FarmPolicy

November 23, 2014

Farm Bill (Mark-up Today); BSE; House Ag Comm; Animal Ag; Budget Issues; and Food Prices

Farm Bill: Senate Ag Committee Mark-up Today

A press release last night from the Senate Ag Committee indicated that, “Senator Debbie Stabenow, Chairwoman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, will convene a meeting of the full Committee for purposes of considering and marking up the 2012 Farm Bill on Thursday, April 26 at 10:30 a.m. in the Committee’s hearing room, 328-A of the Russell Senate Office Building.”

Recall that today’s hearing was originally scheduled for Wednesday.  With respect to this one-day delay, a daily National Journal Daily Email from yesterday, the Need-To-Know Memo, reported that, “After complaints from Southern farm groups and western corn growers, the Senate Committee on Agriculture Nutrition and Forestry has postponed the markup of the Farm Bill.”

DTN Ag Policy Editor Chris Clayton reported yesterday (link requires subscription) that, “Southern states and groups representing crops such as peanuts and rice exerted their influence on the farm bill process after seeing major deviations in the proposed commodity programs released last Friday from what groups saw from lawmakers last fall.

“By Monday, more than 30 groups, leaning heavily on peanuts, rice, sorghum and cotton, organized a letter asking the Senate Agriculture Committee to delay Wednesday’s scheduled markup of the bill. By late Tuesday night, they had gotten their wish.

“Former House Agriculture Committee Chairman Larry Combest, a Texas Republican and principal in the lobbying group Combest, Sell & Associates, organized the letter for his clients, asking for more time to study the farm bill and reshape the commodity title. ‘The concern was this thing was happening so quickly it really didn’t give people the opportunity to address major deviations from where the bill is now as introduced from where it was last fall,’ Combest said in an interview Wednesday.”

Mr. Clayton explained that, “The bill last fall crafted for the failed supercommittee process had options for a target-price program, one that would have significantly increased target prices for commodities such as rice.

“‘The difference was night and day,’ Combest said, adding several groups saw inequitable treatment in the program changes. ‘The risk management tools that were included in the bill released Friday were just totally inadequate.’”

The DTN article added that, “‘I just believe there will be a lot higher comfort zone once people have had a real chance to look at this and get their teeth into it, understand what it does and look at ways this thing can still be modified to give some accommodation to those commodities who felt so surprised from the deviation that came out of the bill on Friday compared to where it was last fall,’ Combest said.”

Yesterday’s Agriculture Today radio program from the Red River Farm Network (RRFN) , included a report from RRFN’s Mike Hergert that contained remarks on the Farm Bill process from Jeff Harrison, a lobbyist who works at Combest, Sell and Associates.    To listen to this portion of yesterday’s Agriculture Today program, just click here (MP3- 2:03).

Both the National Corn Growers Association and National Association of Wheat Growers expressed a desire yesterday to start the mark-up process in the Senate Committee this week.

Meanwhile, Erik Wasson reported yesterday at The Hill’s On the Money Blog that, “[Sen. John Boozman (R., Ark.)] praised the postponement [of the mark-up] in a statement Wednesday.

“‘I am pleased the chairwoman chose to provide committee members and agriculture producers more time to review the Farm Bill proposal, examine its impacts on their industry, and offer improvements to the bill,’ Boozman said. ‘We all agree it is imperative to pass a Farm Bill as soon as possible and I am committed to working with my colleagues in a bipartisan manner to ensure that all regions and crops have the safety net they need.’”

A news release yesterday from veteran Indiana GOP Senator Richard Lugar indicated that, “‘As a former Chairman of the Agriculture Committee, I recognize the challenge of writing a farm bill, but as a farmer, I know that the agriculture community needs policy certainty,’ Lugar said.  ‘Now is the time to press forward with fiscally-responsible reforms for farm and nutrition policy.  Hoosier farmers need a good farm bill, not political impasses,’ Lugar said.

Lugar has proposed 11 amendments that were set for consideration during the mark-up.  These included amendments to repeal the sugar program, close loopholes in the food stamp program, help Hoosiers save money on their electric bills, and enable private investment in rural energy.”

Chris Clayton, writing yesterday evening at DTN (link requires subscription), reported that, “It isn’t just Southern senators wanting a bigger piece of the commodity pie in the Senate Agriculture Committee’s farm bill, but Northern senators also want a better deal than the one offered in the proposal released last week.

“In a conference call with South Dakota media, Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said he was both disappointed and frustrated Wednesday over the delay in the farm-bill markup announced by Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., late Tuesday.”

