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Farm Bill; Ag Economy; Labor; Trade; and; EPA Issues

Farm Bill: Rep. Collin Peterson- AgriTalk Interview From Yesterday

House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D., Minn.) was a guest on yesterday’s AgriTalk radio program with Mike Adams, where the discussion focused on the Farm Bill (unofficial transcript here , audio replay here, (MP3- 10:18)).

In part, Rep. Peterson indicated that, “But on balance I think they [the Senate] did a pretty good job with the bill, and I give Frank Lucas high marks for what he’s been doing over in the House. He and I are working together, and hopefully we can get the leadership to let us get this thing on track. We’ve got a good bipartisan bill put together in the House. We’re ready to go. It’s just a matter of the leadership giving us floor time.

“We get to the floor, it’s going to be tough. We’re going to have a lot of amendments, and we’re not sure, because we have all these new members, we’re not sure exactly where things are going to come out. But we’re going to be together fighting for what we think is right. You know, I’m optimistic. I think we’re going to get this done, get this thing into conference before the August recess and get it in conference over August, and get it on the floor in September and get it done.”

More specifically on House timing, Rep. Peterson noted that, “We were going to mark up on Wednesday this week, but Mr. Cantor [House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R., Va.)], who is no big fan of these farm bills, requested that we delay until the 11th. I wasn’t happy with that, but it’s their decision how to schedule this, and it’s going to… It makes me a little nervous that we’re pushing up against the timeline, but I still can see a pathway to get this done.

“I think their attitude was, well, the Senate will never get it done, so we don’t have to worry about it. We do have a number of Republicans that don’t like…don’t want to do any farm bill, but it would hurt them significantly if they held, you know, if it’s the leadership of the Republicans in the House holding this up because it’s not going to be us. It’s not going to be the Ag Committee. And if they screw this up, I think they’re going to pay the price in farm country in the election.”

Later in yesterday’s AgriTalk interview, Rep. Peterson added that, “Well, the 11th we’ll – no, we’ll mark this bill up on the 11th. We’ll be done on the 11th. We have until August 3rd before we go on August break, so that’s plenty of time to put it on the floor. And as I said earlier, if they don’t put it on the floor, they’re going to pay the price, because everybody that’s involved in this bill – I’m talking about everybody – wants this bill to move. Everybody on the committee wants this bill to move, the president wants it to move, Vilsack wants it to move, the Senate wants it to move. So they have no good excuse not to move this bill. And if they screw this up, they’re going to pay the price.”

With respect to target prices, the Minnesota Democrat pointed out that, “And I’ve been critical of the Senate for not addressing the problems of rice and peanuts. They’re small crops. They need time to transition off the direct payments. They don’t have crop insurance ready to go. They’re working on it, but… So we’re going to have the higher target prices. We’re going to keep the countercyclical.  We’ll keep an option. We’ll have an option for revenue or an option for countercyclical, and you’ll have to make the decision at the beginning of the five-year period, and we’re going to go to planted acres.”

When asked about conservation compliance being attached to crop insurance, the former Committee Chairman stated that, “Well, that’s something I have a concern with. Not so much because of that I’m not in favor of conservation. What I’m concerned about is that this doesn’t screw up the crop insurance system and doesn’t put a bureaucracy in between the crop insurance agent and the farmer getting this done.”

On the largest expenditure in the Farm Bill, nutrition programs, Rep. Peterson noted in the AgriTalk interview yesterday that, “Well, we’re going to do bigger cuts than the Senate did. The Senate had $4 billion and we’re going to have 14, 15. That’s not as much as some people want. That’s more than other people want. I’m going to support that. I think we can take 14, 15 billion out of food stamps without really hurting people that deserve it.”

And he also explained that, “A lot of those guys don’t like food stamps at all. But the problem is this, and this is something that folks don’t understand, and a lot of these new members I don’t think understand, and that is that the way this is set up, if we don’t get a farm bill done, it doesn’t impact food stamps. That continues. They don’t need a reauthorization.

The way it’s structured, it’s going to go on no matter what we do. So the only effect that these guys are having by opposing the farm bill because of food stamps, the irony of it is you’re going to continue food stamps and you’re going to punish the farmers. So unless they change that structure where the food stamps terminate at the same time as all the other farm programs, but nobody’s brought that up.”

