FarmPolicy

November 19, 2017

Farm Bill; Food Safety; Ag Economy; Climate; Biofuels; USDA Issue; and Animal Ag

Farm Bill- Debbie Stabenow to Chair Senate Ag Committee

Senator Kent Conrad (D-ND) indicated in a news release on Friday that, “After consulting constituents across North Dakota and colleagues in the U.S. Senate, Senator Kent Conrad announced today that he will retain his leadership position as Chairman of the Senate Budget Committee and stay as a senior member of the Senate Agriculture Committee.

“‘After many conversations with constituents, ag leaders and Senate colleagues, it is clear that the people of North Dakota are best served with me remaining the Chairman of the Budget Committee,’ Senator Conrad said. ‘As Chairman of the Budget Committee and a senior member of the Agriculture Committee, the people of North Dakota will be best represented in negotiations on the next Farm Bill, legislation to reduce our dependence on foreign energy, and renewed efforts to put our nation’s fiscal house in order.’”

Sen. Conrad spoke to the Red River Farm Network about his decision on Friday; to listen to his remarks on the “Agriculture Today” program, just click here (MP3- one minute).

Michael O’Brien reported on Friday at The Hill’s Briefing Room Blog that, “Republicans who are set to take control of the House in January have made clear they intend to seek spending cuts and possible entitlement reforms as a way to slash the deficit. Conrad’s chairmanship of the Senate’s budget panel would make him the key point of contact between Senate Democrats and the House GOP in the looming budget battles.”

Following Sen. Conrad’s announcement, Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) indicated in a statement on Friday that, “I am ready to lead the Senate Agriculture Committee in the 112th Congress. Agriculture is critical to Michigan’s economy, employing a quarter of our workforce. Not only does agriculture create jobs and feed our families across America, but it is also helping us develop new fuels and energy sources.

I look forward to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, as we begin writing a new farm bill that once again recognizes the importance of America’s agricultural economy and rural communities.”

American Farm Bureau President Bob Stallman stated on Friday that, “With a proven track record as a proponent of Michigan’s agriculture industry, we are confident in Sen. Stabenow’s ability to provide leadership on the 2012 farm bill and other important issues related to agriculture and rural communities.”

Also on Friday, National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson stated that, “We are confident that Chairwoman Stabenow will be able work with senators on both sides of the aisle to write a farm bill that is fiscally responsible but still protects farmers and ranchers from economic uncertainty in difficult times.”

Politico writers Scott Wong and Robin Bravender pointed out on Friday that, “This will be the third change atop the Agriculture Committee in less than two years. [Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.)], who lost her reelection bid Republican Rep. John Boozman, took over the panel in 2009, after then-Chairman Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) moved to the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.”

Reuters news reported on Friday that, “Stabenow won expansion of programs for fruit and vegetable growers in the 2008 farm law without alienating growers of row crops — grain, soybeans and cotton — the major recipients of crop subsidies. It will be a hard act to repeat in the farm bill due in 2012, farm lobbyists say.

Cuts are almost inevitable this time. There is no funding to continue $9 billion in programs from the 2008 law, including a stand-by disaster fund, aside from reductions that may result from government-wide belt-tightening.”

Friday’s article added that, “She voted against a ‘hard’ cap of $250,000 per farmer in annual crop subsidies in 2008. Reformers labeled Stabenow as a flip-flopper because she supported the cap in 2002 and 2005.

“But she supported another reform idea in 2008, to bar subsidies to farmers with more than $750,000 in adjusted gross income. That amendment was defeated.”

The Reuters article explained that, “Stabenow focused on public nutrition, land stewardship and fruit and vegetable programs in recent years, leaving some farm groups wondering if she understands mainstream agriculture. Among congressional staff, there were questions if she would be a ‘foodie’ as chairman.

“Nancy Foster of U.S. Apple Association, a trade group, said Michigan is an agriculturally diverse state and Stabenow ‘understands the needs of agriculture in a very broad sense.’”

Meanwhile, Nathan Hurst reported on Saturday at The Detroit News Online that, “The Natural State’s [Arkansas] loss is Michigan’s gain. Michigan’s agriculture sector — responsible for about $71.3 billion of economic activity — will be front and center as Stabenow leads the committee in crafting the next farm bill, slated to take effect in 2012. ‘I’m in a position to really tell the Michigan story,’ Stabenow told The News. ‘The farm bill is the largest investment we make … it’s very much about jobs.’

Michigan agribusiness groups said Stabenow’s new position was a boon for the state’s farmers. ‘… U.S. farm policy has far-reaching implications for Michigan farmers,’ Wayne Wood, president of the Michigan Farm Bureau, said in a statement. ‘Having Sen. Stabenow’s leadership on the Senate Agriculture Committee is an asset to Michigan agriculture.’”

