January 24, 2020

Farm Bill; Trade; Biofuels; Ag Economy; Regulations; and Biotech

Farm Bill Issues

A news release yesterday from Senate Agriculture Committee ranking member Pat Roberts (R-Kansas) stated that, “[Sen. Roberts] today announced a field hearing will be held in Wichita, Kansas on Thursday, August 25 to discuss reauthorization of the Farm Bill.

“‘I’m pleased to host the next Farm Bill field hearing in Wichita, right in the heartland of America,’ said Roberts. ‘This hearing will allow us to garner insight from our producers in Kansas as we begin the important task of writing the next Farm Bill. Their perspectives on current agriculture programs and the direction of this next Farm Bill are critical to the committee’s work in drafting policies that provide producers and rural America with the tools necessary for success.’

“The focus of the hearing will be on the reauthorization of the Farm Bill, exploring its impact on Kansas.”

Note that a summary of Senate Agriculture Committee hearings relating to the 2012 Farm Bill (starting in May) is available here. And a summary of Senate hearings relating to the Farm Bill from last summer, under the previous Congress, can be found here.

A news release yesterday from the USDA’s Farm Service Agency indicated that, “Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today reminded producers that they have until Friday, July 29, 2011, to apply for assistance for 2009 crop losses under the Supplemental Revenue Assistance Payments (SURE) Program. The program provides crop disaster assistance payments to eligible producers on farms that have incurred crop production or quality losses.”

And on the topic of the negotiations over the federal debt ceiling, an issue with potentially important ramifications for farm program spending, David Rogers reported yesterday at Politico that, “President Barack Obama pushed back hard Tuesday against those in Congress advocating a short-term deal on the debt ceiling next month, saying the nation has a ‘unique opportunity to do something big’ on deficit reduction and can’t afford to simply ‘kick the can down the road.’

“‘I don’t think that the American people sent us here to avoid tough problems,’ Obama said, making a late afternoon appearance in the White House press room. ‘That’s, in fact, what drives them nuts about Washington — when both parties simply take the path of least resistance — and I don’t want to do that here.’

Obama’s comments followed a long Fourth of July weekend of back-channel communications between the White House and top House and Senate leadership offices. Senior Republican and Democratic staff, who worked closely with one another to avert a government shutdown in April, are again central, and most important, Obama and Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) met Sunday at the White House.”

Carol E. Lee and Janet Hook reported in today’s Wall Street Journal that, “President Barack Obama called a budget-deficit summit Thursday at the White House, suggesting he and congressional leaders are moving closer to a deal that would clear the way for a vote to raise the government’s borrowing limit and avoid default.

“Mr. Obama, speaking at the White House on Tuesday, said he and congressional leaders in both parties made progress over the July 4th weekend. ‘But I don’t want to fool anybody: We still have to work through some real differences,’ he said.”

The Journal writers noted that, “The president’s tone toward Republicans wasn’t nearly as sharp on Tuesday as it was when he spoke last week at a news conference about the deficit negotiations last week.”

Lori Montgomery reported in today’s Washington Post that, “With the surprise announcement [of the budget-deficit summit for Thursday], Obama sought to take charge of a situation that was rapidly devolving into a dangerous game of chicken: Republicans have refused to discuss any debt-reduction deal that includes higher taxes, while Democrats have rejected any deal based solely on spending cuts.

The president also struck a more conciliatory tone than he did in a news conference last week, when he ridiculed Republicans’ work ethic and accused them of seeking to prevent the super-rich from making sacrifices alongside those who stand to suffer from unprecedented cuts to federal programs.

Obama said he ‘made progress’ in talks with congressional leaders over the Fourth of July weekend.”

Mark Landler and Carl Hulse reported in today’s New York Times that, “Mr. Obama’s previously undisclosed Sunday meeting with Mr. Boehner suggests that the talks are entering a critical phase. There were also intense staff-level negotiations between the White House and Congress over the details of a multi-trillion-dollar package of spending cuts that could clear the way for a vote to raise the debt ceiling, constrain the growth of government and radically reshape the role of government in American society.”

