Farm Bill Issues
The AP reported late last week that, “Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Friday urged the Republican-led House to vote on a long-term farm policy bill, saying failure to act could leave livestock producers exposed to disasters and other farmers uncertain about the future.
“Vilsack, in an interview with The Associated Press, dismissed apparent concerns among House GOP leaders that the half-trillion-dollar farm and food bill could lead to an election-year rebellion among conservatives. ‘If they put it up on the board, there would be enough votes,’ he said.
“‘It just needs to get done and there’s no excuse for it not to be done,’ he said.”
The AP article noted that, “The chairman of the House Agriculture Committee told the AgriTalk radio show on Thursday that the House’s farm bill, which has yet to be introduced, would probably look for $14 billion or $15 billion in food stamp savings. Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., said the entire bill would reduce spending by about $30 billion.
“Lucas has scheduled a committee vote on a farm bill for July 11, and said that once the committee has acted, he will ask Republican leaders for floor time. ‘I don’t care if it’s 8:00 in the morning or if it’s 3:00 in the afternoon, or if it’s 10 minutes till midnight, just give me time.’”
Mary Vanac reported on Friday at The Columbus Dispatch Online that, “U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack visited Ohio State University yesterday to learn about salmonella-free eggs and foods that fight cancer.
“Vilsack used the opportunity to urge the U.S. House to quickly pass the new farm bill so farmers who need help can get it.
“‘We have fires in the West. We also have a drought in parts of the country,’ Vilsack told academics, farming advocates and policymakers yesterday.”
Friday’s article added that, “‘The critical question is whether or not House leadership will allow this bill to be voted on now,’ said Vilsack, who is concerned that Eric Cantor, a Virginia Republican who is majority leader of the House Agriculture Committee, has hit the ‘pause button.’
“‘All the momentum we’ve built, all the positive, optimistic opportunities we have could come to a screeching halt if we don’t have clarity and certainty about what the programs and processes are going to be,’ Vilsack said.”
Meanwhile, Jonathan Weisman reported in Saturday’s New York Times that, “With only 29 days left on the House’s legislative calendar before the election, the real work of the 112th Congress may be done, at least until a lame-duck session that will be devoted to heading off a fiscal disaster on Jan. 1. That leaves three significant bills passed by the Senate in limbo: a major overhaul of federal farm programs, a revamping of the Postal Service and an expansion of the Violence Against Women Act.
“Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the farm measure was essential for continuing the economic growth under way in rural communities.
“‘This is a big deal and not one that is fully recognized,’ Mr. Vilsack said in an interview on Friday. ‘They are turning their backs on rural America at the wrong time.’”
And, an editorial last week at The Dallas Morning News Online stated that, “Overall, this new direction in farm policy should gain favor from the Republican House because insuring against risk makes more sense than directly paying farmers to produce a crop. It certainly fits more neatly with the idea of a marketplace.”
An article Friday from Inside U.S. Trade reported that, “The House Agriculture Committee will not mark up its version of the farm bill until after next week’s recess, despite its chairman’s hopes to hold the markup beforehand. The markup is now scheduled for July 11, committee spokeswoman Tamara Hinton told Inside U.S. Trade this week.”
The article pointed out that, “Lucas decided to push the markup back because the House was set to consider an appropriations bill for agriculture-related programs on the floor in the second half of this week. The chairman wanted all agriculture committee members to be able to focus on engaging with their colleagues, carrying the message that agricultural policy measures should not be stuck in the appropriations bill, Hinton said on June 25. At press time, the appropriations bill had not been considered yet on the floor.
“It is unclear what the delay means for the eventual consideration of the farm bill on the floor. Hinton said it was ‘premature’ for Lucas to ask the House leadership for floor time when the actual farm bill has not yet been introduced.”
Ryan Johnson, writing on Saturday at The Forum (Fargo, N.D.) Online, reported that, “The final details of the House’s 2012 farm bill were ‘settled’ last Thursday in the Agriculture Committee, ranking Democrat and Minnesota Rep. Collin Peterson said Saturday.
“But during a news conference at the Hjemkomst Center, Peterson said the bill will contain ‘significantly more’ funding cuts than the $23 billion already cut in the Senate version that passed June 21.
