill, expressed concern that increased regulation of biotech crops could threaten advances in crop production.

“‘The market controls already in place are more than enough to ensure that farmers are employing the best practices to control herbicide-resistant weeds in their fields,’ he said.”

Prepared testimony from yesterday’s hearing can be found here.

Keith Good

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