FarmPolicy

October 24, 2014

Farm Bill Issues; Ag Economy; Biofuels; and, Food Safety

Farm Bill Issues

David Rogers reported on Friday at Politico that, “The top House Democrat on agriculture issues said Friday that it would be a ‘fool’s errand’ to try to resurrect a five-year farm bill in the new 113th Congress if there no promise of fairer treatment by the Republican leadership than the agricultural committees received in the 112th.

“Minnesota Rep. Collin Peterson made his comments in a bluntly-written letter to Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) that vents all the frustration of past year in which the GOP leadership refused to bring a comprehensive farm bill to the floor.”

Mr. Rogers added that, “Indeed, the anger in the Ag committees is not only because of the lost opportunity for potential savings and reforms but the fact that they were shut out of even writing the final nine-month extension of the 2008 act. Lucas and Peterson crafted one together with the Senate, but Boehner never brought their bill to the floor and instead Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was allowed to set the terms as part of the New Year’s tax deal approved Jan. 1.”

Bloomberg writers Alan Bjerga and Derek Wallbank reported on Friday that, “The House Agriculture Committee canceled tentative plans to draft a new farm bill after its top Democrat sought a commitment that the legislation will be considered by the full chamber, according to committee leaders.

“‘There’s going to be no markup in the foreseeable future without it,’ Representative Collin Peterson of Minnesota said today in an interview. Peterson had said the committee would meet on Feb. 27, and that ‘is off.’”

The Bloomberg article pointed out that, “Peterson sent letters yesterday to House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio and Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia, both Republicans, saying that without a guarantee that farm- policy legislation would be debated on the House floor this year, Democrats won’t work on a bill, which will require bipartisan support to pass. Peterson said House Republican leaders ‘bottled up’ the panel’s bill last year, keeping the measure off the House agenda.

“‘I, too, would like to have a commitment’ from House and Senate leaders that a farm bill will be voted on this year, Lucas said. ‘I don’t see how you can have a markup at the same time as the next swarm is swirling over the debt ceiling and everything else.’

“The extension lacked a dairy-support program backed by leaders of both congressional agriculture committees, prompting Peterson to seek a written commitment from Boehner and Cantor.”

Erik Wasson reported on Friday at The Hill’s On the Money Blog that, “Peterson wrote that he thinks Boehner should announce this month a schedule for considering the farm bill, which covers subsidies to farmers and food stamp spending.

The ranking member told The Hill that he wants to keep the farm bill separate from any deal on the debt ceiling in February. The last 2012 farm bill had $35 billion in savings but Lucas and Peterson could not hitch it to the fiscal-cliff deal.”

DTN Ag Policy Editor Chris Clayton reported on Friday (link requires subscription) that, “Peterson has been angry since the final fiscal package came from the Senate earlier this week that offered a stripped down, nine-month extension of farm programs largely to avoid higher dairy prices for consumers. The package did not include funding disaster aid for livestock producers and did not include Peterson’s proposal to overhaul dairy policy. With that, Peterson was one of just 16 Democrats in the House who voted against the tax bill. Shortly after the vote, Peterson declared he is done working with members of the Obama administration. ‘I’m done with them for the next four years,’ Peterson stated in a Politico article.

“In his letter to Boehner, Peterson asked if the Speaker intends to bring forward bills produced by the House Agriculture Committee in the new Congress. Peterson then cited comments made by Boehner in 2010 and 2011 advocating for more open debates and letting the committees do their work.

“‘Unfortunately, those noble words turned into empty promises when it came time to consider legislation to reauthorize the federal farm safety net,’ Peterson wrote. ‘Despite a day-long mark-up, where almost 60 amendments were offered, considered and either adopted or rejected; despite having the support of myself, the Chairman of the Agriculture Committee and a majority of Committee Democrats and Republicans; despite following the practice of regular order as you laid out for us, the Republican Leadership was nothing but a stumbling block in our quest to let the House ‘work its will’ on a new five-year farm bill.’”

Meanwhile, DTN Political Correspondent Jerry Hagstrom reported on Friday (link requires subscription) that, “Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Debbie Stabenow said Friday that she will proceed with a new farm bill and not wait for the House Agriculture Committee to act first.