Patrick O’Connor indicated on Friday at the Washington Wire blog (Wall Street Journal) that, “Michigan may conjure up images of shuttered car factories, but the Great Lakes state has lots of farm country. It’s the largest producer of tart cherries and blueberries in the U.S., and the wide swaths of cheap, vacant land in the City of Detroit have attracted interest from companies that want to transform Motown’s vacant blocks into produce gardens.”

Jim Byrum, president of the Michigan Agri-Business Association, noted in an opinion column that was posted on Saturday at the Grand Rapids Press Online that, “Agriculture is a rare bright spot in Michigan’s economy. Farmers and agricultural businesses are growing, investing locally, creating local jobs and feeding people here in Michigan and around the world.”

Mr. Byrum added that, “In addition to producing corn, wheat, soybeans and dozens of other crops, Michigan farmers are also leaders in meat, poultry, eggs and dairy products. Michigan’s agricultural industry is recognized as a leader in logistics and processing for everything from feed to cereals and more.”

For a more detailed look at Michigan agriculture, see this two-page summary from the 2007 Census of Agriculture.

In more detailed biographical background on the new Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman, the 2010 edition of The Almanac of American Politics indicated that, “Michigan’s junior senator is Debbie Stabenow, a Democrat elected in 2000. Stabenow grew up in the small Outstate town of Clare, where her father was an Oldsmobile dealer and her mother was a nurse. She went to Michigan State University, where she got a master’s degree in social work” (at page 770).

She was elected to the state House in 1978 at age 28 and was elected to the state Senate in 1990,” and she served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1996-2000 (at page 769-770).

The Almanac explained that, “In the majority, Stabenow was a leading foe of President Bush’s international trade agenda, insisting on protections for American workers who lose their jobs to foreign competition;” the Almanac added that, “With other rust-belt Democrats, she successfully fought Senate action on climate change legislation, which was opposed by heavy industries…” (at page 771).

Some policy implications of the change in leadership on the Senate Ag Committee have already been highlighted.

Alexander Bolton reported on Friday at The Hill Online that, “Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) does not expect the White House to fulfill its promise to farmers in her home state in the wake of her failed bid for a third term.

“Former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel pledged in July that the administration would find $1.5 billion within its budget to help farmers in Arkansas and elsewhere in the country affected by natural disasters.”

(Note: For a more detailed look at the executive branch disaster aid program and the July pledge (which ended up being less than initially promised), see this FarmPolicy.com update from September 16).

The Hill article pointed out that, “Lincoln said the White House has already doled out more than $600 million in assistance to farmers in her state and others hit hard by weather events.

“‘We got almost half of that disaster assistance,’ she said, adding that farmers started signing up for it ‘weeks ago.’”

Mr. Bolton added that, “But Lincoln, who serves as chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, does not think the White House will come through with the rest.

“‘I don’t think that’s going to happen,’ she said.”

In other news focusing on the House of Representatives, Ledyard King reported on Saturday at The Coloradoan Online that, “As for committees, [Representative-elect Cory Gardner (R- Colorado Four)] is shooting for the Agriculture Committee, a key panel not only because of the agrarian nature of his sprawling east Colorado district and his family’s farm equipment business, but also because reauthorizing the farm bill is expected to be an important agenda item next year.”

The CQ Roll Call Guide to the New Congress pointed out on page 35 that, “Gardner, a fifth- generation Coloradan, hopes for seats on the Agriculture and Natural Resources committees, which are important to his Mountain West state and largely rural district.

“But he won’t stick exclusively to farming, land and water issues.

His first bills in Congress, he says, will focus on reducing federal spending and encouraging a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution.”

Food Safety

The Commodity New for Tomorrow Email report from Friday reported that, “The Senate failed to vote as planned Thursday on passage of a bill to overhaul the nation’s food safety system and grant new powers to Food and Drug Administration authorities, a delay that may threaten the legislation.

Sen. Tom Harkin (D., Iowa) blamed the delay on the insistence of Sen. Tom Coburn (R., Okla.) that the Senate consider an amendment to ban spending earmarks.”

The update added that, “The delay resulted in the clock running out on the 30-hour time period senators had to debate and vote on the food safety bill. The Senate then voted Thursday evening to pass another 30-hour period to vote.”

If the Senate does manage to approve the food safety bill, Harkin said, the House has promised to pass it without making any changes and send it to the White House to be signed into law,” Friday’s update said.

DTN Ag Policy Editor Chris Clayton reported on Friday (link requires subscription) that, “Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., issued a statement late Thursday lashing out at Coburn for slowing debate on the food-safety bill. Effectively, Coburn’s amendment stalls the final vote on the food-safety bill until after Thanksgiving.”