On the issue of electoral politics, the AP reported on Saturday that, “These are good times in much of Iowa, partly due to a booming farm economy and a May jobless rate — 5.1 percent — that would be the envy of most parts of the country. Crop prices are strong, land values are soaring and farm incomes are up dramatically in recent years. The only cloud on the horizon? The threat of drought, which has sent ripples of anxiety through corn and soybean country.”

The AP article stated that, “The irony? This prosperous state may be crucial in deciding who will win the presidency of a country still reeling from recession. It is anybody’s guess how a fairly healthy economy at home and a sputtering recovery outside Iowa’s borders will play at the ballot box — whether the president will get credit, blame or both.

What is certain is that Iowa matters.

This small state holds big sway in the race for the White House. President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, deadlocked in recent polls, are blanketing the airwaves early with TV ads, scrambling for the state’s precious six electoral votes.”

The article added that, “As powerful as Iowa’s ag economy is, what many people don’t realize is that one reason the state is doing well is ‘it benefits tremendously from federal programs,’ says Steffen Schmidt, an Iowa State political science professor. That includes tax breaks, crop insurance, subsidies for wind power companies, ethanol mandates for fuel blending and government-supported biofuel and biotechnology programs.”

 

Farm Bill: Nutrition

Luke Rosiak reported on Sunday at The Washington Times Online that, “Americans spend $80 billion each year financing food stamps for the poor, but the country has no idea where or how the money is spent.

“Food stamps can be spent on goods ranging from candy to steak and are accepted at retailers from gas stations that primarily sell potato chips to fried-chicken restaurants.”

The Washington Times article stated that, “Coinciding with lobbying by convenience stores, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which administers the program in conjunction with states, contends that disclosing how much each store authorized to accept benefits, known as the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), receives in taxpayer funds would amount to revealing trade secrets.

“As a result, fraud is hard to track and the efficacy of the massive program is impossible to evaluate.

As the House debates the once-every-five-years farm bill, the majority of which goes to food stamps, there is a renewed and fervent call from a broad spectrum of camps that the information — some of the most high-dollar, frequently requested and closely held secrets of the government — be set free.”

Monica Eng reported in an article posted yesterday at the Indianapolis Star Online that, “On a recent steamy holiday weekend, customers at a discount grocery store in Evanston, Ill., loaded their carts with bags of chips, boxes of cookies, 2-liter soda bottles and jugs of fruit punch – among other items – then paid for it all with food stamp credit.

“Although some may be surprised to see ‘nutrition assistance’ dollars going to buy food with little nutritional value, it’s perfectly legal under federal rules.

“Some politicians and health advocates want that to change, saying restricting food stamp purchases to healthier items would encourage better diets, reduce health care costs and make better use of precious tax dollars.”

The article noted that, “But just how many taxpayer dollars go to purchase soda, chips, snack cakes and candy each year? The USDA says it has no idea.”

 

Agricultural Economy

Cheri Zagurski and Emily Garnett reported yesterday at DTN (link requires subscription) that, “For the third week in a row, the nation’s corn and soybean conditions declined on USDA’s weekly Crop Progress and Condition report. Corn in the very poor to poor category increased five percentage points to 14% and corn rated good-to-excellent dropped 7 percentage points to 56%…[S]oybean conditions also plunged, with the percent of the crop rated very poor to poor increasing three percentage points to 15% and the portion of the crop rated good to excellent falling a like amount.”

Bloomberg writer Lynn Doan reported yesterday that, “Dry weather during the next 10 days and intensifying heat will increase plant stress in the U.S., where 57 percent of projected production areas have been drier than usual in the past 30 days compared with about 10 percent a year earlier, T- Storm Weather LLC said in a report. June is expected to be the driest since 1988. Corn is beginning to reproduce, the most critical time for moisture.

“Less than 10 percent of the normal amount of rain fell in parts of Iowa and Illinois, the biggest U.S. producers of corn and soybeans, in the past month, National Weather Service data show. The hot, dry weather may curb corn production that was forecast to be a record 14.8 billion bushels after U.S. growers planted 95.9 million acres, the most since 1937.”

And the AP reported yesterday that, “Corn prices are skyrocketing as severe heat bakes crops in the Midwest…The searing heat comes during a critical pollination period for corn, which is eroding some of the advantage farmers had hoped for when they planted the crop early because of a mild spring.”

And, a more detailed look at soybean price variables by University of Illinois Agricultural Economist Darrel Good, was posted yesterday at the farmdoc daily Blog (“Soybean Fundamentals Remain Strong”).

Meanwhile, 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.

“The forecast was lowered for pork and remained unchanged in all other food categories, the USDA said today in a monthly report on its website.”

