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Farm Bill; Budget; Ag Economy; Biofuels; and, CFTC Issue

Farm Bill –Policy Issues (Conservation, Nutrition, Trade, Regulations, Labor), Political Notes

Randy Olson reported in yesterday’s Sauk Herald (Sauk Centre, Minn.) that, “As stark as the outlook is for the hard-to-handle U.S. federal budget, Congressman Collin Peterson (DFL-Detroit Lakes) has a simple message for people to take to heart. ‘We’ll all have to pay a little more, and we’ll all get a little less,’ Peterson said during an interview on Monday in Sauk Centre. ‘It’s not an appealing message to share during election season, but we have to get our budget under control,’ the 11term congressman added.”

The article noted that, “As the ranking Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee, Peterson has been at the front of Farm Bill policy discussions since they began three years ago. ‘I worked during my last term on the Farm Bill, when Democrats were in the majority and I was Chairman,’ Peterson explained. ‘We were the only committee working under the Super Committee in 2011 who produced a bill. When the Super Committee fell apart, we took Farm Bill discussion to the Senate and took it up in the House this past July. After 13 hours in committee and 99 amendments, we got it out pretty much how we put it together’…‘We had a deal that included major spending cuts, but the Republicans in the House didn’t bring it up,’ Peterson stated. ‘We had plenty of time to finish it, but they broke two weeks early. Right-wing groups like Club for Growth said if anyone voted for it, they would get a negative score. Many Congressmen have farmers in their districts but left them out to dry.’”

Joel Myhre reported yesterday at the Fergus Falls Journal (Minn.) Online that, “Holding down Minnesota’s Seventh District for 21 years, DFL Congressman Collin Peterson is running for another term with his focus on the farm bill and responsible government spending…‘My number one priority is to get the farm bill done,’ he said. ‘That has been my focus and will continue to be my focus until it’s done.’”

Also, Katie Nickas reported earlier this week at AgriNews Online on the campaign for the U.S. Senate in Indiana, and noted that, “With only a few weeks remaining before the election, U.S. Rep. Joe Donnelly [D., Ind.] has been hot on the campaign trail, visiting Hoosier farms and businesses to talk about the farm bill, taxes, environmental regulations, renewable energy and other components of his agricultural policy that he would implement if elected to the U.S. Senate.”

The update noted that, “Donnelly most recently decried the failure of the U.S. House of Representatives to pass a farm bill before the upcoming lame duck session of Congress — crucial legislation to farmers.

“‘We have more than enough votes to pass the farm bill — it helps provide certainty for farmers, as well as crop insurance, and it is an incredible disservice that we did not get the farm bill completed during the last session of Congress,’ he said.”

“‘I’ve been a strong supporter of crop insurance right from the start — especially during such a difficult year as this one,’ [Rep. Donnelly] said. ‘There are farmers with five-bushel-an-acre yields in parts of the state, which breaks your heart. We have to have stronger crop insurance to not only have a crop next year, but also to ensure the family farm — many of which are the third-, fourth- and fifth-generation operations — can make a living off the land.’”

Rep. Donnelly is running against GOP state treasurer, Richard Mourdock, The New York Times has noted that the race is leaning Republican.

Cynthia Grau reported earlier this week at The Advocate Press (Flora, IL) Online that, “A small group gathered Tuesday evening at the Pontiac City Council Chambers for a Town Hall meeting led by [retiring] Congressman Timothy Johnson, R-Urbana.  Johnson addressed the group on subjects including the economy and the Farm Bill.”

“‘We passed the bill in the House Agriculture Committee. I’m a major sub-committee chair in the Ag Committee. We’re still waiting action in the full House and hopefully we are able to dovetail that with the Senate to get a bill. I feel that it’s important that we have a farm bill so we can establish ag policy for the next five years in the U.S. Generally, and certainly in light of this bad drought we had this year, crop insurance provisions of the bill are extremely important,’ Johnson said.”

(Note, for more recent news on crop insurance, see this American Farm Bureau Newsline update from yesterday, “Crop Insurance Will Save Farms This Year.”)

An update yesterday at The Des Moines Register Online noted that, “U.S. House Speaker John Boehner promoted Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s economic plan in Coralville [Iowa] on Wednesday, but the top congressional Republican steered clear of specific policy positions.

“Boehner, of Ohio, didn’t respond to questions about federal farm provisions that expired this month after lawmakers failed to reach agreement on a new farm bill before leaving the capital ahead of the general election.”

The update added that, “Boehner and other congressional leaders have been criticized in recent weeks for dismissing lawmakers without touching the federal farm bill.”

Meanwhile, Jennifer Jacobs and Jason Noble reported in yesterday’s Des Moines Register that, “Hours after the second presidential debate and subsequent criticism that President Barack Obama skimped on offering vision, he came to Iowa to talk at length about his plans for the next four years.