In a separate budget related news, Alexander Bolton reported yesterday at The Hill Online that, “Democrats’ Senate Budget chairman will present a spending plan to his party leaders Wednesday that seeks to cut the federal deficit through an equal split of tax hikes and spending cuts.

“Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (N.D.) will brief Democratic leaders on a budget that significantly raises government tax revenues in order to reduce the deficit, according to Senate sources.”

In other policy developments, Jennifer Haberkorn reported yesterday at Politico that, “Advertisers, broadcasters, grocers and food manufacturers are pushing back on a proposal that would set voluntary guidelines restricting what foods can be advertised on television.

“Many cereals, energy drinks and even some milk would be banned from the airwaves under the administration’s suggested guidelines. Industry groups are strongly lobbying the administration to rescind them.

“In 2009, Congress directed the FDA, CDC, FTC and Department of Agriculture to develop recommendations for the minimum nutrition levels foods should meet to be marketed to kids up to age 17. The group issued its recommendations in April and is now taking public comment.”



Dow Jones news reported yesterday that, “A House committee [Ways and Means] will start informal debate this week on trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama, but won’t consider including funding for job retraining sought by the White House.

“The decision by House Republican leaders to leave out renewed funding for Trade-Adjustment Assistance, while already well-telegraphed, presents a new challenge for the delicate bipartisan compromise reached for moving forward on the Bush-era trade deals. The Obama administration has been insisting that expired funding for the program to help workers displaced by trade be approved along with the three trade agreements.

“United States Trade Representative Ron Kirk said the House Ways and Means Committee’s proposal is ‘at odds’ with the administration’s plans to get a package approved by Congress that includes the trade pacts and retraining program. He said the administration would provide the committee with language to renew Trade-Adjustment Assistance.”

Elizabeth Williamson reported in today’s Wall Street Journal that, “Han Duk-Soo, the South Korean ambassador to the U.S., gripped the handrail of a tour boat jammed with business leaders in the harbor here [Long Beach, CA] one recent morning, fighting the flu and trying not to lose his breakfast.

The port tour was just the beginning of Mr. Han’s 16-hour day on the free-trade campaign trail, trying to convince Americans that a pending trade agreement with South Korea is a good deal for both sides. Mr. Han and a team of other officials from Washington and Seoul have taken their pitch to berry growers and racehorse breeders, immigrant merchants and assembly-line employees in an unusual effort to build public support for one of President Barack Obama’s maiden trade pacts.”

In a separate article in today’s Journal, Elizabeth Williams reported that, “As a divided Congress moves closer to a decision on three big international trade pacts, the Labor Department is four years late in delivering a study that is supposed to measure the efficacy of a program to provide extra benefits to workers who lose their jobs through globalization.”



Ben Geman reported yesterday at the Hill’s Energy Blog that, “Senators trying to forge a compromise that would end a major ethanol industry tax break while boosting other support for renewable fuels expressed confidence Tuesday that a deal can be struck soon.

“‘It is going well,’ said Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) in the Capitol Tuesday. ‘I would like to see it get done this week. … I think we all would.’”

With respect to this development, The Washington Post editorial board indicated today that, “Last month, the Senate voted 73 to 27 for an amendment that would have immediately cut two indefensible federal ethanol subsidies. But the bill lawmakers attached it to failed. Now supporters of the policy are trying to pass it some other way, affixed to another bill or as part of the deal the White House and Republicans will eventually strike (we trust) on raising the federal debt limit.

“Either way, the supports must go. Congress has protected ethanol three ways: with a $6 billion-a-year tax subsidy to those who blend it into gasoline, a tariff on competing imports and a mandate that billions of gallons enter Americans’ fuel tanks every year, which come on top of three decades of federal patronage of the industry. The Senate voted to get rid of the first two, which would still leave a federal mandate guaranteeing ethanol a market — a comfort that other businesses would be giddy to have.”

