FarmPolicy

August 20, 2019

Farm Bill; Climate Issues; Ag Economy; Animal Ag; and Labor Issues

Farm Bill Issues

Yesterday on the AgriTalk Radio program with Mike Adams, guest host and AgriTalk producer John Herath interviewed Mary Kay Thatcher, the Senior Director of Congressional Relations for the American Farm Bureau Federation.

The interesting discussion, which can be heard here (MP3- 11:07), provided an excellent overview and analysis of current farm policy issues including: The recently passed House Appropriations Bill, the 2012 Farm bill, last week’s Senate vote on ethanol subsidies, prospects on the Senate Appropriations process, as well as federal deficit issues and the negotiations over the debt limit that are being spearheaded by Vice President Joe Biden.

Meanwhile, Lori Montgomery reported yesterday at The Washington Post Online that, “The White House and congressional leaders are accelerating negotiations over the biggest debt-reduction package in at least two decades amid mounting concern that the effort is running out of time.

“Over the next six weeks, negotiators must strike a bipartisan compromise to slice more than $2 trillion from the federal budget by 2021, reduce the complex plan to writing and persuade a bitterly divided Congress to support it.

“But one or both chambers is due to be on break for three of those weeks. And when Congress last reached a big debt-reduction deal, it took more than a month just to draft the legislation. That leaves little room for chance — or last-minute negotiating to marshal votes for what is likely to be a politically difficult package of unprecedented cuts to long-
sacrosanct federal programs.

The Post article added that, “Even the broad goal of the talks is subject to dispute. Some lawmakers consider it too timid, arguing that the nation needs to find more than $4 trillion in savings by 2021 to avoid a debt crisis. Others view $2 trillion as impossibly ambitious. And hardly anybody wants to support the most critical part of the package: more borrowing authority for a nation already mired in red ink.”

“With an Aug. 2 deadline nearing, along with the threat of turmoil in global financial markets if Congress doesn’t act, Vice President Biden is stepping up talks this week with six lawmakers from both parties in hopes of presenting a plan to President Obama and congressional leaders by July 4. So far, negotiators have identified many areas of consensus: Farmers are certain to lose some federal subsidies, for example.”

In other news, an editorial posted yesterday at the LaCrosse Tribune (Wis.) Online opined on last week’s House passed Appropriations Bill and stated that, “One of the few positive moves to come from this spending bill was approval to stop payment of $147 million to Brazil in a cotton subsidy trade agreement. That amendment was introduced by Rep. Ron Kind, D-La Crosse, who voted against the overall bill.

Cuts in federal spending are absolutely necessary, and agriculture spending is ripe for the picking. Our nation spent more than $16 billion in farm subsidies alone in 2009, a system that favors mass produced commodities. It’s an incredibly wasteful system that does little to help Wisconsin farmers and efforts to wean ourselves from mass-produced food.”

However, Richard Wilson reported yesterday at the Dayton Daily News Online (Ohio) that, “Farming is one of the few businesses where you produce a product and then ask customers, ‘what will you give me for it?’

Prices fluctuate year to year for corn, soybeans, grain, beef or other farm products. Add unpredictable weather events, and those are some of the reasons why the federal government pays American farmers billions of dollars a year.”

And Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack noted in an Op-Ed published in Sunday’s Modesto Bee (Calif.) that, “While Americans enjoy dairy products every day for their great taste and high nutrient value, many don’t know that our nation’s dairy industry faces some of the most unpredictable conditions in agriculture. Dairy producers have watched milk prices rise and fall at a roller-coaster rate. They’ve worked hard to manage their herds in the face of deep uncertainty, but they’re always left wondering whether next year will be a boom or a bust.”

Sec. Vilsack went on to point out federal policy actions that were undertaken to help stabilize the dairy sector and stated that, “Our short-term assistance and our long-term commitment are beginning to pay off. The value of U.S. exports of dairy products rebounded strongly in 2010, up more than 60 percent from 2009. And this year we are up another 50 percent. Milk prices have rebounded. And we’re showing folks a historic level of cooperation in finding ideas to reduce market fluctuation.

“As this recovery takes shape, we will keep a laser focus on the health of our dairy industry. I know that we can’t solve every problem from Washington, but I want dairy families to know that we appreciate their hard work and that USDA is committed to their success.”

