January 20, 2020

Farm Bill- Policy Issues; Ag Economy; Nutrition; Budget; Regulations; and, Trade

Farm Bill- Policy Issues

Sara Wyant reported last week at Agri-Pulse Online that, “House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-OK, is ready to get a farm bill done. So ready that he told those attending the annual Great American Farm luncheon at the GOP convention today that, ‘I’m not sure which day, I’m not sure which month, but there will be a new farm bill.’”

The Agri-Pulse article indicated that, “So why has the GOP leadership been reluctant to schedule floor time?

“‘I think the leadership is concerned that, by the time you get some Democrats who won’t vote for a farm bill and some Republicans who won’t vote for the farm bill and the nervousness of an election year and suddenly you don’t have 218 votes.’

“‘I don’t believe that’s the case. I believe that, if you have an open, straightforward process, and I would prefer to have a rule that allows 20-30 amendments, that we can achieve consensus,’ Lucas explained. ‘The debate will help educate the members as a whole of what we are trying to do.’”

Last week’s article noted that, “Asked about the possibility of passing an extension before the current farm bill expires on Sept. 30, Lucas says he’s still focused on passing a bill through regular order. And that will continue to be his focus when Congress returns next month.”

Tom Lutey reported on Sunday at the Billings Gazette (Mont.) Online that, “Warning of financial jeopardy without a new farm bill, Montana agricultural groups are flying to Washington to urge House Republican leaders to act by month’s end, though it may be too late.

“Congress returns to Washington in just over a week to work eight days before adjourning to campaign before the November election. More than 40 farm groups from across the nation will arrive on Sept. 12 to push for passage of a new farm bill to replace the current roster of farm programs, which are scheduled to expire Sept. 30.”

Despite additional calls for swift action on the Farm Bill (related column , and editorial), J.T. Rushing reported on Sunday at The Gazette (Cedar Rapids, Iowa) that, “With a few possible exceptions, Iowans would be wise not to expect much from Congress when they return to work next week.”

A deal on a continuing budget resolution, struck between the House, Senate and White House just before congressmen left Washington at the end of July is likely to be the only piece of major legislation that the two chambers will conclude.”

The article explained that, “The measure most important to Iowa — the farm bill — is much more uncertain…[J]ennifer Duffy, a senior editor at The Cook Political Report in Washington and a veteran Senate analyst, said House Republicans seem intractable in their demands.

“‘To me, it’s a House issue on whether or not they can get a bill done and then turn around and get it through conference,’ Duffy told The Gazette. ‘They’ve got a lot of work to do. Honestly, I don’t anticipate (Congress) will do a lot …(The possibility of) drought relief is probably a little bit better, because I’m just going to imagine that members have been getting an earful.’”

In other policy related news, agriculture is discussed on page 49 of the 2012 Democratic Party National Platform.

More narrowly, Dan Piller reported on Saturday at The Des Moines Register Online that, “The Iowa Farm Bureau reaffirmed its support of federally subsidized crop insurance on Friday, but turned aside a proposal to request more government support for the program.”

Meanwhile, a press release on Thursday from the National Corn Growers Association stated that, “This week, the Environmental Protection Agency started the 30-day comment period on the waiver request of the Renewable Fuel Standard.  Today, NCGA President Garry Niemeyer sent a letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson requesting an additional 30-day extension, citing harvest and the uncertainty of this year’s corn crop.”

And Rod Smith reported last week at Feedstuffs Online that, “Subway, the largest quick-service restaurant system in the world in number of units, has announced its support for the elimination of gestation stalls for pork production in the U.S.”

Sabrina Tavernise reported in today’s New York Times that, “Eighty percent of the antibiotics sold in the United States goes to chicken, pigs, cows and other animals that people eat, yet producers of meat and poultry are not required to report how they use the drugs — which ones, on what types of animal, and in what quantities. This dearth of information makes it difficult to document the precise relationship between routine antibiotic use in animals and antibiotic-resistant infections in people, scientists say.

“Advocates contend that there is already overwhelming epidemiological evidence linking the two, something that even the Food and Drug Administration has acknowledged, and that further study, while useful for science, is not essential for decision making. ‘At some point the available science can be used in making policy decisions,’ said Gail Hansen, an epidemiologist who works for Pew Charitable Trusts, which advocates against overuse of antibiotics.

But scientists say the blank spots in data collection are a serious handicap in taking on powerful producers of poultry and meat who claim the link does not exist.”


Agricultural Economy

Bloomberg writer Luzi Ann Javier reported yesterday that, “Meat consumption in China, the world’s largest, will continue to expand even as the economy slows, sustaining demand for feeds made from corn and soybeans, according to Cargill Inc., the biggest U.S. agricultural company.

