Farm Bill Issues
The Washington Insider section of DTN reported yesterday (link requires subscription) that, “As Congress prepared to leave town last week to focus on the election –– if you can imagine a more intense political focus than the current preoccupation –– the House decided that the debate many had sought on the nutrition programs would be too divisive. Instead, it cobbled up an emergency disaster bill and passed it 223-197. The legislation is not expected to gain any significant support in the Senate.”
“House Agriculture Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., said the aid bill was necessary because the 2008 farm bill had set up disaster assistance programs to expire a year ahead of the rest of the bill as a cost-saving gimmick that has come back to bite.
“The measure was originally part of a one-year farm program extension that GOP leaders wanted to vote on before the August recess. But it became clear early last week that they would not have support from either side for that plan, and they decided to move an aid-only bill instead.”
The DTN update noted that, “While the drought bill gives House members something to talk about in their home districts, that conversation may be strained since the House bill has little chance of becoming law in its current form, observers say.”
And yesterday’s update added that, “The fact that the draft farm bill bogged down in the House is not much of a surprise to observers who thought all along that the House leadership would be reluctant to support the bitter debate on nutrition programs that some Republicans and many Democrats appear to want. However, the drought and the fact that many disaster programs were short-funded in the 2008 bill has introduced a wild card into the fight.
“How that issue will be handled without creating a congressional meltdown over nutrition programs remains to be seen…”
Speaking yesterday on the PBS NewsHour television program, Roll Call writer Daniel Newhauser had this exchange with host Judy Woodruff regarding the Farm Bill stalemate:
“WOODRUFF: In fact, you were telling us earlier today that the leadership, the Republican leadership, was looking at the kind of pressure that these members were going to face as they went home. What do they expect is going to happen over the — it is a five-week recess?
“NEWHAUSER: Five-week recess. It may take nothing short of a grassroots groundswell of constituent anger, pressure from ag groups to get this thing done when members come back.
“The divisions have been that bad. They tried to pass a one-year extension of the 2008 farm bill, had to pull that last-minute because they didn’t have the votes for that either. They just barely squeaked through this drought aid package in the House, but the Senate refused to take it up because they in fact have passed a five-year farm bill.”
And DTN Ag Policy editor Chris Clayton, writing yesterday from a conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico, reported (link requires subscription) that, “Congress is now doing to America’s farmers what it has been doing to the economy and small business owners — creating uncertainty. ‘Frankly, if I was a congressman, I would be too embarrassed to go home,’ [Kansas State University agricultural policy expert Barry Flinchbaugh] said.”
The DTN article noted that, “[Former Texas congressman-turned-lobbyist Charlie Stenholm] concurred, saying it is unbelievable that Congress went home this summer without passing a farm bill. ‘Shame on the leaders of the House of Representatives for not letting the peoples’ representatives speak their will,’ Stenholm said.
“Stenholm added, however, that the House farm bill could not pass and would ‘tear up the Republican party’ because of divisiveness over cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
“Congress has only 13 working days now scheduled before the Nov. 6 election. Stenholm said too many people are counting on a broad array of work after the election, but he doesn’t see anything changing because the country is also too divided on so many issues.”
James Q. Lynch reported on Sunday at The Gazette (Cedar Rapids, Iowa) Online that, “Like about a million Iowans, members of the state’s congressional delegation plan to visit the State Fair, but their summer vacations won’t be all fun and games.”
The article stated that, “[Rep. Bruce Braley (D., Iowa)] also will be talking about the drought’s impact on farmers and reaching out to congressional colleagues to build support for his discharge petition to force House leadership to bring the 2012 Farm Bill to the floor for a vote.”
In a related item by Rep. Braley posted at The Gazette Online yesterday, he noted that, “I think that if allowed to vote on the Farm Bill, a majority of the House would support it. It’s the political games of leaders looking to score political points against their opponents that is standing in the way.
“So, I’ve launched an effort that could short-circuit the political games. If a simple majority of representatives sign on to a petition I’m circulating, the Farm Bill must immediately come up for a vote before the House.