“In a 30-minute speech using a teleprompter, Obama dedicated about half his time to describing his plans and his first-term successes, and the other half warning Iowans the nation would see a backward turn should Republican Mitt Romney be elected.”

With respect to the executive branch, a news release yesterday from the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) indicated that, “Today, the [NCGA], a nonpartisan grassroots organization representing the interests of U.S. corn farmers, released responses submitted by presidential candidates Pres. Barack Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney to an NCGA questionnaire on important issues facing rural communities and America’s farmers. The information provided by both candidates, and published by NCGA without editorial comment, is meant to help interested voters gain information on the issues that impact agriculture and rural America.”

To view the questions and candidate responses, click here.

In more specific developments relating to Farm Bill policy, Dale Hall, the CEO of Ducks Unlimited, penned a column yesterday at Politico, stating in part that, “Recently, farmers and ranchers have been calling on Congress to pass the Farm Bill, which comes as no surprise since this legislation authorizes programs that ensure drought funding as well as agricultural and food safety policies. However, many Americans may be surprised to learn that hunters and conservationists have also been rallying for a vote. That’s because the Farm Bill contains provisions affecting important wildlife conservation programs.

“These programs have allowed conservation groups like Ducks Unlimited to work hand-in-hand with farmers and ranchers to restore and conserve millions of acres of wetlands, grasslands and other vital wildlife habitats across America. The Farm Bill’s Conservation Reserve Program and Wetlands Reserve Program not only have a positive impact on wildlife populations but also help conserve soil and keep our streams, rivers and lakes clean. These incentive-based programs benefit wildlife, ranchers and farmers, the environment and wildlife-associated recreation, which generates significant financial support for our nation’s economy. A preliminary report from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service indicates that hunters, anglers and wildlife watchers spent $145 billion on wildlife-related recreation in 2011.”

Also on the conservation issue, an update yesterday from the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts (OACD) pointed out that “A major dust storm that closed down interstate 35 in north central Oklahoma provides a vivid example of why it’s critical that the State and Federal Government not turn their back on natural resource conservation and that Farmers and Ranchers continue to practice good soil stewardship on their land according to Joe Parker, President of the [OACD].”

More details on this issue, including photos from the dust storm, can be found at FarmPolicy.com Online.

In policy news related to nutrition, Erik Wasson reported yesterday at The Hill’s On the Money Blog that, “A new study by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service finds that federal spending on anti-poverty programs has increased 33 percent since 2008, when President Obama was elected…[T]he report found that Medicaid costs grew by 37 percent while spending on food stamps grew by 71 percent.”

A news release yesterday from Rep. Kristi Noem (R., S.D., Ag. Comm. Member) noted that, “During National School Lunch Week, [Rep. Noem] joined Committee on Education and the Workforce Chairman John Kline (R-MN) and Representative Phil Roe, M.D. (R-TN) in sending a letter to United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack regarding the new school lunch standards being implemented for the first time this year.  The letter expressed concern over the 850-calorie cap that is leaving many students hungry and the increased food waste and costs that are burdening schools.”

In other news, Caroline Henshaw reported yesterday at the Deal Journal Australia Blog (Wall Street Journal) that, “Australia’s sugar growers and investors could end up with a sweeter deal under the upcoming Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations as the U.S. faces growing calls to put it’s long-standing sugar import restrictions on the table.”

The update noted that, “To be sure, sugar is a sticky subject in the U.S.;” and added that, “A spokeswoman for the office of the United States Trade Representative said the U.S. won’t negotiate the tariffs because it is still implementing its free trade agreement with Australia.  The issue is set to become increasingly important as Australia’s sugar production rebounds in the coming years after poor weather and competition for other crops has eaten into output in recent years.”

Emiko Terazono reported yesterday at The Financial Times Online that, “Sugar prices are defying mounting surpluses on the back of large crops in Brazil, Thailand and China, keeping the commodity stuck at a historically elevated range of 19-22 cents a pound.

“The mood in the industry has remained cautious as it gathered in London for its biennial Sugar Week, due to the uncertainty over the effects of the Brazilian weather as well as the country’s biofuel policy, which in effect puts a floor under the market.”

In news regarding federal regulations, an update yesterday from Sen. Mike Johanns (R., Neb.- Ag. Comm. Member) noted that, “Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW) Ranking Member James Inhofe (R-Okla.) today released a report on rules proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Obama Administration but delayed due to their harmful economic impact until after the election. The report, ‘A Look Ahead to EPA Regulations for 2013: Numerous Obama EPA Rules Placed On Hold until after the Election Spell Doom for Jobs and Economic Growth,’ and a list of the delayed rules can be viewed here.”