“‘We are looking at a mega-trend of increasing consumption of meat, milk, eggs,’ Christopher Langholz, president of Cargill Animal Protein China, said in an interview, without giving specific forecasts.”

Meanwhile, Ann Belser reported on Sunday at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Online that, “Sonny Sporrer hasn’t been harvesting the corn from his stalks this year. Instead he has been taking the whole plant down and chopping it up for silage, a rough sort of feed for the cattle that usually get grain.

“Mr. Sporrer, 63, usually raises about 500 head of cattle on his farm in Dedham. That headcount is down by 25 percent this year because his cornfields aren’t growing enough food to feed a larger herd.”

Similarly, the AP reported yesterday that, “With dry weather expected to reduce fall harvest yields for corn and hay, some upstate New York dairy farmers could be forced to buy more feed or downsize their herds.”

Marshall Eckblad reported yesterday at The Wall Street Journal Online that, “Dry weather since 2011 has made it difficult for ranchers to keep cattle on the range. The drought has parched pastures and curbed corn, hay and soybean production, driving up the price of feed. Last year, ranchers sold more animals than normal to slaughterhouses rather than pay the high cost to feed themWith supplies trimmed, consumers and wholesalers across the country are facing higher prices.”

And Liam Denning reported yesterday at The Wall Street Journal Online that, “Of all the losers from this year’s painful drought, perhaps none have quite so much to lose as chickens, cattle and hogs. When their cost of living increases too fast, they lose their life… Busy slaughterhouses create a glut, weighing on livestock and meat prices in the near term. But thinner herds ultimately translate into reduced supply and a bull market longer term.”

Neil Shah and Conor Dougherty reported yesterday at The Wall Street Journal Online that, “Rain from the remnants of Isaac, which was downgraded last Wednesday from a hurricane, is bringing relief to dry states such as Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio. But drought-hit states such as Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Colorado and Iowa are getting little to no relief. Isaac’s path has brought rain to only about one-third of the nation’s drought-affected area.

The drought’s toll is most visible on farms. Roughly 63% of the continental U.S. is experiencing drought, which has taken its hardest toll on corn and soybean crops and has sent the price of key feeds for chickens, hogs and cattle soaring. That has cattle ranchers and dairy farmers seeking cheaper options for feed or sending cattle to slaughter sooner, and squeezing the profit margins of food companies. Tyson Foods Inc. Chief Executive Donnie Smith recently warned that rising grain costs would pressure profits next year.”

Meanwhile, William Booth reported yesterday at The Washington Post Online that, “The [Mexican] public here is faced with an extreme shortage of eggs in a country that has the highest-per-capita egg consumption on the planet…[T]here has been hoarding, price spikes and two-hour lines to buy eggs. Some retail outlets have been forced to limit how many cartons a day a customer can buy…[A]n outbreak of AH7N3 avian flu virus is partly responsible. The deadly bird flu was detected in June on poultry farms in the Pacific coast state of Jalisco, and Mexican farmers and the government acted with lethal authority and slaughtered 11 million chickens to prevent its spread.”


Nutrition Issues

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service (ERS) noted in a report Friday (“Characteristics and Influential Factors of Food Deserts”) that, “[ERS] previously identified more than 6,500 food desert tracts in the United States based on 2000 Census and 2006 data on locations of supermarkets, supercenters, and large grocery stores. In this report, we examine the socioeconomic and demographic characteristics of these tracts to see how they differ from other census tracts and the extent to which these differences influence food desert status.”

The AP reported on Sunday that, “The school district in Turlock, surrounded by fields and orchards in one of the nation’s richest agricultural regions, used to get much of the produce it served to students from national distributors who shipped fruits and vegetables from outside California.

“But, starting in August, student meals have featured apples, peaches, nectarines, plums and oranges from farms only a few miles away — with the help of a new online company that connects local farmers with school districts.

“California-based Ag Link allows school districts to communicate with nearby farmers and buy their produce with the click of a mouse.”

Kyle Nagel reported last week at the Dayton Daily News (Ohio) Online that, “Beverage companies decreased drink calories offered in schools by 90 percent between 2004 and 2010, according to a recent study, a strategy industry and school officials said was meant to help the country’s fight against childhood obesity.

“The report comes six years after the country’s major soft drink companies partnered with the William J. Clinton Foundation and the American Heart Association in agreeing to lower beverage calories available in schools. Those guidelines were later folded into an Ohio law targeting school nutrition and child health.”

And a recent update from the Dairy Research iNSIGHTS newsletter (Dairy Research Institute, a publication primarily funded by the national dairy checkoff program)- “Choosing Milk Over Sugar-sweetened Beverages or Fruit Juice May Significantly Reduce the Risk of Type 2 Diabetes in Women.” – pointed out that, “A prospective study of more than 82,000 women (26 to 45 years) enrolled in the Nurses’ Health Study II examined whether the replacement of sugar-sweetened beverages (SSB) and fruit juices with plain water is associated with lower risk of type 2 diabetes. In the process of evaluating different beverages, researchers found that substituting 1 cup of milk (fat-free, low-fat or whole) or coffee for a serving of SSB or fruit juices was associated with a 12 to 17 percent reduction in risk for type 2 diabetes.”

