FarmPolicy

November 26, 2014

Budget; Policy Issues; Regulations; Ag Economy; and Biofuels

Budget

Felicia Sonmez reported yesterday at the 2chambers Blog (Washington Post) that, “Top House Democrats said Thursday that they want the new payroll tax conference committee to be open and transparent, in contrast to the bipartisan supercommittee that largely worked behind closed doors in its failed attempt to draft a debt-reduction plan.

“‘This should be a conference,’ Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich.), the top Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee, said at a news conference Thursday with more than two dozen members of the House Democratic caucus. ‘This should not be done in secret. We should not be talking about things that are under the table.’”

Yesterday’s update noted that, “Ultimately, it’s up to the members themselves to decide how the panel conducts its business. Recent conference committees, such as the one last month on the national defense authorization bill, largely carried out their work in private. The debt supercommittee had started out on a promise of openness but quickly dissolved into a series of closed-door meetings and later in separate huddles of a handful of lawmakers.

“Spokesmen for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the call for public meetings.”

Jennifer Steinhauer reported in today’s New York Times that, “Remember the first session of the 112th Congress, how things were rancorous, partisan and at times somewhat apocalyptic?

That may be just an appetizer compared with the second session, which begins this month. President Obama on Wednesday made four appointments to two regulatory agencies loathed by many Republicans, all while Congress was out of town.

“The last session began with a series of fiscal fights — which more than once nearly led to government shutdowns — and ended with a nasty battle over whether or not to extend a payroll tax holiday. The second session is likely to include a lawsuit over the legality of Mr. Obama’s Wednesday appointments, as well as Senate Republicans turning minor procedures into major headaches and blocking all of the president’s nominees.”

Today’s article added that, “The area in which Republicans could have the most impact on Mr. Obama — derailing his efforts to extend the payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits for the rest of the year — would leave their party vulnerable in an election year, as did an end-of-first-session embarrassment for House Republicans in which they were forced to accept Democratic legislation that extended the cut for two months. And Republicans may find themselves having to choose between voting for bipartisan legislation that has the support of some in their party, like a bill to protect Hollywood from foreign piracy, and opposing such legislation to jam Democrats.”

And Jake Sherman reported yesterday at Politico that, “House Republicans aren’t looking for another bloody battle on the payroll tax. They don’t think it’s worth stepping into the ring with President Barack Obama during his 2012 crusade against Congress.

But they are willing to fight each other — over policy, strategy and leadership.”

Mr. Sherman noted that, “House Republicans first have to deal with a yearlong payroll tax extension, and they’re already promising to be flexible in the quest to get it out of the way. They’re almost certain to run into fiery conservative lawmakers still angry over the short term bill GOP leaders jammed through Congress before Christmas.

“They’ll also have to contend with a growing deficit of trust between the rank and file and leadership — something that’s expected to come to a head at the party’s retreat in Baltimore later this month.

All told, the House Republicans are going into 2012 weaker and more divided than when they took control of the chamber a year ago.”

Meanwhile, Senator Roy Blunt, R-Mo., was a guest on yesterday’s AgriTalk radio program with Mike Adams.  During the course of yesterday’s discussion Sen. Blunt addressed the topic of the budget and the current atmosphere in Congress, to listen to a portion of his remarks from yesterday’s AgriTalk show, just click here (MP3- 1:22).

 

Policy Issues

Yi Yang reported earlier this week at The Epoch Times Online (N.Y.) that, “In a listening session held in the Bronx on Wednesday, Jan. 4, U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.) listed benefits that should be included in the 2012 Food and Farm Bill.

“Sen. Gillibrand outlined four main points, which included increasing the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits or monthly benefits by $144 for a family of four with children; providing families with fresh, healthy food by pushing for the Healthy Food Financing Initiative Bill that gives one-time grants and loans for grocery stores in food desert areas that lack access to fresh produce; helping provide funding for Hunts Points Produce Market, the country’s largest produce distribution center, to upgrade its infrastructure; and increasing emergency aid for food pantries and soup kitchens.”

Emily Shultz reported earlier this week at The Dodge City Daily Globe Online (Kans.) that, “Looking forward, [Congressman Tim Huelskamp, R-Kans.] said his main focus for 2012 is the Farm Bill.

