“Vilsack spoke at the opening of Pheasant Fest in downtown Omaha as wildlife groups such as Pheasants Forever have become some of CRP’s most ardent defenders. But given current commodity prices and demand for more acres to go into production, Vilsack said he did not want his enrollment announcement to affect the markets.
“‘I want to make sure that I emphasize these are acres that will go into effect next fall, in October, so it’s not like we’re going to substantially reduce production capacity this year. Obviously, we’re taking a look at commodity prices and making sure we have adequate production.’”
“Leading members of both parties on the committee expressed an openness to that approach, and if the initiative were to gain steam in the Senate, it could become a vehicle to bring President Barack Obama and the new House Republican majority to the table.
“‘I’m not certain that it’s not going to fall to us to put a plan out there for our colleagues on the floor,’ said committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.). ‘I’m going to be having discussions with members of the committee on both sides to see what the feeling would be about our taking this on and laying a plan before our colleagues.’”
(FarmPolicy Note: Extended remarks on this issue from Chairman Conrad at yesterday’s Budget Committee hearing can be heard here (MP3- 2:40)).
David M. Herszenhorn reported in today’s New York Times that, “The government’s budget deficit will soar to nearly $1.5 trillion this year, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said Wednesday [report available here, related press briefing available here], an anticipated but politically galvanizing calculation that further intensified the partisan battle over the nation’s fiscal future.”
Janet Hook and Siobhan Hughes reported in today’s Wall Street Journal that, “The Republican-controlled House, hours before the State of the Union address, passed a resolution Tuesday calling for more drastic and immediate cuts in domestic spending than envisioned by President Barack Obama in the speech.
“The resolution, approved on a 256-165 vote, calls for House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) to dramatically lower the ceiling on government spending in the remaining seven months of the current budget year.
“Seventeen Democrats voted for the measure. No Republicans opposed it.”
Bill Bartel reported yesterday at The Virginia-Pilot Online (Norfolk) that, “U.S. Sen. Mark Warner is about to heed his own admonition that Congress ‘put up or shut up’ when confronting the dangerously high federal debt.
“The Virginia Democrat and U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, a Georgia Republican, are close to introducing a complex bill that would cut trillions in federal spending, raise some taxes and lower others, and spread the pain of cutting the federal deficit among just about everyone in America.”
Damian Paletta, Jonathan Weisman and Laura Meckler reported in Saturday’s Wall Street Journal that, “President Barack Obama will call for new government spending on infrastructure, education and research in his State of the Union address Tuesday, sharpening his response to Republicans in Congress who are demanding deep budget cuts, people familiar with the speech said.
“Mr. Obama will argue that the U.S., even while trying to reduce its budget deficit, must make targeted investments to foster job growth and boost U.S. competitiveness in the world economy.”
David M. Herszenhorn reported in today’s New York Times that, “House Republican leaders confronted pressure from conservatives on Thursday to take more aggressive steps to cut federal spending, with a large group of lawmakers calling for outlays to be slashed by $2.5 trillion over the next decade, far more than the party has sought so far.
“The proposal, from the Republican Study Committee, a conservative bloc that counts more than two-thirds of House Republicans as members, calls for immediate reductions of at least $100 billion, compared with cuts in the current fiscal year of up to $80 billion being sought by party leaders.”
A news release yesterday from Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND) stated that, “[Sen. Conrad] announced today that Jim Miller, Under Secretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Service at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), will return to his staff next month as a senior aide leading his negotiations on the next Farm Bill.
“‘Jim Miller is one of the best. He is deeply committed to farmers and ranchers and America’s rural communities. His encyclopedic knowledge of ag policy has only increased while at USDA. I am fortunate to have him come back to my staff and put that experience and knowledge to work helping craft a new Farm Bill,’ Senator Conrad said.”
Associated Press writer Dale Wetzel reported yesterday that, “North Dakota U.S. Sen. Kent Conrad said Tuesday he will not seek re-election in 2012 because he wants spend more time working on ways to reduce the nation’s $14 trillion debt, which he ranks with a terrorist attack as ‘the central threat facing the country’” [related statement here, related video here).
The AP article noted that, “In an e-mail message to supporters, Conrad said his remaining priorities are to get the national debt under control, reduce U.S. dependence on foreign energy, write a new five-year farm bill and address flooding problems in North Dakota’s Devils Lake basin and Red River Valley.”
“Now that they’re freshmen in a GOP-run House, the political movement’s candidates are running smack into the traditions, partisan divisions and powerful competing interests that make it so hard to redirect the government.
“Some tea party activists — part of a loose-knit, libertarian-tinged network advocating small government and less federal spending — already are dismayed to see their new lawmakers plunge into familiar patterns of raising political cash, hiring former lobbyists and stopping short of the often-heard vow to ‘change the way Washington works.’”
Carl Hulse reported in Saturday’s New York Times that, “House Republicans sought to build momentum for their effort to cut spending and confront Democrats over fiscal issues as they gathered for a policy retreat in the aftermath of the Tucson shootings, which have overshadowed their debut as the new majority party.
“Transplanted for three days to a well-secured hotel overlooking the city’s [Baltimore] harbor, Republican leaders said they spent considerable time exploring the budget and spending initiatives that they intended to make the centerpiece of their legislative agenda.
“They said they do not have much time to waste since a stopgap law keeping the government operating expires in early March. Republicans want to be ready with a spending plan they can promote as an alternative to what the Democratic-led Senate and President Obama might favor. ‘You don’t wait to the final day to be able to move forward,’ Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the new No. 3 House Republican, told reporters on Friday.”