The AP reported today that, “Patient after patient asked: Is eating organic food, which costs more, really better for me?

“Unsure, Stanford University doctors dug through reams of research to find out — and concluded there’s little evidence that going organic is much healthier, citing only a few differences involving pesticides and antibiotics…Nor did the organic foods prove more nutritious.”



Chris Frates reported last week at National Journal Online (Influence Alley) that, “What was once shaping up to be an epic lame duck session chock full of tough decisions is increasingly looking like another kick-the-can-down-the-road show as lawmakers acknowledge that the nation’s fiscal problems can’t be solved in a couple of weeks.

“Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander told the Alley Thursday that Congress will need to use the lame duck to create a window next year in which to deal with the fiscal cliff.”

The update added that, “‘There’s no practical way in my judgement to take all the issues from Bush tax cuts, to the tax reform to the sequestration all these issues (and) deal with them in three or four weeks. But we could create a window that produces a result,’ [Sen. Alexander] said.

“About 60 senators are actively engaged in discussions over the fiscal cliff with 10 or 15 in serious talks, he said. And he signaled that the GOP may be ready to wheel and deal.”



DTN writer Todd Neeley reported on Friday (link requires subscription) that, “Though EPA has raised concerns about how the state of Iowa regulates confined animal feeding operations, so far the federal agency has relied on public outreach instead of the legal process to help producers address runoff from their operations.

“In July, EPA Region 7, which covers Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri and Kansas, announced preliminary findings about the Iowa’s CAFO program. A Region 7 report said that an investigation found that the state’s program does not do enough to assess whether unpermitted CAFOs need permits, does not levy high enough penalties on violators and may not be following the Clean Water Act with its zero-discharge regulation.”

Mr. Neeley added that, “Stephen Pollard, AFO/CAFO enforcement coordinator for EPA Region 7, told an audience of about 75 farmers and others Thursday night in Arcadia, Iowa, that the state continues to take the lead role in levying fines to medium CAFOs that illegally discharge into waters of the U.S.

“‘There have been no medium CAFOs in Iowa that have been fined by EPA,’ he said.

“Pollard and other officials from Region 7 made a stop in Iowa as part of a summer-long tour to educate livestock producers about what EPA inspectors look for when they inspect animal feeding operations.”

The DTN article noted that, “The Region 7 findings earlier this summer were made in response to a 2007 petition filed by several state environmental groups that asked EPA to take over the Iowa CAFO permitting program. In 2011, the groups announced plans to file a lawsuit if EPA did not respond to the petition.

“Iowa, the nation’s largest pork-producing state, has about 7,000 livestock operations that meet the EPA designation as a CAFO.”

Friday’s article explained that, “Iowa officials have maintained the state’s zero-discharge law is more stringent than any federal regulation, making National Pollution Discharge Elimination System, or NPDES, permits unnecessary.

“EPA Region 7 said in its report, however, that the state is falling short on investigating violations for those operations that are permitted. In addition, EPA questions whether the state has legal authority to issue permits for CAFOs.”



Ken Parks reported in Saturday’s Wall Street Journal that, “Argentina formally challenged U.S. import restrictions on its beef at the World Trade Organization amid strained ties between the South American nation and several of its biggest trading partners.

“The WTO said on Friday that Argentina had filed a request for consultations with the U.S. If the issue isn’t resolved in 60 days, Argentina can seek a dispute settlement panel.”

The Journal article added that, “The U.S. suspended imports of beef from Argentina in 2001 following an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease the previous year. Argentina argues the ban is no longer necessary because the World Organization for Animal Health certified the country as free of the disease since 2007, though it still has to vaccinate its cattle.”

Bloomberg news reported on Sunday that, “A trade agreement among about a dozen Asia-Pacific countries that is the centerpiece of President Barack Obama’s plans to increase exports will require tough choices to be completed in 2013, his envoy said.

“The Trans-Pacific Partnership is poised to expand to 11 nations later this year after Mexico and Canada were invited to join, which would represent about a third of global economic output. Leaders of the 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Forum, who have called for a wider agreement that would include both the U.S. and China, meet later this week in Vladivostok, Russia.

“‘All of us want to get this agreement done because all of our economies are operating in a world now in which we realize there are just very few bright lights in terms of economic activity,’ U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said in an interview in Hanoi yesterday. ‘If we can work as smart as we have worked hard, and we are willing to make some of these difficult decisions, 2013 could be a pivotal year for us.’”

Keith Good

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