“Lobbyists have speculated that Stabenow, D-Mich., might feel so burned by the House leadership’s unwillingness to take up the farm bill last year that she would insist that the House act first, but she said in an interview for C-SPAN that rural America needs leadership and that she intends to provide it.

“‘We’re moving ahead. We’re not going to wait for the House,’ Stabenow told DTN after taping of the C-SPAN segment, which will air Sunday.”  (Note that the complete C-SPAN interview, and clips, can be found here, at FarmPolicy.com Online).

Mr. Hagstrom noted that, “But Stabenow also said that she supports House Agriculture Committee ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., in his decision not to participate in a markup until House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., agree to bring the bill up on the House floor. Stabenow said that farmers and other rural Americans need to put pressure on House Republicans to finalize the farm bill.

“Stabenow said she looks forward to working with Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., who asserted his seniority to become the ranking member over Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., who has held that position.”  (Note that related audio on this issue from the C-SPAN interview can be heard here (MP3- 1:34)).

The DTN article added that, “Stabenow expressed outrage that the farm bill extension added to the fiscal cliff bill at the insistence of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., included another round of the $4.9 billion direct payments program while not providing disaster aid to livestock and fruit producers.

“But even though the Senate-passed bill and the House Agriculture Committee-passed bill eliminated the direct payments program, Stabenow said she expects another battle this year over whether those payments — which go to crop farmers whether prices are high or low — should be continued.”

Niels Lesniewski reported on Friday at Roll Call Online that, “During the interview with Stabenow, which will air Sunday on C-SPAN’s Newsmakers program, the Michigan Democrat renewed her criticism of the farm provisions in the fiscal cliff agreement, which were spearheaded by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. The language did not extend several farm policy programs or provide disaster assistance. It also would continue a system of direct payments to producers that the farm bill passed by the Senate in the 112th Congress would have curbed.

“‘For the life of me, I cannot believe that we’ve seen disaster assistance bills go through the House and Senate that did not include agriculture. We were told it would be in the extension, and then to pull that out and leave ranchers, farmers, cherry growers in my state, left hanging is something that I find outrageous,’ Stabenow said.”

Chairwoman Stabenow also addressed issues associated with the SNAP program (food stamps) in the C-SPAN interview– related audio here (MP3- 1:53).

Daniel Looker reported on Saturday at Agriculture Online that, “Senator Al Franken (D-MN) said Friday that he doesn’t expect major changes when the Senate writes a new farm bill this year.

“‘I think we’re going to pass something very similar to what we passed in June,’ Franken told Agriculture.com during a press conference.”

Speaking yesterday on CNN’s “State of the Union” program, Sen. Richard Durbin (D., Il.) lamented the fact that the House did not take up the Farm Bill, which would have saved billions of dollars- related audio (MP3- 0:17).

More broadly on the Farm Bill extension, the Minneapolis Star Tribune editorial board noted over the weekend that, “No sooner than the ink dried from President Obama’s signature on the New Year’s weekend bill to avert the fiscal cliff than some media outlets declared that rural America and agriculture groups had lost their political clout. The failure of the last Congress to pass a five-year farm bill was cited as proof.

“A truer and more alarming way to view the one-year extension of a scaled-down version of the 2008 farm bill included in the deal is that Congress catered to the interests of rich and powerful corporate operations. They’ll receive subsidies they don’t need and increased exemption from estate taxes, which tightens their grip on land ownership. Congress also degraded the conservation, environmental, energy and organics programs assailed by Big Ag.

“The measure is a giant step in the wrong direction.”

And the Omaha World Herald editorial board noted yesterday that, “Congress merely extended for nine months most of the provisions of the old farm bill, including direct payments and crop subsidies. This means that any progress made on agriculture policy reforms over the past year is now moot.

“A new Congress was sworn in Thursday, so both the House and Senate agriculture committees must begin at the beginning. The cloudy future that farmers have been living under continues to hang over them at least until September.”

Cindy Snyder reported yesterday at the Times-News (Twin Falls, Idaho) Online that, “A last-minute deal to extend the 2008 farm bill by nine months has left many Idaho producers both disappointed and frustrated.”

Julie Harker reported on Friday at Brownfield that, “The rice industry is pleased that direct payments are still available with the extension this year of the 2008 farm bill.”

