September 16, 2019

Farm Bill Issues; and, the Ag Economy

Farm Bill: Process, Budget –Lame Duck Issues

An update posted on Saturday at The Grand Forks Herald Online reported that, “U.S. Rep. Rick Berg, R-N.D., told a business roundtable meeting in Grand Forks Friday that he expects the farm bill to come to a vote in the current Congress.

“Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, ‘made a commitment to bring the farm bill up before the end of the year,’ Berg said. ‘I take him at his word.’

The bill has a good chance of passing after the November election when political pressures holding up the bill are gone, he said.”

Along with the results of the November election (House, Senate, White House), the scope of negotiations on large budgetary issues such as the “fiscal cliff,” and sequestration, are variables that will also shape the lame-duck session and influence the scale of legislative progress that can be achieved.

Jake Sherman reported on Saturday at Politico that, “For everyone pining for a sweeping deficit deal after the election, Speaker John Boehner has a message.

Don’t hold your breath.

“In an interview here [Depew, N.Y.], the Ohio Republican said cobbling together a large-scale deal during the lame-duck session of Congress would not only be hard, but also the wrong thing for the country.”

The article noted that, “‘I think that’s difficult to do,’ Boehner said when asked about the prospects for a large-scale deficit deal in November and December. ‘You know, and frankly, I’m not sure it’s the right thing to do — have a lot of retiring members and defeated members voting on really big bills. Eh, probably not the appropriate way to handle the lame duck.’”

And Meredith Shiner reported yesterday at Roll Call Online that, “Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) continue to keep their distance from a bipartisan group of eight Senators who hope to solve the fiscal issues facing Congress in the coming lame-duck session.”

On The Diane Rehm Show (WAMU Radio, NPR) Friday, John King chief national correspondent, CNN; Karen Tumulty national political reporter, The Washington Post; and Major Garrett White House correspondent, National Journal, discussed the “fiscal cliff,” elections and the lame duck session in more detail, a portion of Friday’s program on these issues can be heard here (MP3- 4:34).

A news update Friday from University of Missouri Extension indicated that, “[University of Missouri Extension agricultural economist Scott Brown] says that the outcome of the election may indicate what option Congress will pursue in regard to the farm bill in the lame-duck session.

“‘If the Republicans were to take control of both the House and Senate, I certainly think that is a situation where it could be more apt to see a short-term extension and the Republicans restarting the farm bill process going into 2013,’ Brown said. ‘If control of the two chambers remains split, then I think we might see them work hard in lame duck to get a farm bill done.’

“However, finishing a farm bill will still prove to be extremely difficult. Congress was unable to do so during the past two years, and during the lame duck it will only have four weeks. Brown says the commodity titles that came from the Senate floor and through the House Agriculture Committee are not all that different and he doesn’t expect it to be that large of an issue to compromise on. Cuts in nutrition may be where a struggle will ensue, as the Senate wanted fewer cuts than many of the more conservative members of the House are asking for.”

The update noted that, “So far, much of the discussion about the farm bill in the House of Representatives has centered on funding cuts, deficit reduction and tax policy rather than the actual components of a comprehensive farm policy bill.”


Farm Bill: Political Maneuvering, and Perspectives

Meanwhile, Elahe Izadi reported on Friday at National Journal Online that, “If House Dems want to continue to use pro forma sessions to air their complaints and push their ‘do-nothing-Congress’ messaging, they better bring some throat lozenges and be prepared to shout.

“During [Friday’s] pro forma session, Republican Speaker Pro Tempore Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn., slammed his gavel, which signals the C-SPAN mics to cut off, over the protests from two Democratic House members.

“DesJarlais walked off, leaving Reps. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., and Ruben Hinojosa, D-Texas, shouting about the fiscal cliff and the farm bill.”

The article added that, “Despite no mic, Cummings spoke from the floor about Democrats being prepared to work on averting the fiscal cliff. Hinojosa made a remark about the farm bill. Then the two men nodded at each other and walked off the floor…‘I couldn’t believe he wouldn’t recognize me and let me speak on the issue of our farmers. Because it’s not just my state, it’s throughout the whole country,’ Hinojosa said about DesJarlais.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) tweeted on Friday (including a video replay) that, “Moments ago, for the 4th time during this recess, #DoNothingGOP refused Democrats’ request to get back to work.”

