FarmPolicy

October 22, 2014

Farm Bill; Budget; Ag Economy; and, Rice

Farm Bill Issues

Reuters writer Charles Abbott reported today that, “The U.S. farm law, which funds a broad array of agricultural support programs as well as food aid for the poor, will expire on Sept. 30 due to a deadlock in the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives.

“Speaker of the House John A. Boehner, a Republican under pressure from conservative members of his own party, pulled the bill Thursday. He said the House ‘will deal with the farm bill after the election,’ the same words that now apply to a list of other measures.”

The article indicated that, “The development was a personal defeat for Boehner and an illustration of his lack of influence with more conservative members aligned with the ‘Tea Party’ movement.

“Congressional analysts see little immediate financial impact from expiration of the $500 billion measure.

Food stamps and most conservation programs would stay in operation. Eventually–but not now–dairy and crop subsidies, export promotion, biofuel and foreign food aid programs would run out of money. Cornell University experts say some long-term agricultural research projects would suffer too.”

Mr. Abbott noted that, “The potential political fallout in farm states, however, produced another round of finger pointing as members sought to shift the blame to others.”

The Reuters article pointed out that, “‘The House of Representatives should be ashamed of themselves for leaving town without supporting rural America,’ said Debbie Stabenow, chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee. ‘Ten days until the farm bill expires and 15 million people in this country who rely on agriculture for their jobs are put in jeopardy.’

“She later told reporters, ‘I’m sure this will be an issue for many people in the fall election.’”

An audio replay of yesterday’s press briefing with Chairwoman Stabenow has been posted at AgriTalk Radio Online.

For more on the Farm Bill and this fall’s election, see this FarmPolicy.com post that was updated yesterday; it includes a brief look at the electoral contests of several House Agriculture Committee Members, “Snapshot: An Election Year Farm Bill- Campaign Impacts.”

Russell Berman and Erik Wasson reported yesterday at The Hill’s On the Money Blog that, “Fifty-six members of the House, including 11 Republicans, have signed a new discharge petition to try to force GOP leaders to hold a floor vote on the farm bill. On Wednesday, Boehner confidant Rep. Tom Latham (R-Iowa) signed the petition, as did Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.). Latham is in a close race against Rep. Leonard Boswell (D-Iowa) in a consolidated district.”

A news update yesterday from Rep. Boswell’s office noted that, “[Rep. Boswell] today took to the House floor to stand up for American farmers and ranchers and domestic renewable energy producers. Boswell’s remarks come after House Republicans blocked his attempts to hold a vote on both the Farm Bill and the renewable energy production tax credit before House Republican Leadership recess until after the November election.”

Heidi Heitkamp, the Democratic candidate who is running for the U.S. Senate seat in North Dakota, released a statement yesterday on the Farm Bill developments, as did her opponent, Rep. Rick Berg (R., N.D.).

Note that an update earlier this week at National Journal Online stated that, “Rep. Rick Berg’s unfavorable ratings are the most troubling metric Republicans see here. Former Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp is on offense in a very red state, and the Democrat is having success running against Congress. Even as Berg tries to execute a discharge petition on the farm bill, his own caucus isn’t helping him out.”

Meanwhile, Daniel Looker reported yesterday at Agriculture.com that, “Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) said Thursday that she will push for completing the 2012 farm bill in the lame duck session of Congress that takes place after the November election this year. She said that she opposed extending the current 2008 farm bill because it would not provide the same disaster relief for livestock and fruit producers as a new farm bill.

“‘I really am shocked that there hasn’t been action this month before the September 30 deadline, but I’m absolutely committed to doing everything possible on behalf of our farmers and ranchers to complete the farm bill in November or December,’ she said.”

Mr. Looker explained that, “Stabenow said that the staffs of both House and Senate ag committees have been working on ways to resolve differences in the commodity title of the bill already passed by the Senate and the one approved by the House Agriculture Committee. And she’s been talking informally with members of Congress. But for her to work more directly with House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK) in ‘preconferencing’ before the bill is passed in the House, they would need Boehner’s support. A conference committee representing the ag committee members from both chambers of Congress would have to put the two bills together after the House passes its own farm bill, if the bill is approved. The final bill then would need approval again in both the House and Senate.

“When asked about details on a possible extension of the current farm bill, Stabenow said, ‘Right now I’m really not putting together a plan B. It’s plan A. Get the farm bill done.’”

