FarmPolicy

April 24, 2014

Budget Issues; Farm Bill; Ag Economy; Biofuels; and, Biotechnology

Budget Issues

Steven T. Dennis reported yesterday at Roll Call Online that, “The Des Moines Register today released a previously off-the-record interview with President Barack Obama in which he gave his frankest answers to date on his second-term agenda, including breakthroughs on a ‘grand bargain’ on the deficit and on immigration reform next year.

“The White House relented to a suggestion by the Register in a blog post Tuesday that the interview become on the record.”

Mr. Dennis pointed out that, “Obama told the Register that if he is re-elected, he expects a deal in the coming months on a ‘grand bargain’ that would cut health care costs while raising taxes on the wealthy.

“‘It will probably be messy. It won’t be pleasant. But I am absolutely confident that we can get what is the equivalent of the grand bargain that essentially I’ve been offering to the Republicans for a very long time, which is $2.50 worth of cuts for every dollar in spending, and work to reduce the costs of our health care programs,’ he said.”

Yesterday’s Roll Call article added that, “On immigration, Obama predicted the logjam would finally break because it is in the Republican Party’s own long-term interests to cut a deal.

“‘And since this is off the record, I will just be very blunt,’ Obama said. ‘Should I win a second term, a big reason I will win a second term is because the Republican nominee and the Republican Party have so alienated the fastest-growing demographic group in the country, the Latino community. And this is a relatively new phenomenon. George Bush and Karl Rove were smart enough to understand the changing nature of America. And so I am fairly confident that they’re going to have a deep interest in getting that done.’”

Note that in a separate update yesterday at Roll Call, Mr. Dennis reported that, “Mitt Romney’s campaign is dismissing President Barack Obama’s plans to push for an immigration overhaul next year as merely a repeat of a broken promise from 2008…‘It’s a fascinating glimpse into how President Obama has taken the Hispanic community for granted for the past four years,’ Romney spokesman Alberto Martinez said.”

Meanwhile, Pete Kasperowicz reported yesterday at The Hill’s Floor Action Blog that, “Freshman Republican Rep. Martha Roby (Ala.- Ag. Comm. Member) accused President Obama of sending confusing mixed signals on the spending cuts to defense known as the sequester.

“‘Our military is on the brink of receiving some of the most devastating cuts imaginable, and the president of the United States can’t get his story straight on why it’s happening or how to stop it,’ Roby said Tuesday.”

The Hill updated noted that, “But Roby charged that while Obama seemed to defend a reduced Navy fleet, he also said at the end of the debate that the sequester is not something that he proposed and that it ‘will not happen.’ That comment from Obama has sparked a discussion in Washington about whether the White House is much more open than it has previously signaled to avoiding the roughly $55 billion in defense cuts now scheduled for early January.”

Also yesterday, Bernie Becker, Erik Wasson and Mike Lillis reported at The Hill’s On the Money Blog that, “Democrats are sounding increasingly open to extending the payroll tax cut after months of keeping it at arm’s length.

“Leading members of the party, like Republicans in Washington, had previously appeared to have no issue with letting the tax break lapse on Jan. 1, an outcome that would raise taxes for some 160 million workers.

“But with the economic recovery puttering along, prominent Democrats like Larry Summers and Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.) are suggesting that the party rethink that approach — even as they continue to stress that the tax cut remains nothing more than a temporary measure.”

David Wessel noted in today’s Wall Street Journal that, “Chief executives of more than 80 big-name U.S. corporations, from Aetna Inc. to Weyerhaeuser Co., are banding together to pressure Congress to reduce the federal deficit with tax-revenue increases as well as spending cuts.”

Interestingly, as variables regarding the “fiscal cliff” receive scrutiny, a report by Randy Koenen on yesterday’s Agriculture Today radio program (The Red River Farm Network) featured analysis on Farm Bill issues from USDA Chief Economist Joe Glauber, who noted that fiscal matters could play into Farm Bill developments in the lame-duck session of Congress.

To listen to a portion of yesterday’s Agriculture Today program that included part of the conversation with Dr. Glauber, just click here (MP3- 0:53).

 

Farm Bill- Policy Issues, Political Notes

Post-election control of the executive branch, House, and Senate will also be variables that influence and direct the resolution of potential “fiscal cliff” matters, and potentially the Farm Bill.