Mr. Clayton noted that, “Thune acknowledged some of the amendments offered were to appease farmers of crops such as peanuts and rice, which take significant cuts proportional to the baseline spending on other crops. However, pumping up the safety net for various crops will be expensive.

“‘Some of the changes that are now being proposed by people who are unsatisfied with the bill in its current form are changes that are going to significantly add to the cost of the bill, and that’s going to make it very hard to pass around here.’

“Other senators representing more Northern states also had offering several proposals to reshape the shallow-loss program for commodities as well, Thune said. He said some senators are attempting to change the protection levels at the farm level.”

Sen. Jerry Moran (R., Kan.) was a guest on yesterday’s AgriTalk radio program with Mike Adams where a portion of their discussion focused on the Farm Bill (unofficial transcript, audio (MP3- 2:51)).

In part, Sen. Moran noted that, “Senator [Harry] Reid [D., Nev.], the Majority Leader of the U.S. Senate, has said that he will find time on the Senate floor to have the farm bill debate and potential passage. I think the greater challenge is in the House. [House Ag Committee] Chairman [Frank] Lucas [R., Okla.] has indicated to me that he continues to work and meet with members of the House, particularly new members of the House, to talk about the farm bill process and the policy and what’s important.

“So I think it’s possible that a bill would be… I think it’s likely that a bill will pass out of the Senate committee. I think it’s a little bit less likely, but still more likely than not, that the Senate will take up this issue. And I think the real challenge in getting a farm bill passed in 2012, certainly in advance of the election, is the House of Representatives.”

With respect to Chairman Lucas, Agri-Pulse Senior Editor Stewart Doan filed an audio report this morning (“House Ag Chair unloads on Senate Ag Farm Bill mark”) that includes remarks from the Oklahoma Republican.  To listen to the Agri-Pulse audio report, just click here (1:52).

Mary Kay Thatcher, Senior Director of Congressional Relations at the American Farm Bureau Federation was also a guest on yesterday’s AgriTalk radio program with Mike Adams where a very detailed and wide-ranging discussion of Farm Bill issues unfolded.  An unofficial FarmPolicy.com transcript of part of this comprehensive interview is available here, while an audio replay of this portion of yesterday’s AgriTalk program can be heard here (MP3- 10:03).

Among the many issues discussed, Ms. Thatcher noted in part that, “You know, everybody focuses on the commodity title [of the Farm Bill] as being the most controversial, but I think probably the nutrition title could be even more controversial than commodities.”  Ms. Thatcher added that, “But what could be a deal-breaker is still nutrition funding because there’s quite a difference between Frank Lucas talking about 20, 25, 30 billion dollars in cuts to nutrition programs where he thinks it’s primarily waste, fraud and abuse, and Debbie Stabenow on the Senate side talking about four billion. That’s a lot of monetary difference.”

In other developments on the Senate Farm Bill draft, a news release yesterday from the American Society of Agronomy (ASA) stated that, “[T]he [ASA], Crop Science Society of America (CSSA), and Soil Science Society of America (SSSA) is applauding Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow and Ranking Member Pat Roberts for crafting the bipartisan effort to date, and especially continuing investment in critical agricultural research, along with acknowledging the importance of conservation in supporting the stewardship and sustainability of America’s farmland.”

 

BSE Issues

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack also appeared on yesterday’s AgriTalk program where he spoke briefly about the Farm Bill.  However, Sec. Vilsack also addressed the recent BSE issue in more detail, particularly focusing on beef exports.  A portion of Sec. Vilsacks’s remarks from yesterday can be heard here (MP3- 3:25)).

Marshall Eckblad and Bill Tomson reported yesterday at The Wall Street Journal Online that, “U.S. cattle futures rebounded Wednesday from the panicked selling of Tuesday, when traders learned of a new case of mad-cow disease in the U.S.”

The article added that, “Yet concerns persist. The discovery this week prompted two major retailers in South Korea to remove American beef from shelves. And after its initial assurances, the USDA later Wednesday said it is searching for the offspring of the cow, noting the cows could be infected with the brain wasting disease.

In Japan, Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura said Wednesday that the nation believes there is no need to take further steps against U.S. beef imports, as the cow infected with the disease was older than 30 months.”

