February 26, 2020

Farm Bill; Nutrition; Rural Loans; Biodiesel Tax Credit; Food Safety; and Climate Issues

Farm Bill Considerations

Reuters writer Charles Abbott reported yesterday that, “The new U.S. farm law should take into account the government’s tight finances but sweeping changes in crop supports are not needed, said the Republican leader of the House Agriculture Committee on Thursday.

“Oklahoma Rep. Frank Lucas said he would retain so-called direct payments that guarantee cotton, grain and soybean growers $5 billion a year as part of a judicious fine-tuning of the 2008 farm law, which is popular in farm country.

“‘There’s no need to throw out the system,’ said Lucas during a Reuters interview. ‘I think we take the ’08 bill and we build off of that, and within the money available to us.’”

Yesterday’s article explained that, “Some farm groups would eliminate the direct payment, created in 1996. Others would expand land stewardship programs or put more emphasis on protecting farmer revenue, an initiative launched by the 2008 farm law as an alternative to traditional crop supports that are triggered by low prices.”

Mr. Abbott noted that, “All sides agree money will be tight when the new law is written. In April, Agriculture Committee chairman Collin Peterson said, ‘I think it will be very difficult to pass a status quo farm bill in 2012’ and encouraged an examination whether a better farm safety net can be designed.

“Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has suggested greater prominence for rural economic development in the farm bill, which sets the terms for land stewardship, farm export, agricultural research and public nutrition programs along with farm subsidies.”

The Reuters article stated that, “Funding authority for 38 programs, ranging from an ever-ready disaster relief fund to biofuel tax credits and the Wetlands and Grassland reserves, expires with the 2008 law. It would cost $9 billion to renew them for five years, analysts told a Farm Foundation seminar on Tuesday. Cost of the 2008 law was estimated as $289 billion for five years with two-thirds going to nutrition.”

The direct payment is important in the Plains and other regions with harsh climates, said Lucas, and it complies with world trade rules.

“The 1996 farm law ended most federal controls over plantings so farmer could shift from crop to crop in pursuit of profits. The 2002 and 2008 laws increased crop support rates and put more money into land stewardship but maintained the ‘market-oriented’ approach of 1996,” the article said.

Meanwhile, Rep. Lucas was a guest on yesterday’s AgriTalk Radio Program with Mike Adams. During their conversation yesterday, Mr. Adams asked Rep. Lucas a hypothetical question about the GOP taking control of the House and about “the chance” of Rep. Lucas becoming Chairman of the House Ag Committee. Mr. Adams asked Rep. Lucas how he sees the role of the government with agriculture. To listen to this exchange from yesterday’s AgriTalk program, just click here (MP3- 1:44).

Trish Choate reported on Wednesday at the San Angelo Standard Times Online (Texas) that, “Texas Farm Bureau President Kenneth Dierschke isn’t expecting the next farm bill to come without a fight.

“The West Texas cotton and grain farmer knows the federal budget’s trip into the red will bring scrutiny to every penny proposed for the wide-ranging legislation designed to feed the hungry, keep the nation’s farms producing and foster development in energy, agriculture and rural programs.”

The article stated that, “Hundreds of miles away from the Concho Valley, more than 100 agriculture policy and budget wonks crowded together with reporters this week in Washington to hear how the federal budget might affect the 2012 farm bill.”

Ms. Choate indicated that, “Just for fiscal year 2010, the deficit was projected to be $1.4 trillion in the Congressional Budget Office’s March figures, [Craig Jagger, chief economist for the House Agriculture Committee] said.

“‘If this farm bill tries to do a whole lot different from what the 2008 farm bill is, then this is going to be the worst farm bill from a budget perspective that we’ve seen for a long time,’ Jagger said.”

Wednesday’s article added that, “The next Congress will include many new members who have never done farm bill legislation, [former San Angelo Congressman Charlie Stenholm, a farmer and lobbyist who moderated the event] said. Most will ‘have no clue what goes on in the farm and how that contributes to food in the grocery store,’ and so they’ll need educating.”

With respect to executive branch perspective on agricultural issues, Marino Eccher reported on Wednesday at the InForum Online (North Dakota) that, “Chances are U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack doesn’t need convincing that farm issues are important to the nation at large. The crowd that came to see him speak at the Big Iron Farm Show Tuesday probably doesn’t, either.

The trick, he said, is getting all the non-farmers out there on board.

“‘We represent less than 1 percent of the population, and we’ve got to convince the other 99 percent of the population that what we do matters to their life,’ he said. ‘A farm bill isn’t just about farmers and ranchers – it’s about every consumer in this country.’”

And a news release earlier this week from the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) stated that, “U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack addressed U.S. cattle producers from across the country in Washington, D.C., today (Sept. 15, 2010) as part of the 2010 National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) Legislative Conference.”