An update on Friday at The Times Free Press (Chattanooga, Tenn.) Online reported that, “Democrat Eric Stewart charged today that U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn., is showing ‘complete disregard’ to farmers in the 4th Congressional District by refusing to debate him and instead presiding over a mostly empty U.S. House in a pro forma session in Washington, D.C…[S]tewart charged in a news release that DesJarlais ‘betrayed’ Tennessee farmers this spring by voting to cut $60 billion from the Department of Agriculture, showing he isn’t interested in agricultural issues.”

Also, an update late last week at the Idaho Statesmen Online reported that, “Idaho’s $2 billion dairy industry is praising 2nd District GOP Rep. Mike Simpson for pressing to get a new Farm Bill passed, but 1st District Rep. Raul Labrador is taking a pass…[T]hat posture allows Labrador to avoid the topic until after the election, though he says that the bill’s apportioning $80 billion to food stamps is excessive and needs to be trimmed.”

And, Dave Ress reported on Friday at The News Leader (Staunton, Va.) that, “Though [Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R., Va.)] represents a farming district, he said he opposed the pending farm bill because it did not do enough to hold down spending.”

Late last week, an update at the Rutland Herald (Vt.) Online noted that, “Ironically, [Rep. Peter Welch (D., Vt.)] said it’s Eric Cantor who is holding up the [Farm] bill, in part due to worries over having sufficient votes. It’s ‘internal Republican politics,’ Welch said. He believes there may be an effort to push more food stamp cuts through if the bill makes the floor, and Cantor does not want to risk it.

“‘It’s his decision…The spending issue for the Republicans is the point they’re always trying to make.’

“Welch would like the House to let the process on the farm bill run its course. ‘This is the first time in the history of the House that the Ag committee passed the farm bill and the House has not taken it up on the floor,’ he said. ‘We should be doing our job.’”

Robert Wang reported last week at The Repository (Canton, Ohio) Online that, “With Congress unable to agree on a new farm bill, [Rep. Bob Gibbs (R., Ohio)], the former president of the Ohio Farm Bureau, said he voted against the House version as a member of the Agriculture Committee because it supported target prices for crops, which benefits southern states, rather than a crop insurance model. He also wants provisions cutting ‘fraud and abuse’ in the food stamp program.”

On the issue of the SNAP program (food stamps), Bloomberg writer Alan Bjerga reported on Friday that, “Food stamps went to a record 46.68 million Americans in July, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said today. The figure is up from 46.67 million in June and 2.9 percent higher than in July 2011, the department said today in a statement on its website.”

In other developments on nutrition issues, a news release Friday from Rep. Adrian Smith (R., Neb.) stated in part that, “During a recent visit to Wilber-Clatonia High School, I was approached by a number of students and staff regarding new school menu requirements.  The new rules, while well-intentioned, are leaving many students hungry and squeezing already limited school budgets.

“I recognize the need to address health issues associated with childhood obesity and diabetes, and I applaud efforts to continually find ways to improve school meals.  But we must focus on addressing these concerns without undermining the number one priority of the school meal program: feeding hungry children.  For many students, school meals are their primary source of nutrition, and reducing the size of meals could affect the overall health and wellness of these and other students.”

Recent news items on issues associated with the new school lunch rules include: “Boos on the menu,” and  “Lunch changes leave some hungry, uninterested,” while a front page article in Saturday’s New York Times indicated that, “The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, which required public schools to follow new nutritional guidelines this academic year to receive extra federal lunch aid, has created a nationwide version of the age-old parental challenge: persuading children to eat what is good for them.

“Because the lunches must now include fruits and vegetables, those who clamor for more cheese-laden nachos may find string beans and a peach cup instead. Because of limits on fat and sodium, some of those who crave French fries get baked sweet-potato wedges. Because of calorie restrictions, meat and carbohydrate portions are smaller. Gone is 2-percent chocolate milk, replaced by skim.”

In other Farm Bill related political news, Sen. Ag Comm. Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.) last week received the endorsement of several members of the Michigan farm community.  The Senate passed its version of the Farm Bill in June.

And with respect to the executive branch, an update posted on Saturday at the Enid News (Okla.) Online indicated that, “‘Unfortunately, House Republicans left Washington without passing comprehensive, multi-year food, farm and jobs legislation, leaving thousands of farming families exposed,’ [Sec. of Ag. Tom Vilsack] said. ‘U.S. agriculture is fighting to maintain the tremendous momentum it has built over the past three years, but with natural disasters and other external forces threatening livelihoods of our farmers and ranchers, certainty is more important than ever.’”