The DTN article noted that, “The political wrangling came after a deal was struck to exempt small farmers and food processors from facing increased regulatory paperwork and inspections under the Food Safety Modernization Act. The bill, S. 510, would give the Food and Drug Administration more authority over most food products (other than meat) regulated by USDA. The bill requires increased records and risk-based prevention measures at food processing plants, tighter food traceability standards and the ability for the FDA to issue mandatory food recalls.”

Philip Brasher provided a very detailed and helpful look the procedural logistics of the food safety bill in an update posted on Friday at the Green Fields Blog (Des Moines Register).

Ag Economy

Stephen J. Lee reported on Saturday at the Grand Forks Herald Online (ND) that, “The Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis released numbers Friday to the Herald showing that farmland prices in the five states in the district were up 9 percent in the third quarter just ended, compared with the third quarter in 2009.”

Pat Hill reported on Friday at the DTN Market Matters Blog that, “Bankers in rural areas in the ten states covered by the Rural Mainstreet Index are the most optimistic they’ve been since last May.

“The November RMI rose to 53.3, up from October’s 48.4 and well above 38.4 in November 09 highest reading since May, thanks to strength of the farm economy.”

In broader news regarding the economy, Annie Gowen reported in today’s Washington Post that, “The economy may be showing signs of life, but food pantries and other nonprofit food-distribution agencies around the region say they are struggling to meet record-breaking demand as the holidays approach.

“In Loudoun County – the nation’s wealthiest county measured by median income – the food pantry is distributing its first-ever Thanksgiving meal, giving food to 2,000 families. In Montgomery County, the Manna Food Center added some Saturday hours for the convenience of working families. And in Fairfax County, the nonprofit Our Daily Bread is facing the grim reality that, although it will feed 2,400 people, it may not be able to help as many 650 needy families at Thanksgiving.”

Meanwhile, a news release Thursday from the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) stated that, “A new report by [IFPRI] challenges previous analyses of the food price crisis of 2007-08. Using recently available data, Reflections on the Global Food Crisis identifies the key causes of the price surge, its consequences for the world’s poor people, and the implications for future policies.

“The report attributes the crisis to a combination of increased energy costs, growing demand for biofuels, depreciation of the U.S. dollar, and trade shocks related to export restrictions, panic purchases, and unfavorable weather. Contrary to many earlier hypotheses, it was not primarily caused by increased demand in rising economies such as China and India, by falling agricultural yields or food stocks, nor by futures market speculation.”

Climate Issues

David A. Fahrenthold and Juliet Eilperin reported in yesterday’s Washington Post that, “The Republican rout on Nov. 2 swept in dozens of new representatives and senators opposed to using a cap-and-trade scheme to tackle greenhouse gas emissions. By one estimate, almost half of GOP freshman legislators don’t even believe there is sound science behind the theory of man-made climate change.

“But, observers say, the election may do relatively little to alter U.S. climate policy before United Nations climate talks begin in Cancun on Nov. 29.”

The Post writers added that, “The Republican wins will finally bury the Obama administration’s Plan A, which included passing a landmark climate bill in Congress.

“But that plan was, in essence, already defunct. And the new GOP majority will have few easy options for undoing the White House’s Plan B, a set of new regulations that will cut emissions from power plants and factories.”

“For Republicans, the countermove to this Plan B would be to pass resolutions negating the EPA regulations,” the Post article said.

Biofuels

Robin Bravender reported on Friday at Politico that, “The Obama administration is punting until next year its decision on adding more ethanol to the gasoline blend for older cars.

“The Environmental Protection Agency will wait until next year to determine whether it will raise the ethanol content level for model year cars 2001-2006, an agency official confirmed Friday.”

USDA Issue

Ashley Southall reported in Saturday’s New York Times that, “The Senate on Friday approved $4.55 billion to settle longstanding charges that the federal government had denied or underpaid aid to black farmers and mismanaged trust funds for American Indians.”

Animal Ag

Chris Clayton reported yesterday at the DTN Ag Policy Blog that, “With a captive crowd in a state with more three times more cattle than people, Wayne Pacelle, Humane Society of the United States president and CEO, told Nebraskans on Sunday evening that, contrary to popular belief, his organization isn’t ‘anti-agriculture.’”

The update stated that, “Pacelle also told the crowd of about 175 people in downtown Lincoln that his organization isn’t targeting Nebraska for a ballot measure that would restrict livestock practices.

“‘We’re not launching a ballot measure in Nebraska,’ Pacelle said. ‘We never had any active designs on doing so.’”

Mr. Clayton noted that, “Rancher Destry Brown, executive director of Independent Cattlemen of Nebraska, questioned what he sees as Pacelle’s lack of concern for the economics facing smaller livestock producers who use many production practices because of costs. People demand cheap protein, and that’s what livestock producers provide, Brown said. Afterward, Brown said he didn’t think HSUS would be targeting feedlots now, but he’s certain it’s coming.”

Keith Good

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