David Rogers reported yesterday at Politico that, “With the handwriting already on the barn wall, Speaker John Boehner conceded Thursday that the House will go home for the elections without dealing with either a new five-year farm bill or an extension of the current 2008 law that expires Sept. 30.

“‘We will deal with the farm bill after the election,’ Boehner told reporters, but the Ohio Republican wasn’t willing to be more specific about what course that will take.”

Mr. Rogers pointed out that, “House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas told POLITICO this week that he has yet to receive an explicit promise that his five-year bill will be called up in the lame-duck session. Absent that, many believe that Boehner is just letting the clock run out until he has the votes for a one-year extension of current policy…‘The current situation that we face is that we’ve got people who believe there’s not enough reform in the farm bill that came out of committee,’ Boehner said. ‘We’ve got others who believe there’s too much reform in the bill that came out of the committee, in our opinion leaving less than 218 votes to pass either an extension or to consider the entire farm bill.’”

Corey Boles reported yesterday at the Washington Wire Blog (Wall Street Journal) that, “In officially punting the bill to the lame duck session after the Nov. 6 elections, Mr. Boehner has added to an already busy agenda during the two month period which already likely will see lawmakers seeking to strike a deal on the raft of expiring tax measures and a bill to offset a scheduled $110 billion in spending cuts that will be implemented under current law.”

Mr. Boles and Bill Tomson reported in a Wall Street Journal article yesterday that, “Congress hopes to revive efforts to pass a farm bill after the November elections, although it remains unclear how the House and Senate will resolve agriculture policy differences in the tense atmosphere of a lame-duck congressional session.”

The Journal article noted that, “Top Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D., Md.) both said they hope that Congress is able to pass a five-year bill after the elections to set farm-support policies in place for the next several years. Mr. Reid said he ‘is not interested’ in passing a short-term measure…Rep. Collin Peterson (D., Minn.), the top Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee, said there are no negotiations under way about what to do during the lame-duck session as Congress prepares to leave Washington to campaign ahead of the elections.”

DTN Ag Policy Editor Chris Clayton reported yesterday (link requires subscription) that, “The 2008 farm bill expires Sept. 30, but farmers will not notice any major impacts until at least January when possible sequestration cuts would go into effect without new legislation.”

The DTN article indicated that, “Falling into the lame-duck session, the farm bill will compete for attention and floor time with the battle over the so-called ‘fiscal cliff.’  Congress will have to deal with extending or changing the Bush-era tax cuts, as well as try to address sequestration cuts to the military that have become more unpopular as they loom closer. Thus, the lame duck will be expected to achieve a great deal in a short time.

“In a phone interview on Thursday, House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., said he doesn’t know how the farm bill process will play out in the lame duck starting Nov. 13.

“‘There is no work being done right now,’ Peterson said. ‘When we get back on the (Nov) 13th, we still got to get it through the House floor, get it conferenced. It’s going to be a difficult situation.’”

Yesterday’s article noted that, “Stabenow was asked Thursday about whether the House target-price program for farmers could be a sticking point. She said staff members of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees have been working together for the past couple of months in sketching out what issues would need to be resolved in conference negotiations.

“‘We do have different approaches, but I believe we can come to the middle and get that resolved,’ she said.”

And the DTN update added that, “National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson told DTN that the biggest problem with doing a farm bill in the lame duck session is the House would have to move quickly to bring up the bill to give adequate time for conference talks and a second round of votes in both the House and Senate.

“‘It means they have to pass a bill at the beginning of the lame duck, then conference it during the session, and then pass the conference report at the end of the session,’ Johnson said. ‘That suggests it would be among the most important bills being considered and I think that would be a stretch.’”

Meanwhile, Billy House reported yesterday at National Journal Online that, “Who’s to blame for keeping the Farm Bill from being brought to the floor?

“Some have been pointing to Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., as the culprit.

Mr. House noted that, “But one senior aide to a House GOP leader, who is on neither the staffs of Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, nor Cantor, said Thursday that there simply are not enough votes yet to pass it.

“That aide declined to give the current break-down of the counting being done by Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. But even with potential Democratic help? The senior GOP aide said that was so.”

 

Budget

Ed O’Keefe reported yesterday at the 2chambers Blog (Washington Post) that, “It should have been easy, but nothing in the Senate seems to be these days.

