FarmPolicy

November 19, 2017

Farm Bill; Climate Issues; Biotech; and Food Safety

Farm Bill: Senate Perspective

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.”

The article indicated that, “‘While 2010 was a great year for many in American agriculture, we’ve also seen wild fluctuations in dairy prices and, here in Michigan, a devastating year for grape growers because of a late frost. That’s why, as we look forward to writing the next farm bill, I am fully committed to a strong safety net,’ she said.

She pledged to work with House Republicans to address concerns that agribusiness interests have with environmental regulations. Farm groups have been pushing back hard against environmental regulations being imposed or considered by the Obama administration.”

Associated Press writer Tim Martin reported yesterday that, “Budget deficits will play a role in crafting the nation’s next multi-year agriculture spending bill, a key U.S. senator said Tuesday.

“Sen. Debbie Stabenow — chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry — expects hearings on the next Farm Bill could begin within two months or so.

“‘I think our biggest challenge is the overall budget and the deficit and making sure that we’re doing our part in being fiscally responsible,’ Stabenow, D-Michigan, told reporters after speaking at a Michigan Agri-Business Association conference. ‘That is very, very important.’”

The article noted that, “A key item falling under more scrutiny could be what Stabenow calls the ‘safety net’ for farm producers — the mix of direct payments to growers and crop insurance that helps growers manage risk.

“‘We have to look at how those two things fit together,’ Stabenow said. ‘Should we be focusing more on crop insurance is one of the questions.’”

CQ writer Ellyn Ferguson reported yesterday that, “Sen. Pat Roberts, who as House Agriculture Committee chairman authored a contentious farm bill in 1996 that shifted agriculture to greater reliance on the free market, is the new GOP leader on the Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry panel.

“Georgia Republican Saxby Chambliss had been expected to continue as ranking member on Agriculture, but will now serve as the top Republican on the Senate Special Committee on Intelligence.”

The CQ item stated that, “Their offices have been mum on the subject, but Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow made a reference to Roberts’ new post in a speech Tuesday to the Michigan Agri-Business Association.

“‘I’m also looking forward to working with my friend, Senator Pat Roberts from Kansas, who will be taking over as ranking member of the Agriculture Committee,’ said Stabenow, a Michigan Democrat. ‘I have worked with him, and the former ranking member, Saxby Chambliss, over the years, and I expect we will continue to work together in a bipartisan way to solve problems and promote American agriculture.’”

The article added that, “A vestige of the 1996 farm bill (PL 104-127) that Roberts helped write — $5 billion in annual direct payments to farmers regardless of good or bad market years — is again expected to be a flash point between agriculture and critics of federal farm policies.”

Farm Bill: Budget Issues

Farm Futures writer Pam Golden reported earlier this week that, “A robust U.S. agricultural industry leads the way in the country’s economic recovery – and is one of the reasons writing a 2010 farm bill will be fraught with difficulty.

“‘This is going to be the most difficult farm bill that we’ve ever had to write,’ U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., said on Sunday, opening day of the 92nd American Farm Bureau Federation [AFBF] Annual Meeting in Atlanta, Ga.”

Ms. Golden pointed out that, “In the national capital, [AFBF President Bob Stallman] said, budget and deficit concerns will drive the farm bill debate more than ever before.”

Meanwhile, in a recent article published in the San Angelo Standard Times, House Agriculture Subcommittee Chairman for General Farm Commodities and Risk Management, Rep. K. Michael Conaway stated that, “The incoming Republican leadership has incorporated my bill into the new rules of the House of Representatives for the 112th Congress.

“The new rule, called ‘Cut-Go,’ requires dollar-for-dollar offsets for any new mandatory spending. Cut-Go will replace the Democrats’ long-standing ‘Pay-Go’ rule, and with that we will close one of the most pernicious budget loopholes in Congress — the ability to simply raise taxes if the budget gets too bloated.

Instead of taxing-and-spending our budget into balance, Congress will be required to ‘cut-to-spend’ until our budget is in balance.”

And Erik Wasson reported yesterday at The Hill Online that, “Democrats relegated to minority status in the House say Republicans are now the ones responsible for raising the federal debt ceiling and are hinting that they might vote against it to force the GOP’s hand.

“‘It is up to the majority to get this bill through; they can’t duck the responsibility,’ Financial Service Committee ranking member Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) told The Hill on Friday.

“If Congress fails to raise the $14.3 billion debt limit this spring, the United States government will default on its debt, a scenario that could throw financial markets into chaos.”