“The proposed rules are far more wide-ranging and would gradually reduce sodium, limit starchy vegetables, ban most trans fats, require fat-free or lowfat milk, increase whole grains, add more fruits and vegetables, and, for the first time, limit the number of calories children consume daily [see an example here]. The guidelines are consistent, Vilsack said, with first lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move initiative, which promotes healthier eating for children.
“‘The numbers are rather troubling. We have today nearly a third of our youngsters at risk of being obese or, in fact, are obese in our schools,’ he said in a conference call Thursday [audio replay available here]. He added: ‘If we do not get our hands around the obesity epidemic in the United States by the year 2018, we will face nearly $344 billion of additional health-care costs. That’s money we won’t be able to spend on innovation and creating jobs and improving our education system.’”
A news release yesterday from Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), the incoming Chair of the Sen. Ag Committee, stated that, “[Sen. Stabenow] toured three agriculture businesses that create jobs in Michigan. This followed her inaugural speech as Chairwoman, which she delivered yesterday to the Michigan Agri-Business Association. She toured Dow Agrosciences in Harbor Beach, Cooperative Elevator in Pigeon, and Star of the West Milling in Frankenmuth today.
“‘Michigan’s agriculture businesses are some of our greatest success stories,’ Senator Stabenow said. ‘One in four people in our state has a job thanks to agriculture. As Chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, it’s my job to help those companies stay successful and to keep growing. Today’s visits were an opportunity for me to see some of the great businesses we have in Michigan that are thriving and creating jobs.’”
“As Michigan’s second-largest industry, agriculture generates more than $71.3 billion in revenue each year and accounts for one out of every four jobs in the state.”
The U.S. Federal Reserve released its January Beige Book report today, which contained a brief economic summary of current economic conditions by Federal Reserve District.
With respect to agriculture, yesterday’s report included the following summaries.
Sixth District- Atlanta– “Most of the Southeast continued to experience varying degrees of prolonged drought. Reports also indicated that both the lack of rain and colder-than-average temperatures have presented challenges to Florida citrus growers. The drought has reduced the physical size of the fruit slightly, and the recent cold snaps have affected young new plantings. Supplies of both cotton and soybeans continue to be tight with strong global demand keeping prices high.”
Seventh District- Chicago– “Net farm income was higher than a year earlier. Crop insurance helped stabilize revenues in areas where there had been disappointing yields. There were, however, reports that some farmers were taking losses because they earlier had oversold their crop production on futures markets at lower prices. Agricultural land values and farmland cash rental rates for the next growing season increased sharply. Demand for crops remained strong in December, with a notable boost from increased exports to Asia. Crop inventories remained low compared with the high level of demand. Prices for corn, soybeans, and wheat rose during the reporting period. Input costs for crop farms were steady so that margins continued to improve. Hog and cattle prices also increased; while milk prices were generally lower, pressuring the margins of dairy producers.”
Ninth District- Minneapolis– “Since the last report, agricultural output prices strengthened, but large snowfalls hampered some ranchers. Prices for most District agricultural commodities increased since the last report, including corn, soybeans, wheat, steers and hogs. Snow cover was relatively modest in Montana and South Dakota, but deep snow impeded ranchers in North Dakota and Minnesota.”
Tenth District- Kansas City– “Agricultural growing conditions deteriorated since the last survey period, but rising crop prices supported farm income gains. Continued dry weather across the Southern Plains intensified drought concerns and could affect winter wheat development, especially in Oklahoma and Kansas. Crop prices rose further at year-end, boosting farm incomes. Strong export demand for beef supported an uptick in cattle prices, but hog prices fell with bigger supplies and softer demand for pork. With rising incomes, farm loan repayment rates improved, farm loan renewals and extensions fell, and farm capital spending remained robust. Even with a modest increase in the number of farms for sale, strong demand pushed farmland values higher.”
Eleventh District- Dallas– “Drought conditions became prevalent in the District in December, with more than 85 percent of Texas classified as abnormally dry or worse. Ranchers felt the immediate impact of the drought, as poor pasture and range conditions necessitated costly supplemental feeding for livestock. Dry land winter wheat was in need of rainfall, and 2011 crops could be adversely affected if soil moisture levels remain low going into spring planting. Demand for agricultural commodities remained above average, and export activity continued to rise for cotton, beef and grains. Prices were strong for most crops, with cotton, wheat and corn prices increasing further. The overall outlook for demand and prices for agricultural commodities is very optimistic.”
Philip Brasher reported yesterday at the Green Fields Blog (Des Moines Register) that, “The new chairwoman of the Senate agriculture committee says lawmakers need to find ‘creative solutions’ to maintain a federal safety net for farmers in spite of concerns about spending.
“‘The safety net might look a little different than it does now, but we can’t have family businesses going under because of a few days of bad weather,’ Michigan Democrat Debbie Stabenow said in what was billed as her first major speech since taking over the panel. She was speaking at the Michigan Agri-Business Association’s annual winter conference.”
Joseph Weber reported earlier this week at The Washington Times Online that, “The anti-spending crusade of Capitol Hill’s resurgent Republicans could find itself with a tough row to hoe down on the farm.
“Republicans now controlling the House have wasted no time advertising their determination to rein in federal spending, cutting their own legislative budget on the second day of the 112th Congress. But the dozens of new GOP lawmakers — many hailing from rural districts — could face a more difficult choice considering cuts in the successor to the current five-year, $288 billion farm bill that expires just weeks before the 2012 elections.
“Economists, farming lobbies and policy analysts predict that cuts to the bill’s nutrition programs, such as food stamps, will be largely spared during this prolonged economic downturn, despite an annual price tag of $89 billion. The more likely target is the remaining 25 percent of the bill’s budget, which includes $5 billion in direct, annual subsidies to farmers who grow favored commodities such as corn, wheat and peanuts.”