“The outcome is inevitable, but the Senate is unable to come to an agreement on when and how to vote on a six-month spending bill as it became wrapped up in disagreements over an amendment proposed by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) to cut U.S. aid to Egypt, Libya and Pakistan and political posturing in the hotly-contested U.S. Senate races in Massachusetts and Montana.

There appears to be no doubt on the final passage of a bill to provide funding for government agencies when the fiscal year ends Sept. 30. Federal spending would be capped at $1.047 trillion, a limit agreed to last summer as part of the bipartisan debt ceiling negotiations. The bill cleared a key procedural vote Wednesday.”

 

Agricultural Economy

Reuters writer Carey Gillam reported earlier this week that, “Farmland values appear to be holding strong and farm balance sheets remain solid despite a devastating drought that wreaked havoc on corn and soybean crops, dried up waterways and scorched pastureland in parts of the United States, one of the largest lenders to U.S. agriculture said.

“‘We’re watching it pretty closely … but we’re certainly bullish on the industry,’ Roger Sturdevant, executive vice president of Bank of the West and head of its agribusiness banking division, told Reuters in an interview on Wednesday.”

Nonetheless, the article pointed out that, “Times are hard for U.S. cattlemen, who have been forced to liquidate herds for lack of adequate pasture and water due to the historic drought that gripped more than half the nation this summer. Corn farmers have seen typical yields cut in half or worse by scorching heat and limited rainfall, while dairies and poultry and swine producers have struggled to find affordable feed for their animals.”

For a more detailed look at farmland values, see this article from the most recent edition of Amber Waves (USDA, Economic Research Service), “Farmland Values on the Rise: 2000-2010.”

An update yesterday at Feedstuffs Online reported that, “Food prices are once again on the rise, fueled by the lingering U.S. drought and water scarcities in South America and Russia.  According to a report released by the Rabobank Food & Agribusiness Research and Advisory (FAR) group, such prices are likely to reach an all-time high the first quarter of 2013 and will present a challenge for the livestock industry.

“The report, titled ‘Re-entering Agflation’ highlights how the affected commodities are those used in animal feeds and not considered core food staples of the world’s developing economies – a striking difference from 2008, when low wheat inventories and restricted rice exports held back the availability of those commodities for consumers.”

Meanwhile, the AP reported yesterday that, “With hopes of a once-stellar corn crop dimmed by a summer of drought, Gerald Jenkins doesn’t expect the unfolding harvest to burden his co-op’s grain elevators, which are capable of storing 9 million bushels of the grain it buys from growers. Finding timely barges to ship it off may be another story.

The same drought that has punished the Midwest’s corn and soybeans for months has lowered the Mississippi River that eases past the western Illinois co-op Jenkins oversees to levels unseen for nearly a quarter century. The shallower waterway — notably from Memphis south to New Orleans — has closed some portions of it while forcing shippers to cut the number of barges their towboats push and the amount of freight in each.”

Yesterday’s article added that, “Mitigating matters a bit is that there’s less of a corn crop expected, no thanks to the drought that has been the nation’s worst in decades but increasingly is showing signs of leveling off and, in some key farm states, easing.

“The weekly U.S. Drought Monitor update released Thursday showed that recent rainfall benefited parts of the Corn Belt, coming too late to help already damaged corn crops but still likely to plump up maturing soybeans in the fields.”

 

Rice Issue

A news release yesterday from Rep. Rick Crawford (R., Ark.) noted that, Today, [Rep. Crawford], co-chair of the Congressional Rice Caucus, released the following statement about the Consumer Reports article on arsenic levels in rice:

“‘Rice farmers in my district and across the country take great pride in producing a safe, affordable and nutritious product for consumers. Reports of arsenic levels in rice may sound upsetting but it is important to have all the facts. Arsenic is a naturally occurring element in our air, water, rice and soil. It has always been in the food supply and it occurs naturally in many healthy foods. No arsenical pesticides are used when growing rice in the United States.’

“‘Since 1991, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been testing for arsenic in a variety of foods, including rice and juices. It takes a science-based and risk-based approach in order to minimize risks in the food supply from contaminants. After looking at the actual research, the FDA said there is not enough scientific data to show a relationship between those who consume higher levels of rice and rice products and the type of illnesses associated with arsenic. The FDA testing produced the same results as Consumer Reports, but the evidence is not conclusive enough to make recommendations for changing diets.’”

Keith Good

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