Yesterday’s update quoted Sen. Johanns: “This EPA has actively fought for policies that make it increasingly harder for families to get ahead and many of these policies have unfortunately been focused on rural America and family farms.”

Meanwhile, Joshua Miller and Daniel Newhauser reported earlier this week at Roll Call Online that, “Congress has been unable to make any progress on an immigration overhaul for years, but for voters such as dairy farmer Matt Lamb, the party that figures out a way forward will go a long way toward securing his vote. Lamb is a self-described conservative guy and a longtime Republican voter, but he’s considering casting his ballot for Democratic Rep. Kathy Hochul and President Barack Obama because of what he calls his most important issue.

Lamb has more than 2,000 cows on his family farm that need to be milked three times a day, and he struggles to find the labor to do it. He puts ads in local papers but still is at pains to find adequate help. Lamb uses some foreign workers, but the current immigration system makes it almost impossible for him to get visas for potential new employees. And since the push for immigration changes during the George W. Bush administration, he’s seen the GOP move in what he thinks is the wrong direction on his key issue.”

The article pointed out that, “‘More and more dairy farms are hiring foreign labor, that’s the trend,’ said Jaime Castaneda, a senior vice president at National Milk Producers Federation, which supports immigration reform with changes to allow more legal immigration and a path for unauthorized workers to get the ability to work within the law. ‘The majority of the milk being produced in the United States is produced by farms that have immigrant labor,’ he said…[O]ne Democratic aide noted that Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), a former chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, is almost certainly coming to the helm of the Judiciary Committee next year, a sign that bodes well for agricultural visa issues.”


Budget Issues

Peter Schroeder reported yesterday at The Hill’s On the Money Blog that, “The heads of the nation’s largest financial institutions warned policymakers Thursday that they risk ‘very grave’ consequences if they fail to address the fiscal cliff soon.”

A separate update yesterday at The Hill Blog noted that, “The Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) on Thursday released its own framework for dealing with the year-end fiscal cliff.”


Agricultural Economy

An update this week at AgriLife Today noted that, “Livestock producers are certainly more optimistic this fall than last year, but generally they remain extremely cautious when it comes to rebuilding herds and holding onto forage stocks, according to a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service beef expert.”

And Reuters news reported yesterday that, “The drought that ravaged the United States this year does not appear to be abating and may spread through the winter, government forecasters said on Thursday.”

Meanwhile, Paul Ziobro reported in today’s Wall Street Journal that, “U.S. peanut farmers are harvesting a record crop this year, putting to rest fears of repeating the shortage that drove up prices over the past year and prompted some shoppers to load up their pantries with the spread.

“The U.S. Department of Agriculture last week raised its estimate for the 2012 peanut harvest to 6.1 billion pounds, blowing through the 2008 record of almost 5.2 billion pounds.”



Zack Colman reported yesterday at The Hill’s Energy Blog that, “Biofuels groups pressed congressional leadership Thursday to maintain a biofuels mandate when lawmakers consider drought-relief legislation.

“The groups want to keep the renewable fuel standard (RFS) intact. The rule requires refiners to blend 13.2 billion gallons of corn-based biofuel into transportation fuel this year.”

The San Francisco Chronicle editorial board noted yesterday that, “Because of the demand for grain to produce the gasoline additive ethanol – which was supposed to reduce air pollution – plus a nationwide drought, many of the state’s cash-strapped farmers are selling their cows for slaughter because they can’t afford to feed them. It’s a ‘perfect storm,’ says Colin Carter, professor of agricultural economics at UC Davis, that could spell trouble for the county’s milk supply – 1 out of 5 glasses of milk consumed in the United States comes from California cows. And the increasing price of grain is hurting all livestock industries.”

The opinion item added that, “The federal law mandating that gasoline contain 10 percent ethanol – 13.2 billion gallons this year – has an escape clause. In an emergency, it can be lifted temporarily by the Environmental Protection Agency. Six states have petitioned for relief. The dairy industry looks on this as an emergency – ethanol consumes one-third of the nation’s corn crop, and next year the share could be higher…[T]his is an emergency. The United Nations predicts 9 billion people will live on this planet by 2050, and they’ll need food.

And right now, dairy farmers are running out of time.”


CFTC (Commodity Futures Trading Commission) Issue

Reuters writer Aruna Viswanatha reported this week that, “U.S. authorities investigating the collapse of MF Global have called in former executives of the failed commodities brokerage in recent weeks for additional interviews, people familiar with the inquiry said, as regulators work towards filing civil charges…[T]he recent interviews included both the Justice Department and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, but it still appears the more likely outcome will be civil cases rather than any criminal charges, people familiar with the inquiry said.”

Keith Good