A crop insurance update posted recently in the “What’s Cropping Up?” newsletter indicated that, “The 2011 crop year continues to face a trifecta of weather-related anomalies that have hit America’s heartland and have cast a long shadow over the highly optimistic projections for crop yields and farm incomes.

“First, there’s the historic late planting. According to Darrel Good, a University of Illinois Agricultural Economist, the percentages of the U.S. corn and soybean crop planted late this season are amongst the largest in the last four decades. The combination of wet and cold weather made it impossible for many farmers to get into their fields early in the year. This is important notes Good, because agronomic research has clearly documented a strong correlation between late plantings and lower yields, with losses accelerating downward as the planting dates get later in the season.”

The update went on to document agricultural issues associated with flooding and drought and stated that, “‘It’s years like this that underscore the importance of crop insurance, the linchpin of the farm safety net program,’ said Tom Zacharias, president, National Crop Insurance Services. ‘In these tight fiscal times, it’s important that farmers and the public know that insurable damages and losses incurred by these floods will be covered by the crop insurance program.’”

 

Climate Issues

Adam Liptak reported in today’s New York Times that, “The Supreme Court on Monday unanimously rejected a lawsuit that had sought to force major electric utilities to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions without waiting for federal regulators to act.

“The suit was brought by six states, New York City and several land trusts. Its central contention was that carbon dioxide emissions from power plants belonging to four private companies and the Tennessee Valley Authority amounted to a public nuisance under federal common law. The suit asked a federal court in New York to order the defendants to reduce their emissions.

“Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, writing for the court, said the plaintiffs were making their case in the wrong forum. Under the Clean Air Act, she wrote, the matter must be addressed by the Environmental Protection Agency rather than by the courts.”

In other news, Reuters writer Alister Doyle reported on Sunday that, “Hopes for a [UN climate] treaty have dimmed since U.S. President Barack Obama and other world leaders failed to agree a binding pact at a summit in Copenhagen in 2009.

“Rich economies are reluctant to make substantial cuts in their emissions beyond 2012 without commitments from big developing economies like China and India to also curb their fast-rising emissions.

At issue now is what can be salvaged from the talks.”

A program announcement from USDA’s Risk Management Agency (RMA) yesterday stated that, “RMA has released ‘Climate Change Impacts on Crop Insurance,’ a study completed in May 2010.

“This report was recommended by the General Accounting Office in its 2007 report, ‘Climate Change—Financial Risks to Federal and Private Insurers in Coming Decades Are Potentially Significant.’ The GAO recommended that RMA and the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s National Flood Insurance Program separately analyze their Agency’s potential long-term fiscal implications of climate change and report their findings to Congress.”

(FarmPolicy Note: The report does not appear to be available electronically- directions for obtaining a copy of the report can be found here).

 

Agricultural Economy

Sebastian Moffett and Caroline Henshaw reported yesterday at The Wall Street Journal Online that, “Farm ministers from large economies are likely to establish an international food-stock database this week and agree to reduce some trade barriers in order to combat looming food shortages and yo-yoing prices.

“Agriculture ministers from the Group of 20 nations gather Wednesday and Thursday in Paris facing a growing problem: Demand for food is outpacing supply, which is increasingly hampered by weather shocks and government intervention. France, in particular, wants to tackle commodity-market volatility as a priority of its G-20 leadership.”

Bloomberg writer Alan Bjerga reported yesterday that, “The U.S. will seek a ‘strong statement’ criticizing bans on exports and will defend biofuels while encouraging ethanol from new sources at a G-20 neeting of farm ministers, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said.

“Trade needs to be encouraged to ‘create a market that everyone can rely on,’ Vilsack told reporters today at a briefing in Washington ahead of this week’s G-20 meeting in Paris. Criticism of corn-based ethanol production in the U.S., the world’s largest producer of the grain, needs to be tempered by acknowledgment of the country’s efforts to diversify biofuel sources, Vilsack said.”

The Bloomberg article added that, “‘We are working on alternative feedstocks,’ Vilsack said. About 38 percent of the next U.S. corn crop will be used to make ethanol, the government says.

“Groups including Oxfam International have criticized the U.S. for using too much of the crop to make the alternate fuel, contributing to higher food prices and unrest that has toppled governments in Egypt and Tunisia. World food output needs to rise 70 percent by 2050 to meet the needs of a growing population, according to the United Nations.”