“‘I tell folks there’s going to be a reduction in payments, and direct payments are probably a thing of the past. But our greatest strengths in exports are in the area of agriculture and we are going to continue to grow,’ he said. Huelskamp said he had been active in working with international trade with countries in South America, as well as with Vietnam and South Korea.

“‘South Korea has a growing middle class and they have the resources to buy our proteins,’ he said. ‘Panama and Colombia are interested in our crops.’

“Huelskamp also gave credit to Sens. Jerry Moran and Pat Roberts for all the work they have done to strengthen international markets for agriculture.”

And a Daily News Service item from USDA yesterday (“Fate of Farm Programs May be Decided This Year”) indicated that, “With the farm bill debate and big elections, this year will be a pivotal one for many U.S. farmers and rural residents.”  The one-minute audio report included remarks from USDA Chief Economist Joe Glauber.

Also yesterday, an update posted yesterday at FarmBillFacts.org (American Farmland Trust) stated that, “The Land Contract Guarantee Program, authorized under the 2008 Farm Bill, became available through the Farm Service Agency (FSA) on January 3, 2012. The program helps to reduce the risk of retiring farmers selling their land to beginning farmers.”

An update posted yesterday at the farmdocdaily Blog (University of Illinois) by Ohio State University Professor Carl Zulauf provided a focused look at the Average Crop Revenue Election (ACRE) program.  The complete update can be found here, “ACRE State Revenue Payments, 2010 Crops.”

More broadly, Jerry Lackey, writing earlier this week at the San Angelo Standard-Times Online (Tex.), noted that, “The new year will bring challenges to the leadership of the nation’s largest farm organization, including providing support for the need of deficit reduction and tackling the country’s rising debt. But the Farm Bureau is up to the task, said Bob Stallman, president of Washington, D.C.-based American Farm Bureau Federation.

Stallman, a South Texas farmer and rancher, said the organization leaders expect cuts in farm programs, but ‘will fight tooth and nail against disproportionate cuts. We will do our share to get the nation’s economy back on track.’

“He said other obstacles on the horizon include a challenge to complete a farm bill by year’s end, continuing to work toward comprehensive farm labor and immigration reform plans, maintaining efforts to combat anti-agriculture animal welfare initiatives and tackling water issues.”

In other policy news, Kristina Butts, executive director of legislative affairs at the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association was a guest on yesterday’s AgriTalk radio program with Mike Adams.  In part, their discussion focused on issues associated with an agreement reached last summer between The United Egg Producers and The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) regarding some aspects of egg production.

To listen to this portion of yesterday’s AgriTalk program, just click here (MP3- 5:29).

A January 3 letter to House and Senate members from Gene Gregory, the President of the United Egg Producers (UEP), provided additional analysis on the UEP-HSUS agreement and noted that, “I write to ask your support for legislation that will soon be introduced to bring certainty and economic sustainability to the U.S. egg industry, and enhance the welfare of laying hens across the country. Uniquely, this legislation is being supported by both United Egg Producers, representing 87% of all U.S. egg production, and the Humane Society of the United States and other animal advocacy groups.”

Mr. Gregory added that, “Without federal standards, our industry faces a bleak future — a patchwork of conflicting state laws that will arbitrarily make some producers less competitive than others, restrict the interstate flow of eggs and make it virtually impossible to meet the needs of our retail and food service customers.”

The UEP letter explained that, “Some have expressed concern over the impact this legislation could have on other livestock species. In fact, there would be no such impact. The proposed legislation would amend the Egg Products Inspection Act and would create absolutely no authority to affect any other industry. Eggs have always been subject to different regulations from other animal products, and that would remain the case with the proposed legislation.”

 

Regulations

A recent update posted at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) Online indicated that the Commission will hold a public meeting on Wednesday to consider three final rules, one proposed rule and a delegation of authority order.

Scott Patterson and Aaron Lucchetti reported in today’s Wall Street Journal that, “Louis Freeh, the former Federal Bureau of Investigation director who was appointed bankruptcy trustee of MF Global Holdings Ltd., has declined to turn over some documents to investigators trying to determine what happened to an estimated $1.2 billion in missing customer funds.