The release added that, “Secretary Vilsack reinforced the importance of U.S. agriculture to eradicating global hunger and providing one out of every 12 jobs in the United States. The Secretary quickly illustrated the importance the export marketplace plays in sustaining U.S. agriculture in terms of profitability and jobs. USDA projects a $31 billion trade surplus next year, compared to a current $27 billion surplus. He said every $1 billion in surplus is equivalent to 8,000 to 9,000 jobs. Secretary Vilsack said many new opportunities for U.S. exports need to be identified and existing trade barriers need to be resolved.”

The NCBA news item noted that, “Perhaps the boldest statements made by the Secretary were in regards to antibiotics. The Food and Drug Administration’s draft guidance document, The Judicious Use of Medically Important Antimicrobial Drugs in Food-Producing Animals, concerns cattle producers due to the lack of science. Cattle producers also expressed concerns over U.S. Representative Louise Slaughter’s (D-NY) Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA), which would phase out the use of some antibiotics in the livestock industry. The Secretary also expressed concerns.

“‘I’ve communicated to Rep. Slaughter, my support of the judicious use of antibiotics. The vast majority of producers do not abuse the use of antibiotics in livestock production. I told her you cannot ban this. It doesn’t make sense,’ Secretary Visack said. ‘USDA’s public position is, and always has been, that antibiotics need to be used judiciously and we believe they already are.’”

Disaster Aid Issues

DTN Ag Policy Editor Chris Clayton reported yesterday (link requires subscription) that, “The president of the National Black Farmers Association wants an explanation why the Obama administration can find administrative funds for disaster aid, but not to pay black farmers in a discrimination case that has dragged out for more than a decade.”

“Harkening back to the days of the farm crisis, John Boyd is drawing attention to the lack of a settlement by driving his orange Kubota M9000 tractor on Tuesday from South Hill, Va., to Capitol Hill on Thursday morning where he met with Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C.; Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va.; and Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa. He then drove his tractor to a convention center where the Congressional Black Caucus was meeting.

“Boyd wants the Obama administration or Congress to approve the $1.5 billion settlement reached with black farmers to close a class-action discrimination lawsuit brought by black farmers in what is commonly called the Pigford case.”

Mr. Clayton noted that, “Boyd sees favoritism after being told administrative funds couldn’t be used for black farmers, but then USDA announced $630 million in ad-hoc disaster aid on Wednesday. Some people have criticized the disaster aid as an effort to prop up Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Blanche Lincoln’s re-election bid in Arkansas.

“Boyd has repeatedly tried to draw attention to the lack of a paid settlement. That’s why Wednesday’s announcement draws his ire.”

On yesterday’s AgriTalk Radio Program with Mike Adams, the disaster aid issue came up in the interview with Rep. Frank Lucas, to listen to the discussion on this topic from yesterday’s program, just click here (MP3- 2:48).

Nutrition Issues

DTN Political Correspondent Jerry Hagstrom reported yesterday (link requires subscription) that, “The United Fresh Produce Association is urging passage of a child nutrition bill by Sept. 30 that would increase purchases of fruits and vegetables for the child nutrition program, but the prospects are complicated by disagreements in the House of Representatives and among advocates over how to pay for the bill.

“The House leadership is trying to figure out whether to bring the child nutrition bill to the floor before the child nutrition programs expire on Sept. 30, but House members and nutrition and anti-huger advocates disagree over whether to offset the cost of the bill by using a $4.5 billion cut in food stamps over 10 years that the Senate used to pass the same bill unanimously this summer. Under congressional budgetary rules, an increase in one program must be offset by a decrease in another program.”

Mr. Hagstrom explained that, “Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Calif., a member of the House leadership, said Wednesday the leaders had discussed the issue in detail at a meeting Tuesday but had reached no resolution. The main issue, Cardoza said after a speech to the United Fresh Produce Association, is whether to use the food stamp offset that the Senate used.

“A spokesman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in an email Wednesday, ‘We are working with the White House to pass this critical legislation.’”

The DTN article stated that, “On Aug. 13, after the Senate passed the bill, more than 100 House members, led by Reps. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., and Keith Ellison, D-Minn., wrote Pelosi that they hoped she would identify a different offset on the House side. ‘This is one of the more egregious cases of robbing Peter to pay Paul, and is a vote we do not take lightly.’”

Rural Loans

The AP reported yesterday that, “Rural homeowners could get loans of about $3,000 to $7,500 to make their homes more energy-efficient under legislation the House passed Thursday.

“Democrats, who pushed through the bill on a mainly partyline vote, said the loan program would promote construction jobs, boost American manufacturers, and help bring down rural energy costs. It passed 240-172 and now must be considered by the Senate.”