In an update at the USDA Blog on Friday, Sec. Vilsack also noted that, “Many programs authorized under the 2008 Farm Bill expired on October 1. Other aspects of the law will continue to expire in the coming months. This brings tremendous uncertainty for rural families – particularly livestock producers who have lost access to disaster programs, and dairy producers who no longer have access to dairy support programs. But while this is a time of uncertainty, we will continue working to strengthen the drought response.”


Farm Bill: Dairy Issues

The New York Times editorial board noted today that, “Last week began without a farm bill, a legislative lapse of shameful proportions. Since 1949, the bill has always been renewed, but not this year. Even so, most of the 2012 crop is still covered by loans, insurance programs and commodity supports until the end of the year — with one important exception.

That exception is dairy farmers. When the farm bill expired, so did the Milk Income Loss Contract Program, which pays dairy farmers when milk prices, which are always volatile, fall below a set level. The payment is also adjusted to the price of feed, which has been high, thanks to record corn prices, and will be much higher after this year’s nationwide drought.”

The Times added that, “We are not fans of price supports, including dairy subsidies, but there is a special argument to be made in the case of small-scale dairy farming in the Northeast. Nearly 2.5 million acres in New York are directly tied to dairy farming. Working farms keep the land open and productive and hold development at bay.

When Congress returns, it needs to make sure that program payments are restored, even before it goes back to work on the farm bill. The Senate has passed its version of the bill, but the House has not. Some House members seem to think they have all the time in the world. Dairy farmers know better. Without the milk program, help, for many of them, will come too late.”

In other policy related news, Stephanie Strom reported in Saturday’s New York Times (“Pig Farmers Face Pressure on the Size of the Sty”) that, “This year, however, [hog farmer Tom Dittmer] and fellow hog farmers are under increasing pressure from corporate pork buyers and animal rights groups to return to the old way of doing things: putting sows in group housing. In the last week of September alone, three companies — Dunkin’ Donuts, ConAgra Foods and Brinker International, which operates Chili’s — announced that over the next decade, they would no longer buy pork derived from pigs housed in gestation crates.

“This week, the Bruegger’s bagel chain joined them. That brought the number of fast-food companies and food retailers that have made such commitments this year to 32 — a stunning victory for the Humane Society of the United States, which has worked for years to persuade pork producers to make the change. The National Pork Producers Council said it did not know how much pork these companies bought but estimated it might be about one-fifth of the pork produced.

Farmers like Mr. Dittmer resent the tactics, saying they worry that the move will be unsustainably costly for them and result in soaring pork prices for consumers.”

Meanwhile, the AP reported on Friday that, “The Supreme Court agreed Friday to hear a dispute between a soybean farmer and Monsanto Co. over the company’s efforts to limit farmers’ use of its patented, genetically engineered Roundup Ready seeds.

“The justices said they will hear an appeal from Indiana farmer Vernon Hugh Bowman, who is trying to fend off Monsanto’s lawsuit claiming Bowman made unauthorized use of the seeds.”

The article added that, “The Obama administration urged the court not to take the case and warned that the outcome could affect patents involving DNA molecules, nanotechnologies and other self-replicating technologies.

“Monsanto has a policy that prohibits farmers from saving or reusing the seeds once the crop is grown, ensuring that farmers have to buy new seeds every year.”


Agricultural Economy

Kate Galbraith reported in yesterday’s New York Times that, “With its pretty rivers and lakes, this city of 95,000 people [San Angelo] is sometimes called the oasis of West Texas. But San Angelo recently came within a year of running out of water, as it faced a severe drought that produced brown lawns, dying bushes and fear.”

The article noted that, “What a difference a few days make. Last weekend the heavens opened, and it poured. More than five inches of rain fell on San Angelo. Drought-stricken Midland, an oil boomtown more than 100 miles to the northwest, got more rain on Sept. 28 than on any other day since 1968. A severely low reservoir that supplies both cities with water more than doubled its reserves. On Friday, San Angelo’s City Council voted to reverse the sprinkler ban.

But the drought in West Texas is not over, and experts say this perennially dry region must plan carefully. The two-year drought, the region’s worst in more than half a century, has starkly exposed its vulnerability. Farmers, swimming pool cleaners, carwash operators and many others depend on ample water, and if supplies are short, jobs can be lost. Pressure is growing on the Legislature to address the problem when it meets next year, especially because the population continues to grow and West Texas is projected to become drier.”

Water was also the topic of a front page article in Friday’s Los Angeles Times (“Delta, accustomed to water wars, prepares for battle”) which noted: “Landowners plan their fight against two 35-mile underground tunnels that would carry water from the Sacramento River to the giant pumps that fill southbound aqueducts.”

Keith Good

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