The Need-to-Know Daily Email (National Journal) reported yesterday that, “The presidential election isn’t the only contest that’s going down to the wire in November. The battle for the Senate is remarkably close, and control could end up being determined by the outcome of the presidential contest, writes Hotline’s Josh Kraushaar.  As things stand today, Republicans look reasonably positioned to net two to three seats in the upper chamber, and three is enough for Mitch McConnell to become Senate majority leader, if Romney wins the presidency. But if Obama wins, Republicans would need to net four seats for a majority. Given the narrowing Senate map, that’s looking almost impossible.”

In more specific Senate analysis, the AP reported earlier this week that, “Two weeks before the election, Republican Pete Hoekstra said Tuesday he’s counting on a strong showing by presidential nominee Mitt Romney in Michigan to help him upset Democratic U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, [the Chairwoman of the Senate Ag. Comm.].

Polls consistently have shown Obama ahead in the state he carried four years ago — and Stabenow has even bigger leads.”

Tim Martin reported on Tuesday at MLive (Mich.) Online that, “The latest averaging of voter polls from Real Clear Politics has Stabenow at 51.8 percent and Hoekstra at 38.8 percent. In the presidential race, the Real Clear Politics average has Obama at 48.6 percent and Romney at 43.6 percent in Michigan.”

Meanwhile, Alexandra Jaffe reported yesterday at The Hill’s Campaign Blog that, “The race for Senate in North Dakota is a statistical dead heat, according to a new poll that gives Democrat Heidi Heitkamp a 1 percentage point lead over opponent Rep. Rick Berg (R).

Heitkamp has 49 percent support to Berg’s 48 percent support, with 3 percent undecided.”

Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball (Univ. of Va.) indicated today that, “Rep. Denny Rehberg (R) and Sen. Jon Tester (D) remain locked in an achingly close duel in Montana, but we still give Rehberg a tiny edgeOur Senate count is now 51-44 Democrats, but we are NOT comfortable calling the Senate for the Democrats. There is just too much uncertainty. It’s possible that some of the candidates we now favor, such as Democrats Tim Kaine in Virginia, Sherrod Brown in Ohio [Ag. Comm. Member], Bob Casey in Pennsylvania [Ag. Comm. Member] and [Christopher] Murphy and [Elizabeth] Warren in Connecticut and Massachusetts, respectively, won’t actually make it across the finish line.”

Rosalind S. Helderman and Jason Horowitz reported in today’s Washington Post that, “In the battle for control of the U.S. Senate, there are now at least eight critical contests in which polling shows essentially a dead heat, encouraging Republicans’ hopes that they may yet snag the chamber, which very recently seemed beyond their reach.”

Naftali Bendavid reported in today’s Wall Street Journal that, “The battle for control of the Senate has become even more volatile in the closing days of the campaign, with an increasing number of races across the nation becoming evenly matched.”

With respect to the House, Bloomberg writers James Rowley and Roxana Tiron reported yesterday that, “Republicans are in a strong position to keep control of the U.S. House of Representatives next year as political analysts predict that Democrats will fall more than a dozen seats short of a majority in the Nov. 6 election.

“Republican gains in redistricting after the 2010 Census and the retirements of a group of moderate Democrats diminish the chances of a power switch for the 113th Congress.”

And Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball (Univ. of Va.) indicated today that, “While there will be major shifts in the House delegations of many states on Election Day, and while more than a handful of incumbents appear likely to lose, the total change in each party’s net total of House seats will probably not be large…The Crystal Ball can now project that the Republicans will retain their House majority, although we suspect it will be at least a bit smaller than their current 25-seat edge.”

A closer look at some other key House and Senate races is available here.

Also yesterday, Ron Nixon reported at The Caucus Blog (New York Times) that, “On Wednesday, a coalition of food policy, environmental and antihunger groups, called Food Policy Action, unveiled its own scorecard to grade Congress on how it votes on issues related to food and farm policy. The coalition includes individuals from organizations like the National Black Farmers Association and the international antihunger charity Oxfam.”

Meanwhile, a news release yesterday from National Crop Insurance Services (NCIS) indicated that, “‘Some of the same people who had to deal with the floods last year along the Mississippi and Missouri rivers are now dealing with the opposite – extreme drought,’ says Calamus, Iowa, claims supervisor David Bousselot, in a new NCIS video released today.