The Post added that, “Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), one of the sponsors of last month’s anti-ethanol amendment, now feels it necessary to negotiate a deal with Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and John Thune (R-S.D.), both ethanol backers. Those two farm-state senators want to take some of the money saved from ending support for blenders and use it to . . . support blenders, financing such things as ethanol pumps. But the Senate has registered strong support for repealing all of the blenders’ subsidy, which is scheduled to expire later this year anyway. It’s hardly time to ‘compromise’ with yet another support for ethanol.

Ms. Feinstein shouldn’t have to negotiate at all. Saving money by slashing ethanol supports should be among the most obvious items in any debt deal. President Obama and the House of Representatives should join the Senate in good sense.”


Agricultural Economy

Tom Polansek reported in today’s Wall Street Journal that, “U.S. grain futures surged as traders saw signs that foreigners were re-entering the markets after last week’s steep losses.

“The U.S. is the world’s largest exporter of corn and wheat, and when futures prices fall, foreign buyers step in to secure the grains they need. Last week, corn sank to 3 1/2 -month lows and wheat reached its lowest level in almost a year.

“On Tuesday, corn for July delivery climbed 39.75 cents, or 6.2%, to settle at $6.8050 a bushel.”

Bloomberg writer Elizabeth Campbell reported yesterday that, “Wheat futures had the biggest gain in almost seven weeks on concern that wet weather in the Great Plains will slow the harvest in the U.S., the world’s leading exporter.”

Anthony Greder and Katie Micik reported yesterday at DTN (link requires subscription) that, “Corn and soybean conditions improved slightly during the week ended July 3, but development of both crops was behind the average pace, according to USDA’s Crop Progress report.

“USDA rated 69% of the corn crop in good-to-excellent condition, up 1 percentage point from the previous week.”

The DTN article pointed out that, “As of Sunday, corn silking was 6%, trailing last year and the five-year average, both of which were at 18%.”

“Soybean emergence at 96% was equal to the average pace. The condition of the crop improved slightly with 66% rated good to excellent, up 1 percentage point from the previous week.”



A news release yesterday from the House Agriculture Committee stated that, “This week during The Ag Minute [MP3], guest host Rep. Rick Crawford [R-Arkansas] discusses why burdensome government regulations hurt farmers, ranchers, and the economy.  In particular, regulation of dust under the Clean Air Act could cripple farms and ranches across the country.  The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is expected to make a determination this summer on particle pollution standards, including dust.  It is time for the Obama Administration to stop creating more regulations and start creating jobs.”

John M. Broder reported in today’s New York Times that, “In the next weeks and months, Lisa P. Jackson, the Environmental Protection Agency administrator, is scheduled to establish regulations on smog, mercury, carbon dioxide, mining waste and vehicle emissions that will affect every corner of the economy.

“She is working under intense pressure from opponents in Congress, from powerful industries, from impatient environmentalists and from the Supreme Court, which just affirmed the agency’s duty to address global warming emissions, a project that carries profound economic implications.”

The Times noted that, “The new rules will roll out just as President Obama’s re-election campaign is getting under way, with a White House highly sensitive to the probability of political damage from a flood of government mandates that will strike particularly hard at the manufacturing sector in states crucial to the 2012 election.

No other cabinet officer is in as lonely or uncomfortable a position as Ms. Jackson, who has been left, as one adviser put it, behind enemy lines with only science, the law and a small band of loyal lieutenants to support her.

“Ms. Jackson describes the job as draining but says there are certain principles she will not compromise, including rapid and vigorous enforcement of some of the most far-reaching health-related rules ever considered by the agency.”



Dow Jones news reported yesterday that, “European Union lawmakers Tuesday voted to strengthen the rights of member states to ban the cultivation of genetically modified crops in their own countries under a new draft law.”

Meanwhile, Philip Brasher pointed to an article yesterday at his Twitter page, which indicated that, “Kenya has removed that last hurdle to the growing and sale of genetically modified crops, opening up the domestic market to cheaper varieties of staple foods such as maize and wheat that could help reduce supply and stabilise prices in the near term.”

Keith Good

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