The Hill article added that, “The mounting conflict over the debt ceiling has been portrayed as a battle between President Obama and Tea Party-backed fiscal conservatives, with the House GOP leadership trapped somewhere in the middle.

“But rather than rallying to Obama’s side, House Democrats are remaining aloof. They say it is the GOP’s responsibility to raise the debt ceiling now that Republicans are the ones in charge of the chamber.”

“Republican leaders are on record as saying the debt ceiling must be raised, but whether they can get their members to go along with that remains to be seen. Their position is complicated by the GOP’s crop of 84 freshman lawmakers, many of whom ran on a strict platform of fiscal responsibility and risk being seen as sell-outs if they approve more federal debt,” The Hill item said.

Art Hovey reported earlier this week at the Lincoln Journal Star Online (Neb.) that, “‘The current course is not a sustainable course,’ [Nebraska GOP Senator Mike Johanns] said, citing annual deficits in excess of $1 trillion.

And he reminded his listeners that finding a path to a more responsible budget approach won’t be easy. That’s because about 60 percent of that budget goes to Social Security and other entitlement programs, 20 percent of what’s left after that goes to defense and national security needs, and another 7-8 percent to the interest costs on the federal debt.

“‘We’ve got to look across the entire federal budget,’ he said of austerity measures, ‘or this will not work.’”

The article noted that, “On other matters, Johanns said Nebraska farmers could easily get caught in the budget squeeze as federal lawmakers try to craft the next multi-year farm bill. ‘One of the areas that will have a bull’s-eye on its back will be direct payments.’”

Farm Bill: Direct Payments

Ken Anderson reported yesterday at Brownfield that, “Direct payments and dairy supply management dominated the farm policy discussion at the American Farm Bureau Federation’s business meeting this morning.

An anticipated showdown over direct payments never really developed. By a comfortable margin, the delegates passed a resolution calling for ‘a strong and effective safety net that consists of direct payments, crop insurance and a simplified Average Crop Revenue Election (ACRE) program.’”

DTN Ag Policy Editor Chris Clayton reported yesterday (link requires subscription) that, “Despite expectations of major debate on federal budget cuts, overall farm policy or the need for direct payments, delegates at the American Farm Bureau Federation largely skirted those issues in adopting policy resolutions for 2011 on Tuesday.

“Farm Bureau delegates at the group’s annual meeting in Atlanta came down with tougher changes in crop insurance than in farm-bill policies. Delegates voted that participation in crop insurance should be required for producers to receive any ad-hoc disaster assistance and, in even broader language, delegates supported that crop insurance participation should be required for eligibility for farm-program benefits.”

Mr. Clayton noted that, “Iowa Farm Bureau and others had expected to make a stronger push that would encourage shifting the $5.2 billion spent on direct payments to more risk-management tools such as better crop-insurance buy-up options. Iowa Farm Bureau President Craig Lang said regional differences flared up in policy discussions as Southern producers of rice and cotton became protective of direct payments.”

Lang said there was strong agreement in Ohio, Indiana and Iowa delegates that direct payments are going to be cut, so there should be more emphasis on looking at propping up crop insurance and rural development.

“‘I do believe that direct payments will be reduced and farmers won’t be happy unless they figure out a way in which they can capitalize on that money and give them some kind of revenue protection,’ Lang said. ‘And then if they want to buy-up, they can do that.’”

Yesterday’s DTN article stated that, “One failed amendment would have stressed that agriculture receives credit for the reduction in the Standard Reinsurance Agreement if Congress goes through budget reconciliation cuts. USDA cut $6 billion from crop insurance in the agreement over 10 years, but did use $2 billion to fund the Conservation Reserve Program. The resolution, as Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., had suggested, would have tried to give farm programs credit for $6 billion in cuts.

“‘It’s not a question of if, but when budget reconciliation will take place,’ said Rich Hillman, vice president of the Arkansas Farm Bureau. ‘This major cut should be taken into consideration for all of agriculture.’”

Reuters writer Christopher Doering reported yesterday that, “U.S. farmers believe their interests will be put aside by Congress as lawmakers devote more of their attention to tackling broader issues such as the country’s burgeoning deficit, growers and ranchers said in a poll released on Tuesday.

“A random survey of 436 attendees at the American Farm Bureau Federation’s annual meeting found 46 percent expect Congress to give less attention to farm interests, while 28 percent said they think it will increase.”