“Mr. Freeh, who is representing the parent company, has asserted attorney-client privilege in deciding not to release certain documents to the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, according to his office and other people familiar with the matter. The CFTC, one of the failed firm’s regulators, is aiding the investigation into what became of the missing MF Global customer funds.

The conflict is among several that have erupted among various investigators looking into the collapse of MF Global. The disputes are complicating efforts to learn how the firm lost the customer funds and to return the money to its owners, say people familiar with the investigation, which has entered its third month.”

 

Agricultural Economy

Bloomberg writers Luzi Ann Javier and Jeff Wilson reported yesterday that, “Farmers in the U.S., the world’s largest corn grower and exporter, have enough seeds to plant this year, according to the Iowa Corn Promotion Board, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Monsanto Co.

“‘We have not heard of anything that shows there’s any kind of seed-supply problem at all,’ Kevin Rempp, the Iowa Corn Promotion Board’s vice chairman, said today in a telephone interview from Johnston, Iowa. The state is the nation’s largest producer. ‘The only way acreage will not be planted will be weather issues.’

“An adequate supply of seed may help farmers increase acreage in the U.S., which accounts for about 44 percent of the world’s corn trade. The Wall Street Journal reported earlier today that farmers were facing a shortage of seeds. Demand for U.S. grain may increase as dry weather caused by La Nina threatens harvests in Argentina, the second-largest exporter, and Brazil, the fourth-biggest.”

Meanwhile, Emiko Terazono and Jack Farchy reported yesterday at The Financial Times Online that, “Global fertiliser consumption is set to hit a record this year as high agricultural commodity prices drive farmers to invest in their crops, according to the trade body for the fertiliser industry.

“The International Fertilizer Industry Association said that global fertiliser consumption would hit 178.3m tonnes in the 2011-12 crop year, up 3 per cent from last year.”

 

Biofuels

Bloomberg writers Alan Bjerga and Mario Parker reported earlier this week that, “Allegiance to ethanol, once required for political success in rural states, has faded in importance as some candidates skeptical about biofuel subsidies fared better than supporters in the Iowa caucuses.”

Yesterday, an update posted at The Hill’s Congress Blog by Bob Dinneen, president and CEO, Renewable Fuels Association, stated that, “With growing concerns about gridlock in Washington and greed on Wall Street, Americans are wondering whether anyone with a stake in public policies is willing to sacrifice their short-term advantage for a greater good.

“Well, someone just did.

“Without any opposition from the biofuels sector, the tax credit for ethanol blenders (the Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax Credit – VEETC) expired on January 1.”

Also yesterday, Dan Chapman reported at the Atlanta Journal Constitution Online that, “Range Fuels, the failed wood-to-ethanol factory in southeastern Georgia that cost taxpayers $70 million, was sold Tuesday for pennies on the dollar. Its buyer is a company that is backed by the same man who bankrolled and helped secure government loans for Range Fuels before it went bust last year.

“California entrepreneur Vinod Khosla is the main financial backer of LanzaTech, the New Zealand-based biofuel company that paid $5.1 million Tuesday for the plant in Soperton.

“LanzaTech hasn’t received the same type of federal and state loans as Range Fuels, but the company has received $7 million from the U.S. departments of Energy and Transportation to assist in the development of alternative fuels.”

The AJC article stated that, “Range cost U.S. taxpayers $64 million and Georgia taxpayers another $6.2 million. Tuesday’s sale netted $5.1 million, which will help offset losses suffered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Georgia’s money, which paid for some of the ethanol-making equipment, won’t be recouped outright, but state officials expect LanzaTech to use the machinery.

“Jeb Simons, an engineer in Savannah whose family hails from Soperton, doesn’t expect much of the taxpayer investment to be recouped. He blames Khosla.”

An update posted yesterday at Agri-Pulse Online reported that, “The California Air Resources Board (CARB) today filed a notice of appeal in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit to challenge the ruling that the California Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) violates the commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution.

“U.S. District Judge Lawrence O’Neill ruled that CARB’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard is unconstitutional.  In his December 29th ruling in Rocky Mountain Farmers Union v. Goldstene, the federal judge issued an injunction preventing CARB from implementing the LCFS.”

Keith Good

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