While Tom Groening reported on Saturday at the Bangor Daily News (Maine) Online that, “Prices per 100 pounds of milk have been good of late. [David] Doak, who milks 45 cows, most recently was paid $25 per ‘hundred weight’ by Oakhurst, he said Friday.

“‘The price isn’t the problem right now,’ Doak said. ‘It’s the input,’ or cost to produce the milk.

Prices for grain climbed through the fall, the result of a historic drought in the Midwest.”

The article noted that, “[Sen. Susan Collins (R., Maine)], who worked to add the provision to the fiscal cliff agreement that extended milk price supports, called the bill that passed a stop-gap measure, but said she was pleased it averted deeper problems for Maine dairy farmers.”

“Doak, who serves on the board of directors of the Maine Dairy Industry Association, believes the federal price support system is conceptually broken,” the article said.

In other developments, on Friday, House Ag Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R., Okla.) announced the complete list of Republican members who will serve on the House Agriculture Committee in the 113th Congress, while Rep. Peterson announced 19 of the 21 Democrats appointed to the Committee.

Meanwhile, an editorial posted on Saturday at the Hutchinson News (Kan.) Online noted that, “Sen. Pat Roberts last week handed off his ranking member role on the ag committee to fellow Republican Thad Cochran, of Mississippi. Roberts will remain on the ag committee and still expects to influence policy.

But it’s a little scary for Kansas, a farm state with just one Kansan on two congressional ag committees.

“Republican Rep. Tim Huelskamp, who represents the First District, was taken off the U.S. House ag committee last month. Some blame the loss on Huelskamp’s combativeness and his uncooperative attitude.”

And an editorial posted yesterday at the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal Online indicated that, “[Sen. Cochran] also was low-profile in terms of national media, but those other members who have been helped by his effective work live by the virtual creed of the Capitol: A favor extended eventually should be reciprocated.

Cochran also is one of the last senators who has friendships and good relationships with peers across the aisle, and few political assets could be more valuable for Mississippi and the South in times of sharp divides.”

 

Agricultural Economy

Chuck Clement reported on Friday at the Madison Daily Leader (South Dakota) Online that, “Any continuing problems caused by the drought conditions that hit eastern South Dakota last year will most likely have a greater effect on area farmers than Congress’ inability to enact a new long-term Farm Bill.”

Dar Danielson reported on Saturday at RadioIowa Online that, “December ended up being a wetter than normal month, and that helped out the drought situation a little. But Tim Hall with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources says it’s harder to make up the precipitation deficit later in the year.”

And Darryl Fears reported in today’s Washington Post that, “On a stretch of the Mississippi River, the U.S. Coast Guard has been reduced to playing traffic cop.

“For eight hours a day, shipping is allowed to move one way in the 180 miles of river between St. Louis and Cairo, Ill., depending on the hour. For the other 16 hours, boats go nowhere, because the river is closed to traffic.

The mighty Mississippi, parched by the historic summer drought, is on the verge of reaching a new low. That could mean that tugboats hauling barges loaded with billions of dollars’ worth of cargo — enough to fill half a million 18-wheelers — would not be able to make their way up and down the river.”

 

Biofuels

Elisabeth Rosenthal reported in yesterday’s New York Times (“As Biofuel Demand Grows, So Do Guatemala’s Hunger Pangs”) that, “Recent laws in the United States and Europe that mandate the increasing use of biofuel in cars have had far-flung ripple effects, economists say, as land once devoted to growing food for humans is now sometimes more profitably used for churning out vehicle fuel.”

 

Food Safety

Stephanie Strom reported in Saturday’s New York Times that, “The Food and Drug Administration on Friday proposed two sweeping rules aimed at preventing the contamination of produce and processed foods, which has sickened tens of thousands of Americans annually in recent years.

“The proposed rules represent a sea change in the way the agency polices food, a process that currently involves taking action after contamination has been identified. It is a long-awaited step toward codifying the food safety law that Congress passed two years ago.”

The Washington Post editorial board noted in part on Saturday that, “Certainly there will be quibbles here and there, but we think this is an area appropriate for government intervention and activism. The publication of the proposed rules is a welcome step after a long delay.”

And Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D., Conn.) tweeted on Friday that, “Proposed food safety rules released today are encouraging but long overdue. Americans’ health is at stake, we must do better.”

Keith Good

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