“While he said there is enough support to pass the bill out of the Agriculture Committee, a vote now scheduled for July 11, Peterson said the next federal farm bill still faces its ‘own challenges’ in getting through the House.”
Saturday’s article noted that, “Peterson said because of terms of the committee discussions, he could not disclose the full bill details.
“But he said the language of the bill should be made public Thursday or Friday, and he expects it to move ahead with the markup July 11 and pass the committee on a voice vote.”
Mr. Johnson added that, “After that, Peterson said he will give Republican leaders ‘a couple days’ to schedule it for a full vote on the House floor because it needs to pass by Aug. 3, when Congress will break for the August recess, in order to be enacted before the current farm bill expires Sept. 30.
“‘But if they don’t give us some indication of putting this on the floor, then I’m going to turn the heat up, and if I have to, I’m going to spend all day every day calling every farm radio station in the United States in every state and ratchet up the heat on them, and I encourage everybody else to do that as well,’ he said. ‘I think that in the end, they’ll come around.’”
With respect to dairy issues, Ted Booker reported on Friday at the Watertown Daily Times (N.Y.) Online that, “Dairy farmers in the north country have long been susceptible to the whims of the national economy; milk prices tank as consumer spending dries up, making it a challenge for small farms here to scrape out a living.
“But this year’s proposed farm bill — set to be voted on by the U.S. House of Representatives in July — will include a margin insurance program that will reimburse farmers when milk prices drop below their feed costs for cattle. Milk and feed costs for the program will be determined by national rates.
“To boost funding for the new program, the Milk Income Loss Contract Program will be discontinued if the farm bill passes. That program provides a safety net by reimbursing farmers when the milk price drops below a federal target.”
And in other news, The Washington Post editorial board indicated today that, “In April, the FDA issued voluntary guidelines that called on farmers to be ‘judicious’ with antibiotics, limiting their use to ensuring animal health. Significantly, the FDA said, using antibiotics for promoting growth or feed efficiency is not judicious. Rep. Louise M. Slaughter (D-N.Y.) has introduced legislation that would mandate an end to using antibiotics on healthy farm animals. The European Union did so in 2006.
“The evidence is overwhelming that bacteria are evolving in ways that make many antibiotic drugs less useful. Overuse of antibiotics in agriculture is not the only reason, but it is a significant part of the equation. A more concerted effort is needed by industry, regulators and science to reverse this trend, before we confront a new generation of superbugs.”
Erik Wasson reported yesterday at The Hill’s On the Money Blog that, “Senate Democrats have no plans yet to take up their versions of the annual spending bills passed by the House, fueling new Republican attacks that they are abdicating their responsibility to manage the federal purse.
“The House has already passed six of the 12 annual spending bills for fiscal year 2013, and the Senate Appropriations Committee plans to mark up all 12 of its bills.”
The article added that, “[Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman] pointed to the Department of Agriculture bill that he oversees, saying the input of the wider House brings important issues to his attention that he was not aware of when crafting a bill just with his subcommittee…Kingston admitted that with August recess fast approaching, the House would probably not get to all the bills, but he said some bills are better than none.”
Mr. Wasson indicated that, “The reluctance of the Senate to move forward is tied up in a fight over the top-line spending level for 2013. The House passed a budget with $19 billion less in spending that the level set by last summer’s debt-ceiling deal.
“The Senate and White House want spending at the higher level of the August agreement. The Obama administration has issued a blanket veto threat for all 12 appropriations bills until the House agrees to abandon the lower spending level.”
EPA- Greenhouse Gas Issues
DTN writer Todd Neeley reported on Friday (link requires subscription) that, “An EPA official told the House Subcommittee on Energy and Power Friday that the agency has no intention to regulate small greenhouse gas emitters including farms.
“Still, the EPA is in a better position to issue rules on greenhouse gases after a ruling this week by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The court ruled in favor of the EPA on a group of consolidated lawsuits brought against the agency’s greenhouse gas emissions tailoring rule. The DC court ruled that numerous plaintiffs including the American Farm Bureau Federation didn’t have standing in the case.
“Gina McCarthy, EPA assistant administrator for air and radiation, said the agency has no intentions to regulate farms.”