“It’s a drastic step and maybe a long shot, but we need to do everything we possibly can to help Iowa farmers through the worsening drought.”
Bill Lambrecht reported yesterday at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch Online that, “It will be more than a month now before Congress can do anything, and the pain being felt by Missouri farmers in these Dust Bowl-like conditions is frying the patience of Missourians in Congress.”
The article added that, “[Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (R., Mo.)] said that part of her mission during the recess will be persuading members of her own party to bring a farm bill to the floor despite the uncertainty of success.
“House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, ‘says he doesn’t have enough votes to pass the farm bill,’ Emerson said. ‘I say you might not have enough to pass as it at this moment in time, but if you put it on the floor, you don’t what will happen. I’ll be darned if I know exactly what his problem is.’”
House Ag Committee Member Kristi Noem (R., S.D.) tweeted yesterday that, “Meeting with ag producers in Sioux Falls today with @RepRickBerg [Rep. Rick Berg (R., N.D.)] to talk Farm Bill.”
Dave Russell reported yesterday at Brownfield that, “In an interview with Brownfield, when asked about the disaster assistance legislation the U.S. House passed before adjourning for the August recess, Senator Sherrod Brown [D., Ohio] said he was just glad the House passed something. In the meantime, Brown shared his message to livestock producers.
“‘My advice is to talk with your House member of either party and ask them to move forward and get a 5-year bill that really does deal with the safety net for livestock, corn and soybeans and specialty crops,’ Brown said.” (The Brownfield link included audio clips from interviews with both Sen. Brown and Sen. Rob Portman (R., Ohio)).
A news release yesterday from the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) stated that, “The [NMPF] is asking members of Congress, as they return home for the August congressional recess, to meet with struggling dairy farmers in their districts to discuss the perilous economic conditions affecting farmers, and the urgent need for Congress to pass a new farm bill yet in 2012.”
And, a news release yesterday from House Ag Committee Member Rep. Tim Walz (D., Minn.) stated that, “[Rep. Walz], along with local farmers and a broad coalition of agriculture groups, called on House of Representatives leadership to stop blocking the new five-year Farm Bill and bring it forward for a clean, up or down vote.”
Meanwhile, a news release yesterday from House Agriculture Committee member Tim Huelskamp (R., Kan.) stated that, “[Rep. Huelskamp] sent a letter to U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack requesting that Secretary Vilsack provide a list of his priorities for the Farm Bill. Congressman Huelskamp requested that Secretary Vilsack provide a response of his specific requests by August 13, 2012.
“‘Secretary Vilsack has indicated that advancing the Farm Bill is a top priority of this Administration, so he should waste no time in providing a list of specifics to our office and to the public as to what the Farm Bill should contain,’ Congressman Huelskamp said. ‘I look forward to the Secretary’s prompt, timely, and complete response.’”
A news release yesterday from Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.) stated that, “[Sen. Stabenow] and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today met with local farmers and agribusinesses to discuss support following this year’s record-setting drought. Stabenow’s bipartisan five-year Farm Bill, which passed the Senate but has not been considered in the House, provides the immediate relief producers need to battle drought and disaster and also gives farmers the long-term certainty and additional tools they need to keep growing and creating jobs. USDA recently announced low-interest loans for Michigan growers, producers and agribusinesses who suffered losses as a result of the drought and this spring’s damaging deep freezes through emergency disaster declarations.”
Meanwhile, in other Farm Bill related news, an opinion column by Eli Lehrer posted yesterday at The Weekly Standard Online indicated that, “A major farm bill is now stalled in the House as members head back to their districts for their traditional break. This is a good thing. The measure approved by the Senate and by the House Agriculture committee with bipartisan support easily ranks as the worst major piece of domestic policy legislation to have a serious shot at passing a conservative chamber of Congress.”
In other developments, Danielle Kurtzleben reported yesterday at U.S. News Online that, “Farmers’ markets have grown more than fourfold in less than two decades. According to new data from the USDA, there are 7,864 farmers’ markets in the U.S., up from 1,755 in 1994. However, farmers’ market access for the nation’s poorest consumers remains limited.