The article pointed out that, “At $5 billion annually, direct payments equal about 5.4 percent of the net cash farm income generated in 2010. They mark a large amount of the $9 billion in subsidy payments that were doled out in 2010 to about 40 percent of U.S. farms.

Most farmers and ranchers surveyed opposed cutting direct payments. The survey found 53 percent supported keeping direct payments as is or increasing them, while 37 percent would back eliminating or cutting them.”

Climate Issues

Ben Geman reported yesterday at The Hill’s Energy Blog that, “The head of the nation’s most powerful business lobbying group made clear Tuesday that blocking the Environmental Protection Agency’s greenhouse gas regulations is a key part of his agenda.

“U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue attacked EPA in his annual ‘State of American Business’ speech Tuesday morning. He called the emissions rules, which have begun the phasing-in stage, part of a multi-front ‘regulatory tsunami’ by the Obama administration.”

Biotech

Reuters writer Charles Abbott reported earlier this week that, “Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told the largest U.S. farm group on Monday that farmers could see less government interference if they find a way for traditional and genetically modified crops to co-exist.

“Farm groups and the biotechnology industry are skeptical of Vilsack’s ‘co-existence’ proposal. He launched it last month at the same time the Agriculture Department said planting restrictions might accompany deregulation of biotech alfalfa.

“Vilsack says the biotech alfalfa, developed by Monsanto Co, is safe. An even-handed compromise among growers would better than repeat litigation over rules for biotech crops, he said. The alfalfa dispute went to the Supreme Court and a U.S. appeals court is hearing a case on biotech sugar seeds.”

The article explained that, “Most U.S. farmers oppose government intrusion on their property.

“‘Every farmer ought to be able to do what he or she wants to do on their land, so we are going to continue to have that conversation,’ Vilsack said at the annual meeting of the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF). USDA held an alfalfa ‘stakeholder’ session in December.

“Seven major farm groups, including AFBF, wrote to the White House last week to object to USDA’s path on alfalfa. They said USDA’s environmental impact statement showed there was no danger from biotech alfalfa so it is wrong ‘to use motives other than science to impose conditions on this crop.’”

Food Safety

Philip Brasher reported yesterday at the Green Fields Blog (Des Moines Register) that, “Gov. Chet Culver’s administration is calling for Iowa to start regulating egg producers to prevent a recurrence of the salmonella outbreak last summer that devastated the industry.

“Legislation drafted by the Department of Inspections and Appeals would require egg farms to notify the state any time the producer finds salmonella contamination around the hen houses or in the eggs. That requirement would go beyond new regulations imposed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration last year shortly before the salmonella outbreak was discovered. The draft bill also authorizes the agency to inspect farms and will require all egg producers, including small farms, to register with the state.”

The item noted that, “A spokesman for incoming Gov. Terry Branstad said that the proposals are being reviewed by Rod Roberts, Branstad’s pick to run the Department of Inspections and Appeals, to decide whether they should be submitted to the legislature.”

DTN Political Correspondent Jerry Hagstrom reported yesterday (link requires subscription) that, “Food producers at all levels have to help improve the safety of American food, the nation’s two top food-safety experts in their first joint public appearance told those attending the American Farm Bureau Federation convention. But they also reassured farmers and ranchers that they are not planning to come onto their property to conduct frequent inspections.

“‘Our jurisdiction begins at the point of slaughter,’ Agriculture Undersecretary for Food Safety Elisabeth Hagen, who is in charge of food safety for meat, poultry and processed egg products, said at a presentation here Sunday. ‘We know where our jurisdiction begins and ends,’ Hagen said. ‘We are not looking to expand our jurisdiction. We’re looking for ideas. We’re looking for people to come together. We’d like to pair our scientists with farmers to help them get the answers they’re looking for to see if efforts on food safety are worth [the farmers’] time and if it will make food safer.’”

Mr. Hagstrom indicated that, “But referring to the development of a new rule to improve the hazard analysis and critical control points system for meat food safety known as Hazard Analysis & Critical Control Points, or HACCP, Hagen said that the condition of carcasses at the point of slaughter also has an impact on food safety and that ‘pre-harvest’ food safety concerns ‘have to be a part of the discussion.’ USDA will promote on-farm practices that improve meat food safety, Hagen said.

“Hagen said the new HACCP rule should be released in a few months and will reflect comments the agency has received on an initial proposal. ‘We know we probably didn’t get it quite right the first time,’ Hagen said. ‘Our objective is not to make regulations more burdensome. It is to make them clear.’”

Keith Good

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