Biodiesel Tax Credit

Philip Brasher reported yesterday at the Greenfields Blog (Des Moines Register) that, “The biodiesel industry’s wait for the return of its subsidy continues. The Senate today turned back an effort by Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Ia., to revive the $1-a-gallon tax credit as part of a small business bill. The subsidy lapsed at the end of 2009 and repeated efforts to attach it to bills in the Senate have failed.”

To read Sen. Grassley’s floor statement yesterday on this issue, just click here.

In a news release from yesterday, South Dakota GOP Sen. John Thune “expressed disappointment over the defeat of a biodiesel tax credit amendment offered by Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) by a vote of 41-58. The Grassley amendment would have extended the biodiesel tax credit, which expired in 2009, through December 31, 2010.”

Nebraska GOP Sen. Mike Johanns stated yesterday that, “I am disappointed the Senate is still unable to extend the biodiesel tax credit more than eight months after it expired. Extending the biodiesel tax credit is a common sense step that would advance our goal of energy independence and provide a boost to rural economies. Washington’s inability to extend this tax credit has been devastating to the biodiesel industry, costing thousands of jobs and countless hours of production. Unfortunately, rather than encouraging investment in renewable fuels, today’s vote only provides more uncertainty to our farmers and biodiesel producers.”

And the American Soybean Association yesterday “expressed extreme disappointment and frustration with the United States Senate for its inability to extend the Biodiesel Tax Incentive that expired on December 31, 2009.”

Chris Clayton pointed out yesterday at the DTN Ag Policy Blog that, “If you have followed what’s been going on with biodiesel, you have to wonder about the future of the Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax Credit, or what we commonly call the 45-cent per-gallon ‘ethanol blenders credit.’

While the credit is due to expire at the end of December, the ethanol lobby groups are divided on what to do. One farmer who has been around for a few political fights said to me this week that he knew the credit was dead when the industry started splitting over it.”

Mr. Clayton added that, “What has to particularly worry ethanol producers who rely on that credit to prop up ethanol prices is that biodiesel can’t seem to gain traction for renewing and extending the $1 per-gallon biodiesel credit. When it expired at the end of last December, it was made to seem that problem would get fixed just as soon as Congress came back.

“But the bill that the biodiesel credit was riding on stalled, and the credit hasn’t been able to get attached to another bill. The Senate passed a small-business tax credit bill on Thursday 61-38. But before that, the biodiesel tax credit failed to get added by a 41-58 vote rejecting a proposal by Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa.”

Food Safety

CQPolitics reported yesterday that, “Majority Leader Harry Reid said Thursday the Senate will not take up long-pending food safety legislation before the Nov. 2 elections, citing a Republican senator’s objections.

“Reid announced on the Senate floor that ‘we’re not going to be able to get this done before we go home for the elections.’ Reid and Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin have been trying to move the bill quickly, but Tom Coburn , R-Okla., who has a long list of concerns about the legislation, has blocked them.

“Reid said Coburn’s objections mean that the bill (HR 2749) will not be completed before the Senate departs Oct. 8 for the midterm election campaign. ‘It’s just a shame that we can’t get this done,’ Reid said.”

Meanwhile, the AP reported yesterday that, “A lawsuit accusing two Iowa farms at the heart of a recall of 550 million eggs linked to salmonella illnesses of safely negligence has been filed and is seeking class-action status.

“The lawsuit was filed Wednesday in federal court in Chicago on behalf of six people who became ill after eating eggs produced at Wright County Egg near Galt, Iowa, and Hillandale Farms of Iowa, near New Hampton.”

And Alicia Mundy and Bill Tomson reported in today’s Wall Street Journal that, “Early tests suggested chicken feed may have become contaminated after it arrived at the Iowa farm at the center of a huge egg recall, helping investigators zero in on the cause of this summer’s salmonella outbreak.

“The Food and Drug Administration said earlier that it found salmonella in feed at Wright County Egg Co. but didn’t know how the bacteria got there.

“The agency has since collected and tested samples from companies that shipped feed ingredients to Wright County Egg, which had its own mill that produced finished feed for its chickens. Those tests so far have failed to find salmonella at the suppliers, raising the possibility that the contamination occurred after the feed shipments were delivered, FDA officials said.”

Climate Issues

Ben Geman reported yesterday at The Hill’s Energy Blog that, “Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) doesn’t believe the White House flexed enough muscle to move climate change legislation, which is dead in the Senate this year.

“Asked in the Capitol if the White House put enough political capital behind the bill, the liberal Democrat — and advocate of caps on greenhouse gases — replied: ‘Not in my opinion.’”

And Darren Goode reported yesterday at The Hill’s Energy Blog that, “Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) said he would support a Republican amendment to an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) spending bill that would delay the agency’s climate regulations.

“‘I think it should be done outside of the spending debate, but if it is brought up, you could be sure that I would vote for it,’ Nelson said Thursday.”

Keith Good

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