December 14, 2019

Farm Bill Developments, Egg Bill; and, the Agricultural Economy

Farm Bill Developments

David Rogers reported yesterday at Politico that, “The top Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee signaled Thursday that he would support a Republican-backed one-year extension of the current farm law if it could be used as a vehicle to negotiate a larger comprehensive deal with the Senate.

“‘That seems to be gaining some ground on the Republican side right now,’ Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) told POLITICO. ‘That I would drop my opposition as long as this got us into conference on the big bill.’

“‘I’m against doing an extension but it’s OK if it gets us to a point of being able to conference a bill in August.’”

Mr. Rogers explained that, “Under the scenario mapped out by Peterson, the House could next week pass a one-year extension together with drought relief for livestock producers — giving Republicans some protection for their members before going home for the August recess.

The Senate would substitute its five-year farm bill, adopted in June, and ask for a conference. Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) would then have to decide if he would appoint House conferees who would work from the five-year bill reported from the Ag committee earlier this month.

“At his weekly press conference — prior to Peterson’s comments — Boehner said only that he believed the House would address the livestock disaster situation before going home in August. And the speaker again ducked on the question of whether this would be part of the farm bill or a simple extension beyond Sept. 30, when major elements of the current law expire.”

Yesterday’s article added that, “And it’s far from certain that he [Speaker Boehner] would agree now to the deal proposed by Peterson.”

Mr. Rogers pointed out that, “Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.), who led the Agriculture Department under former President George W. Bush, has been sharply critical of the idea of a simple one-year extension since that would continue the 1990’s system of direct cash payments to farmers — something both the House and Senate farm bills would end.”

“Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) has taken the same stand, but is willing to pursue Peterson’s idea.

“‘If the House intends to send us a bill that will be used to negotiate the farm bill during August, I am open to that approach,’ Stabenow said. ‘However, a short-term extension is bad for farmers and our agricultural economy. If Congress does what Congress always does and kicks the can down the road with a short-term extension, there will be no reform, direct payments will continue, we’ll lose the opportunity for major deficit reduction and we’ll deliver a real blow to our economic recovery.’”

To listen to remarks delivered yesterday on the Senate floor by Chairwoman Stabenow regarding the Farm Bill process, just click here.

Reuters writer Charles Abbott reported yesterday that, “A comparatively low-priced disaster bill for livestock producers hit by the worst drought since 1956 may be the ticket to passage for a $500 billion farm bill now in limbo in Congress.

Republican leaders in the House of Representatives scheduled a potential vote for next week on disaster relief. Farm and environmental lobbyists said the vote could create a path to enacting the farm bill although there was no agreement among House Republicans on the scope of the legislation.”

[Note: To listen to colloquy on the House floor yesterday between Rep. Eric Cantor (R., Va.) and Rep. Steny Hoyer (D., Md.) on the Farm Bill / disaster aid vote next week, just click here (MP3- 3:00)].

Mr. Abbott noted that, “‘I do believe the House will address the livestock disaster program that unfortunately in the last farm bill was only authorized for four years,’ said Speaker John Boehner, the top House official. He said Republican leaders were working with the Agriculture Committee ‘on an appropriate path forward.’

“Republican leaders are sitting on a five-year House farm bill that faces so much opposition that it could be defeated if put to a vote. Some Republicans say it needs more reform and more spending cuts. Democrats oppose the bill’s $16 billion in cuts in food stamps for the poor. The bill would save $33 billion over 10 years but boosts crop support prices.”

The Reuters article noted that, “While a stand-alone disaster bill was possible, some farm lobbyists said disaster aid could be wrapped into a one-year extension of the 2008 farm law, which expires on September 30.

In either case, it could open the door for a House-Senate compromise on farm subsidy reform and enactment of a long-term bill this year, said lobbyists.

“Senate Agriculture Committee chairwoman Debbie Stabenow said she was willing to make a legislative sprint to complete a farm bill in the coming weeks.”

Ben Terris reported yesterday at National Journal Online that, “House Republicans began whipping a one-year farm bill extension on Thursday with a plan to bring the bill–which will include drought aid for livestock and fruit and vegetable farmers–for a vote next week.

“Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas of Oklahoma said the short-term option was the most logical way to rush aid to drought-affected farmers and ranchers before the August recess.

“‘If you’re going to provide certainty out in the drought areas if you’re going to enable an orderly transition from the completion of the regular farm bill then a one-year makes sense,’ he said. He added that leadership was on board for the vote as early as Wednesday.”

Ron Nixon reported yesterday at the Caucus Blog (New York Times) that, “After delaying action on a sweeping farm bill, House leaders are now working to shape interim legislation that would aid farmers hit hard by a drought that has devastated large swaths of cropland and threatens livestock operations in the Midwest, lawmakers said on Thursday.

Even as the idea of new legislation emerged, it remained unclear if lawmakers would use the opportunity to renew existing agriculture programs in the absence of a broader farm bill or would simply pass a disaster aid bill that would provide relief to cattle, pork and poultry farmers, who have been especially hard hit by the drought. Several disaster assistance programs for livestock producers that were in the 2008 farm bill expired last year.”

Also, Erik Wasson and Russell Berman reported yesterday at The Hill’s On the Money Blog that, “Leadership this week floated a one-year bill, and House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) has been whipping support for it.

“House leaders say that given opposition from fiscal conservatives and liberals, the votes are not there for a five-year bill.”

The Hill article noted that, “Rep. Collin Peterson (Minn.), the ranking Democrat on the Agriculture panel, has opposed a short-term extension but on Thursday opened the door a crack. He said he could support an extension if it quickly led to a conference committee with the Senate on a full bill.

“Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) then made her move Thursday, officially backing up that suggestion.”

Peterson signaled that he could back an extension if there were strong guarantees that it could be used to start a House-Senate conference on a full farm bill. The Senate passed its bill in June,” The Hill update said.

In other news, Agricultural Economists Nick Paulson, Gary Schnitkey and Carl Zulauf penned an update yesterday at the farmdoc daily blog titled, “Comparison of Changes in Program Spending in the Senate and House Farm Bills.”


Egg Bill- Senate Agriculture Committee Hearing

The AP reported yesterday that, “The freedom of a hen to flap its wings and move around became an issue of congressional concern Thursday as a Senate committee discussed legislation to set national standards for the treatment of egg-laying hens.

“The debate over how much space hens should have in their coops has drawn the attention of other livestock producers who fear that they’ll be the next target of animal welfare advocates, and has become a states’ rights issue as some states try to impose their tougher standards on eggs coming from other states.

“‘This is a practical, fair-minded deal that solves a real problem for the egg industry,’ Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., told the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee. She was promoting her legislation that would increase the size of henhouses and require egg labeling so consumers will know how the hens were raised.”

(Note: To listen to a brief explanation of the “Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments of 2012,” presented by Sen. Feinstein yesterday, just click here  (MP3- 3:33)).

The AP article explained that, “The legislation was also patterned after a compromise reached last year between the Humane Society of the United States and United Egg Producers, whose members produce 90 percent of all eggs sold in the United States.

David Lathem, chairman of United Egg Producers and a Georgia poultry farmer, said the deal would allow his industry to plan for the future where ‘the American public is interested as never before in where food comes from.’

He denied that there would be a ‘slippery slope’ where animal welfare groups, if successful in changing how hens are raised, next go after other livestock industries.”

(To listen to Mr. Lathem’s remarks regarding the “slippery slope” argument against the bill, just click here (2:00)).

Erik Wasson reported yesterday at The Hill’s on the Money Blog that, “Smaller egg producers are opposed to the bill, as are beef and pork producers, who worry that it will set a precedent that will ultimately affect them.

“[Sen. Ag. Comm. Ranking Member Pat Roberts (R., Kan.)] questioned whether the bill is based on sound science, whether it will increase spending on food stamps due to increased egg prices and whether UEP fully polled its own members before signing onto the deal.”

(To listen to an exchange between Sen. Roberts and Mr. Lathem regarding the potential costs of the bill, just click here (MP3-1:37).  Opening remarks by Sen. Roberts delivered at yesterday’s hearing can be viewed here).

Richard Simon reported yesterday at the Los Angeles Times Online that, “In this Congress, even eggs can cause a political stir.

“An effort by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) to establish a national standard for the cages in which hens lay eggs has run afoul of farm-state lawmakers.”

Feinstein’s bill drew support from a large contingent of egg producers who turned out at the Capitol, but it also generated concerns from Republican senators.”

The article noted that, “Prospects for the bill are uncertain. Feinstein was thwarted in her efforts to include the measure in the Senate farm bill, despite her assurances that the measure would affect only the egg industry. She also contended it would have a negligible effect on egg prices.

An effort is underway in the Republican-controlled House to block states from imposing their own standards for agriculture products on producers from other states. The effort comes in response to a California law, which will take effect in 2015, that requires that all eggs sold in the state to be produced by hens held in cages that meet the California standards.

“Still, one of the bill’s cosponsors is Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), who chairs the Agriculture Committee.”


Agricultural Economy

The AP reported yesterday that, “The widest drought to grip the United States in decades is getting worse [graphic here] with no signs of abating, a new report warned Thursday, as state officials urged conservation and more ranchers considered selling cattle.

“The drought covering two-thirds of the continental U.S. had been considered relatively shallow, the product of months without rain, rather than years. But Thursday’s report showed its intensity is rapidly increasing, with 20 percent of the nation now in the two worst stages of drought – up 7 percent from last week.”

Gregory Meyer reported yesterday at The Financial Times Online that, “The world would need South America to rebuild low supplies of corn and soyabeans as an extreme drought withers crops in the US farm belt, agricultural trading house Bunge said.

“The comments from one of the largest global traders of grains and oilseeds are the latest to dash hopes that a good crop in the US would help stabilise agricultural commodity markets. Futures prices for products from corn to rapeseed have broken records in the past month as heat and dry soils damage fields in the world’s main surplus grower.

The drought has also reignited worries about inflation, with the US Department of Agriculture this week estimating domestic consumers will pay 3-4 per cent more for food next year.”

Tom Steever reported yesterday at Brownfield that, “The administrator of USDA’s Risk Management Agency says crop insurance holders need not worry about coverage in the event of loss. Touring crop damage in Missouri Wednesday, Bill Murphy said he’s often asked whether there’s enough money to cover the expected heavy drought claims. ‘For our commitments out there right now, we’re fully funded,’ Murphy told Brownfield Ag News Wednesday, during a meeting with farmers in Carrollton, Missouri.

“‘We could have every policy in the country have a complete loss and we have the funding to do it,’ said Murphy. ‘The companies themselves, they share in the risk on our program; they are well financed right now. They’ve come off a good run of years. The last 10 to 15 years have been pretty amazing nationwide, so the companies have had good years, so they’re in very good financial condition, so I don’t see any problem.’

Referring to what he observed on Mid-Missouri farms, Murphy said the drought has left many cornstalks with no ears on them, and other damage that is evident only on close inspection.”  (Related audio from Mr. Murphy is also available at the Brownfield link).

Keith Good

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