“According to the USDA’s farmers market database, only 1,645 farmers’ markets, or just over 1 in 5, report accepting payment via the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as food stamps.”
And Dina ElBoghdady reported in today’s Washington Post that, “Are canned pears the nutritional equivalent of a juicy fruit off the tree? House Republicans seem to think so. And their proposal to tinker with a program that serves fresh fruit and vegetables to children in select schools has touched off the ultimate food fight.
“As Congress debates whether to renew farm legislation, the Senate is pressing to keep the program limited to fresh produce. The House, however, has proposed making room for frozen, canned and dried produce — agitating program supporters and pitting factions of the food industry against one another in a bout of frenetic lobbying.”
The Post article indicated that, “Advocates of the House legislation say schools should have access to produce in all forms. The frozen, canned and dried varieties are often more affordable than fresh produce, they argue, and their inclusion would enable schools to provide a wider range of options year-round.”
Agricultural Economy (Drought)
The AP reported yesterday that, “The U.S. Department of Agriculture says the condition of country’s corn and soybean crops hasn’t gotten much worse in the past week but large portions remain in poor shape amid widespread drought.
“The USDA’s weekly Crop Progress report said Monday that half of the nation’s corn is in poor condition. A week earlier 48 percent was in poor shape.
“Similarly, 39 percent of the soybean crop is in poor condition compared to 37 percent a week earlier.”
See a related graph regarding corn conditions that was tweeted yesterday by USDA’s Farm Service Agency.
The AP also reported yesterday that, “The price of soybeans has dropped after rain fell across parts of the Midwest, raising questions about how much the moisture may have benefited crops that have been battered by hot, dry weather.”
Purdue University Agricultural Economist Chris Hurt provided an analysis yesterday at the farmdoc daily blog regarding the current conditions and the beef industry, “Drought and the Cattle Industry;” while a press statement yesterday from Shenggen Fan of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) offered six “urgent actions [that] must be taken to address the current situation in order to prevent a potential global food price crisis.”
Second on the list of actions noted in the IFPRI statement: “Halt biofuel production from maize. Food crop demand for biofuels, particularly in the United States and European Union must be cut substantially, as should mandates for ethanol content in fuel, to help relieve the pressures on both domestic and global food markets. Currently, about 40 percent of total maize production in the United States is used to produce ethanol.”
On the other hand, O. Kay Henderson reported yesterday at Radio Iowa Online that, “Iowa’s [GOP] governor [Terry Branstad] says ‘folks on the east coast and west coast’ don’t know enough about farming to know that ethanol plants are using ‘very little’ of the U.S. corn supply.”
Catherine Bertini and Dan Glickman penned an opinion column today at Politico (“Feeding the world in face of drought”) stating that, “First, we should increase support for the agricultural researchers, in the U.S. and around the world, who are developing remarkable new drought and flood tolerant crop varieties. The results of this research will be essential if the agricultural sector is to continue to meet food demand in the face of weather variability.
“Yet technological gains can’t hedge against severe weather or fully increase global food production if they are not deployed sustainably on arable lands that are now underused. In much of the world, particularly Africa, the majority of farmers use the same seeds and agricultural techniques that were used decades ago. Less than 1 percent of farmland in Sub-Saharan Africa is irrigated today, and less than 50 percent is planted with improved seed varieties. As a result, grain production per capital in Africa has actually decreased over the past 30 years.
“An essential second step would be providing these farmers access to improved seeds, pesticides and fertilizers to boost productivity, spurring economic growth in poorer regions and helping to feed our growing global population.”
The opinion item added that, “Third, we should equip those working in agriculture, especially women, with the know-how to use newer technologies.”
Meanwhile, Charles Mahtesian reported yesterday at Politico that, “It hasn’t gotten much attention in the presidential debate so far, but the punishing drought — the worst to strike the United States in half a century — has the makings of an issue that both candidates will soon need to focus on more intently.”