Mr. Neeley explained that, “In its ruling, the court shot down all of the legal challenges leveled against EPA resulting from the agency’s endangerment finding in 2009.
“‘There are no permit requirements for farmers and ranchers,’ McCarthy said. ‘All our attention is focused on larger sources. Administrator (Lisa) Jackson has said that under no circumstances are we lowering the tailoring rule for small sources.’
“Subcommittee Chairman Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., said there is concern the agency could be forced to regulate small emitters including farmers.”
The DTN article pointed out that, “EPA’s tailoring rule allows the agency to implement GHG reduction measures in phases. For starters the agency is focusing its efforts primarily on power plants — the largest GHG emitters.
“During testimony given to the committee June 19, Pennsylvania farmer Carl Schaffer speaking on behalf of the American Farm Bureau Federation, said the tailoring rule eventually will affect farmers.”
Tom Steever reported on Friday at Brownfield that, “The Region 7 EPA Administrator says conversations with lawmakers about aerial surveillance are good to have. Karl Brooks tells Brownfield that Senator Charles Grassley is among those who Brooks and other EPA officials have met with to discuss the flights.
“Senator Grassley wants to know why the EPA is doing the surveillance flights over Iowa livestock operations. Brooks cites the high number of what he calls impaired water bodies in Iowa.”
A news release Friday from USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) stated that, “U.S. farmers planted 96.4 million acres of corn, up 5 percent from last year, making it the highest corn acreage in the last 75 years, according to the Acreage report released today by [NASS]. This marks the fourth year in a row of increases in corn acreage in the United States.
“Favorable field conditions across much of the major corn-producing region helped corn growers get off to a fast start in 2012. By May 20, the planting was nearly complete, representing the quickest planting pace on record. Virtually all of the acreage had emerged by June 3.”
Also on Friday, USDA released its Quarterly Stocks report; a summary of both the Acreage and Stocks report by University of Illinois Agricultural Economist Darrel Good was posted on Friday at the farmdoc daily Blog (“USDA Grain Stocks and Acreage Reports – No Big Surprises”).
Gregory Meyer reported on Friday at The Financial Times Online that, “The most intensive planting of corn in 75 years has done little to assuage fears a heatwave will wilt a significant chunk of this year’s US crop… [B]ut many of the biggest increases took place in states such as Illinois, Indiana, Missouri and Ohio where temperatures above 38ºC (100ºF) are now sapping life from stalks entering a fragile pollination phase.
“Analysts say the heat will likely cut how much each field yields, eroding the potential boost from higher acreage at a time when global corn stocks are relatively low.”
Note also with respect to dry growing conditions that the Chicago Tribune editorial board opined on Saturday that, “What to do? Pray for rain, that’s for sure. We need lots more than the dousing Chicago got on Friday.
“Beyond that, it is not too soon for the Environmental Protection Agency to suspend the government-imposed mandate for mixing ethanol into the nation’s gasoline supply.
“Left unchecked, ethanol production will consume 5 billion bushels of corn that could be put to better use in food production. Pressure for relief already is building from livestock dealers, packaged-food companies and international aid groups.”
The Tribune opinion item noted that, “It is bad enough in good times to divert almost 40 percent of the nation’s largest cash crop into gas tanks. In a time of scarcity, with a hungry world to feed, it would be unconscionable to waste good food for the sake of an industry dependent on federal market controls.”
The AP reported on Friday that, “Ethanol makers are cutting production, and some are temporarily idling plants in the Midwest, as corn prices skyrocket and demand for gasoline falls because people are driving less.”
Vicki Needham reported on Friday at The Hill’s On the Money Blog that, “The World Trade Organization upheld on Friday most of its earlier ruling against the United States that labeling the origin of meat products gives less favorable treatment to Canada and Mexico.
“The WTO Appellate Body said that U.S. country-of-origin labeling rules, also known as COOL, provides less favorable treatment to Canadian and Mexican cattle and hogs than U.S. livestock because of record-keeping and verification requirements.”
The Hill update added that, “‘We are pleased with today’s ruling, which affirmed the United States’ right to adopt labeling requirements that provide information to American consumers about the meat they buy,’ said U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk.
“‘The Appellate Body’s ruling confirms that families can still receive information on the origin of their meat and other food products when they shop for groceries.’”