 

Labor

DTN Ag Policy Editor Chris Clayton reported yesterday that, “Nothing in Monday’s Supreme Court ruling on illegal immigration will help farmers continue to grow labor-intensive crops with the roughly half-million illegal aliens employed in agriculture each year.

Agriculture will continue to look for a long-term fix from Congress that doesn’t criminalize farmers who hire people to pick lettuce in Arizona, tomatoes in Alabama or onions in Georgia.

“‘It’s a huge issue for agriculture. It’s a huge issue for the country,’ said Larry Wooten, president of the North Carolina Farm Bureau and one of agriculture’s leading advocates for comprehensive immigration reform. ‘We need to have a reasonable dialogue and stop kicking the can down the road. For agriculture, clearly, we have got to have these workers.’”

In yesterday’s DTN article, Mr. Clayton pointed out that, “Georgia passed its immigration law last year, prompting a backlash from fruit and vegetable farmers who lost an estimated $70 million last year in unpicked crops. The University of Georgia estimated that the economic impact of fewer farm workers was about $390 million statewide. One of the provisions of the Georgia law requires employers to use the federal E-Verify system to confirm the legal status of employees. That’s become an anchor for most new state laws cracking down on undocumented aliens getting jobs. The Supreme Court actually ruled last year that such E-Verify state laws are legal.

“Farmers such as Vidalia onion growers in southeast Georgia rely on labor to pick their crop, valued at about $100 million each year in the state. Most of these growers are going to have to start using E-Verify to check the status of workers in a state estimated to have more than 460,000 illegal aliens, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.

“Numbers from different sources reflect some of the challenges that remain in achieving a legal agricultural workforce nationally. There are about 1 million direct farm workers for crops when factoring in different definitions for agricultural, farm workers and laborers for crops, nurseries and greenhouses. A 2005 National Agricultural Workers Survey by the Department of Labor showed 75% of all farm workers were born in Mexico. The study also showed 53% of hired crop labor was in the country illegally.”

 

Trade

Bloomberg writer Jennifer M. Freedman reported yesterday that, “The World Trade Organization agreed to investigate Indian restrictions on U.S. poultry meat and eggs and decide whether the curbs break global commerce rules.

“India has prohibited imports of various U.S. farm products since at least February 2007, saying the ban is needed to prevent the spread of low-pathogenic avian influenza. U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk’s office accuses India of ignoring scientific evidence while the Department of Agriculture says low-pathogenic bird flu causes ‘minor illness, poses no risk to human health and sometimes manifests no clinical signs.’”

 

EPA Issues

DTN writer Todd Neeley reported yesterday (link requires subscription) that, “A West Virginia poultry farmer sued EPA, alleging the agency overstepped its authority in ordering the farm to apply for a Clean Water Act permit. EPA claimed dust, feathers and other materials from a ventilation system on the farm had the potential to discharge into U.S. waters.

“In a federal lawsuit filed June 14, Lois Alt, who owns and operates Eight is Enough Farm, challenges a 2011 order by EPA officials requiring her to apply for a federal storm-water discharge permit. EPA issued the order even though agency inspectors never established that the poultry farm actually emitted pollution into streams or rivers.”

Mr. Neeley noted that, “An American Farm Bureau Federation official said there is concern EPA is trying to expand its Clean Water Act authority when it comes to regulating CAFOs and will continue with such expansion despite recent court rulings. EPA has been issuing compliance orders in its attempt to improve water quality in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

“‘We think EPA is using administrative compliance orders as a way to force non-discharging livestock operations to obtain permits and thus side-stepping the court rulings they (EPA) have already lost,’ said Don Parrish, senior director of regulatory relations with the American Farm Bureau Federation.

“‘They are using the dust and feather issue as a means to expand their authority — there has been no discharge. All the animals are maintained under a roof and the manure, if stored, is under a roof,’ he said about the West Virginia farm.”

The DTN article added that, “EPA press officer David Sternberg told DTN, ‘EPA is reviewing the lawsuit and will respond appropriately.’ EPA had not filed a response to the lawsuit as of Friday.

“Alt, a poultry-broiler operator near Old Fields, W.V., asked the court to set aside EPA’s order, arguing that any discharges coming from her farm are agricultural in nature and exempt from the CWA.

“The Clean Water Act authorizes EPA to require facilities to obtain National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System, or NPDES permits, for point-source storm water discharges associated with industrial activity.”

Keith Good