 

 

House Agriculture Committee’s Subcommittee on Rural Development, Research, Biotechnology, and Foreign Agriculture Farm Bill Hearing

Sarah Gonzalez reported yesterday at Agri-Pulse Online that, “Witnesses defended Rural Development program benefits during the first of eight 2012 Farm Bill subcommittee hearings of the House Agriculture Committee today in Washington, D.C. While representatives of various rural industries agreed that the government’s budget situation warrants consolidation of RD programs, they each noted how current investments are boosting rural economies.”

During the discussion portion of yesterday’s hearing, Ranking Member Jim Costa (D., Calif.) highlighted the issue of the definition of “rural” as it applies to the administration and qualification of Rural Development programs.  Donald Larson, a County Commissioner from South Dakota, and Leanne Mazer, the Executive Director of the Tri-County Council for Western Maryland offered their perspective on this issue-  audio, MP3- 4:10.

Also, Rep. Terri A. Sewell (D., Ala.) asked the panel about what particular development program has proven to be one of the most beneficial.  In response to this inquiry, Charles F. Conner, President of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives highlighted the Value Added Producer Grant Programaudio, MP3- 1:28.

Also at yesterday’s hearing, Mr. Conner noted in a discussion with Subcommittee Ranking Member Costa that applying for these types of grants can often take a lot of resources– audio,  MP3- 1:48.

 

Animal Agriculture- HSUS, Burger King

Bill Tomson reported yesterday at The Wall Street Journal Online that, “Burger King Corp. pledged Wednesday to begin buying eggs only from farms that don’t cage their hens, a step beyond its fast-food competitors’ efforts to push for better treatment of food-producing animals.”

In a statement yesterday , the United Egg Producers (UEP) noted that, “Cage-­‐free eggs typically incur higher environmental inputs such as water, acreage and cropland and as a result have a higher carbon footprint. The scientific community has always documented that cage-­‐free hen housing is not necessarily better for animal welfare, and in fact hens producing cage-­‐free eggs often have more health problems (skeletal health, foot health, respiratory health) and higher mortality levels than hens in conventional egg housing. Most U.S. egg farmers follow the animal welfare guidelines in the UEP Certified program (www.uepcertified.com).”

The statement added that, “UEP announced last year that it has joined with the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) to petition Congress to adopt a national standard for egg production that will phase out the conventional cage housing in favor of enriched colony cage housing. The bill (www.eggbill.com) has been introduced in Congress and currently has 53 co-sponsors in the House of Representatives; it is awaiting introduction in the Senate.”

A statement yesterday on this issue from the National Pork Producers Council noted that, “With regard to Burger King’s decision to require its pork suppliers to phase out individual sow housing, the National Pork Producers Council is concerned that such action will significantly increase production costs – and eventually consumer prices – force U.S. hog farmers out of business and lead to more consolidation of the pork industry, all with no demonstrable health benefits to sows.”

 

Budget Issues

David Rogers reported yesterday at Politico that, “Plunging ahead along party lines, the House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday approved a set of Republican-backed spending targets that break with the August debt accords by demanding more than $27 billion in additional savings from non-defense programs.

“The 28-21 vote sets up a long summer of political skirmishing, all leading to what could be another government shutdown fight Oct. 1 when a new fiscal year begins and the GOP must come to terms with the White House and Democratic Senate.”

An update yesterday at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition Blog provided more detail on this development, with a sharper focus on ag allocations, and noted in part that, “On April 19, we reported that the Senate Appropriations Committee had approved discretionary spending allocations for the coming 2013 fiscal year.  The size of the total spending pie, as laid out by the Committee, was completely consistent with the levels set by law in the Budget Control Act of 2011.

“Today, the House Appropriations Committee set its own discretionary spending allocations, but rather than abide by the spending caps agreed to by both the House and Senate in last year’s Budget Control Act, it lowered them an additional $19 billion.”

 

Food Prices

Bloomberg writer Alan Bjerga reported yesterday that, “U.S. consumers will pay 2.5 percent to 3.5 percent more for food in 2012, the Department of Agriculture said, holding to a forecast made in July.”

Tiffany Hsu reported yesterday at the Los Angeles Times Online that, “The cost of food around the world is rising again, due to bad weather, soaring oil costs and strong demand in Asia for imports, according to the World Bank.”

***

Lastly today, yesterday’s Need-To-Know Memo (National Journal Email report) indicated that, “In the 17th District [of Pennsylvania], moderate Democratic Rep. Tim Holden lost to attorney Matt Cartwright, who ran to his left. The Blue Dog Democrat faced a tough race following redistricting, which made the district more liberal.”  Rep. Holden is the Ranking Member on the Conservation, Energy, and Forestry Agriculture Subcommittee.

Keith Good

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