“The video highlights the critical role that many of the 5,000 claims adjusters play in helping farmers pick up the pieces after the worst drought in decades, with $3 billion already in the hands of farmers. ‘The adjuster is the connection with the producer,’ says Bousselot.”

And, Katie Micik reported yesterday [Tuesday] at DTN (link requires subscription) that, “USDA won’t update its harvested acreage estimate until the January crop report, NASS statistics director Joe Prusacki explained to attendees at USDA’s data users meeting Tuesday.”

 

Agricultural Economy

Bloomberg writer Rudy Ruitenberg reported yesterday that, “Worsening dryness in the U.S. is a threat to hard red winter wheat, agricultural-weather forecaster Martell Crop Projections said.

“Dry weather has resumed in the southern Great Plains after a wet September, slowing germination of the grain, Martell wrote in an e-mailed report today. Half of the hard red winter wheat has emerged with 80 percent planted, and the gap widened in October on worsening dryness, Martell wrote.”

Also yesterday, Reuters writers Pavel Polityuk and Maha El Dahan indicated that, “Ukraine’s agriculture minister on Wednesday said the country would ban wheat exports from Nov. 15 after a weather-damaged harvest, a move that underpinned international prices.”

And Billings Gazette (Mont.) writer Tom Lutey reported yesterday that, “With grain in the bin, Montana farmers are watching as wheat prices make a late-year climb.

“Drought conditions elsewhere are once again working in Montana’s favor. America’s Corn Belt suffered its worst drought in a half century this year and supplies are tight. The drought bodes well for ordinary quality wheat, which is often fed to animals as a replacement when corn gets expensive.”

The article noted that, “Heading into the last two months of the year with a strong cash market could signal another $1 billion wheat year for state farmers. Once a rare high mark, $1 billion in wheat sales has been the Montana norm four of the last five years.”

 

Biofuels

Henry Fountain reported in yesterday’s New York Times that, “Nearly a decade after the adoption of federal renewable fuel standards led to a sharp increase in production of ethanol, some producers in the Corn Belt are considering making a different fuel. The fuel, butyl alcohol, or butanol, is worth more to refiners because it has more energy than ethanol, is easier to handle and more of it can be blended into each gallon of gasoline. But producing it will require costly retrofitting of ethanol plants, and plant capacity will be reduced.

“Several companies are leading the push for butanol, including Gevo of Englewood, Colo., and Butamax Advanced Biofuels, a joint venture of BP and DuPont based in Wilmington, Del. They have developed ways to make butanol the same way ethanol is made, through yeast-based fermentation and then distillation.”

 

Biotechnology

Rosie Mestel reported yesterday at the Los Angeles Times Online that, “To the naked eye, the white puffs of cotton growing on shrubs, the yellow flowers on canola plants and the towering tassels on cornstalks look just like those on any other plants. But inside their cells, where their DNA contains instructions for how these crops should grow, there are a few genes that were put there not by Mother Nature but by scientists in a lab… To an increasingly vocal group of consumers, this genetic tinkering is a major source of anxiety… In California, this unease has culminated in Proposition 37. If approved on Nov. 6, the initiative would require many grocery store items containing genetically modified ingredients to carry labels.”

The article stated that, “But among scientists, there is widespread agreement that such crops aren’t dangerous. The plants, they say, are as safe as those generated for centuries by conventional breeding and, in the 20th century, by irradiating plant material, exposing it to chemical mutagens or fusing cells together to produce plants with higher grain yields, resistance to frost and other desirable properties. Now they want to insert other genes into plants to make them more nutritious, resistant to drought or able to capture nitrogen from the air so they require less fertilizer, among other useful traits.

“‘There’s no mystery here,’ said UCLA plant geneticist Bob Goldberg. ‘When you put a gene into a plant … it behaves exactly like any other gene.’”

Yesterday’s article added that, “Genetically engineered crops have been extensively studied. Hundreds of papers in academic journals have scrutinized data on the health and environmental impacts of the plants. So have several in-depth analyses by independent panels convened by the National Academy of Sciences.

The reports have broadly concluded that genetically modified plants are not only safe but in many respects friendlier to the environment than nonengineered crops grown via conventional farming methods.”

Keith Good

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