Philip Brasher reported yesterday at the Green Fields Blog (Des Moines Register) that, “Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says he expects to be pressed on U.S. biofuel policy at this week’s meetings of G20 agriculture ministers in Paris. Vilsack says he’ll make the case that the United States is still moving toward next-generation fuels that won’t use food crops such as corn.

“Vilsack will have to make that argument the Republican-controlled House has voted to gut a program that subsidizes next-generation feedstocks such as corn stover and switchgrass and has blocked funding for ethanol pumps and tanks, infrastructure that would be needed to increase the market for biomass-based ethanol fuel.”

Meanwhile, a recent update by Joe Mahon that was posted at The Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis stated that, “Farm income continued to increase in the first quarter, along with other financial measures, according to the Minneapolis Fed’s first-quarter (April) agricultural credit conditions survey. Land values continued to increase in all categories across district states, and interest rates on loans fell slightly from the last quarter. The outlook for the second quarter of 2011 is also positive, with all states in the district expecting farm incomes and household spending to increase or stay the same. In addition, all states expect increases in farm capital spending.”

With respect to domestic growing conditions, an update posted recently by Bonnie Coblentz at the Delta Farm Press Online stated that, “About 40 percent of Mississippi’s peanut acres are under extreme drought, and unless rains come soon, it’s going to be a very bad year for the state’s crop.” Dry conditions have also plagued farmers in Georgia.

Dan Piller reported yesterday at the Green Fields Blog (Des Moines Register) that, “The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported Monday that 84 percent of Iowa’s corn crop is rated good to excellent and that 82 percent of the states’ soybeans are good to excellent.

Iowa is ahead of the national crop ratings, which show 70 percent of corn good to excellent and 68 percent of the U.S. soybean crop good to excellent.”

 

Animal Agriculture

The Washington Insider section of DTN reported yesterday (link requires subscription) that, “Research from around the world shows a pressing need to regulate and curb the widespread use of antibiotics in the production of livestock and poultry, which can become reservoirs of bacteria resistant to drugs that were previously able to kill the bugs that can also sicken and kill humans, according to a new USDA report.”

(Note that the report included this preface: “This technical review was written by a university cooperator. This review has not been peer reviewed. The views expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect the views of the United States Department of Agriculture.”)

The DTN item added that, “The report is based on studies and other reports conducted at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization, Italy’s Department of Health and Welfare and elsewhere. USDA says those studies show that the ‘use and misuse’ of antibiotics for livestock is one of the main factors behind the acceleration of antibiotic resistance in the bacteria that consumers can be exposed to simply by eating.

“According to USDA, the 63 scientific studies show that antibiotic resistance ‘is a growing public health concern worldwide’ and infections ‘often fail to respond to standard treatments, thereby reducing the possibilities of effective treatment and increasing the risk of morbidity and mortality in serious diseases.’

“Some members of Congress have introduced legislation in the past that would curb routine antibiotic use in the production of livestock and poultry. The USDA report, while it covers no new ground, does bring together a substantial amount of information that appears to support those earlier efforts and likely will be used in future attempts to change the way industry uses antibiotics.”

Helena Bottemiller reported yesterday at Food Safety News Online that, “A bipartisan group of senators re-introduced a bill late last week aimed at preserving the effectiveness of medically important antibiotics by limiting their use in food animal feed. In the face of the rising threat of antibiotic resistance, public health experts and activists have pushed for regulation to limit the subtherapeutic use of antibiotics in animal agriculture.

“Recent estimates indicate around 80 percent of all antibiotics in the U.S. are given to food animals.

“Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), the primary sponsor of The Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act, otherwise known as PAMTA, reintroduced the measure to address ‘the rampant overuse of antibiotics in agriculture that creates drug-resistant bacteria, an increasing threat to human beings.’”

 

Labor Issues

Mike Esterl reported in today’s Wall Street Journal that, “A federal judge said Monday he would rule before July 1 on a request by civil-liberties groups to block a new Georgia law cracking down on illegal immigration.”

The Journal article pointed out that, “Local farmers have complained that the measure has left them short of an estimated 11,000 workers to pick fruit and cotton as the harvest season begins.”

Last week, [Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, a Republican] suggested that unemployed people on probation could fill thousands of jobs that farmers say have been left vacant by workers scared off by Georgia’s new immigration law.”

Keith Good

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