May 22, 2018

Farm Bill; Labor; Budget; Ag Economy; and, Trade

Farm Bill Issues

Robert Pore reported late last week at the Grand Island Independent (Neb.) Online that, “While U.S. Rep. Adrian Smith, R-Neb., expresses frustration that a new Farm Bill wasn’t passed during the last session of Congress, he expects the new Congress to approve one.

But a new Farm Bill will face new funding realities as Congress tackles the debt ceiling and spending cuts needed to address the growing federal debt, which has exceeded $16 trillion.”

The article noted that, “[Rep. Smith said], “I think, simply, the votes were not there for the committee version of the House ag committee’s Farm Bill.”

The Independent article added that, “‘The food stamp program is such a dominant part of the Farm Bill,’ Smith said. ‘It certainly points to the need for reform.’

“Smith said the Senate is likely to pass a new Farm Bill similar to the one it approved last year.

“‘But on the House side, there is a better understanding of the need for a product that can pass the full House,’ he said.”

Jordan Blum reported yesterday at The Advocate (Baton Rouge, La.) Online that, “[Rep. Charles Boustany (R., La.)] said the food stamp funding debate was a big reason the [Farm] bill might not have acquired enough votes for a vote on the House floor. ‘Those fights will all play out again,’ Boustany said, which is why he said he will continue to ‘push our leadership.’

“‘We need to get a five-year bill in place to create the certainty for the farmers and the bankers,’ Boustany said.

“Boustany said he is in touch with House Agriculture Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., who wants to move on a new bill ‘as soon as possible.’”

David Schwab reported last week at WDAZ television (Grand Forks, N.D.- video included) Online that, “Congressman Collin Peterson says he is not optimistic a new farm bill will pass anytime soon.”

Meanwhile, Don Davis reported on Friday at the Worthington Daily Globe (Minn.) Online that, “[Rep. Rick Nolan (D., Minn.)] sounds thrilled to sit on the U.S. House Agriculture Committee, and he hopes a personal relationship with the House speaker could help the cause… Unlike [Collin] Peterson, who is the committee’s top Democrat, Nolan said he will take part in work on a new farm bill even if Republican House Speaker John Boehner refuses Peterson’s demand to promise the full House will hear a bill that comes out of the committee.

“‘I know John Boehner and I like John Boehner,’ Nolan said in an interview.

Nolan said his cousin is a key Boehner staffer and they have talked at various social activities, building a relationship with a man who makes many critical decisions. It was Boehner who would not bring a farm bill to a full House vote last year.”

A report last week at KCBD television (Lubbock, Tex.) Online pointed out that, “Congressman Randy Neugebauer [R., Tex.] says he is still working to get congress to try and pass a 5-year farm bill;” and, a report at WNDU television (South Bend, Ind.) Online noted that, “‘I would like to see us split the farm bill, separate the farming from the food stamp policy,’ said [Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R., Ind.)], ‘That way, farmers aren’t often held up in negotiations. And that way we really separate the two issues and deal with food stamps on one hand and ag policy on the other, but so far they’ve been married together for a long time.’”

(Note that during a press briefing with reporters yesterday at the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) convention in Nashville, AFBF President Bob Stallman discussed nutrition programs in general, and specifically noted that separating food stamps from ag policy was not a good idearelated audio clip here (MP3- 1:38)).

A brief update Friday at WCAX Television (Burlington, Vt.) included specific perspective on the Farm Bill extension from a longtime Vermont dairy producer, as well as Rep. Peter Welch (D., Vt.) who also commented specifically on the dairy aspects of the extension- related audio (MP3- 0:18).

Dennis Phillips reported on Saturday at The Observer (Dunkirk, N.Y.) Online that, “[Rep. Tom Reed (R., N.Y.)] has been meeting with farmers throughout Chautauqua County and across the 23rd District to gain frontline information from dairy farmers.

“During Reed’s visit, he listened to six local farmers speak about the problems dairy producers face. One issue the congressman heard about is the floor price for fluid milk is too low. Without an increase, dairy farmers won’t be able to continue producing milk.”

And, Mike Fitzgerald reported on Friday at the Belleville News-Democrat (Il.) Online that, “Worries about the nine-month extension to the nation’s 2012 Farm Bill dominated an agriculture forum Friday conducted by U.S. Rep. Bill Enyart, D-Belleville [Il.].

“‘With the farm bill, the problem is that it’s just a short-term fix. It’s really not even a fix at all,’ said Enyart, a freshman congressman who sits on the House Agriculture Committee.”

Senate Ag. Comm. Member Bob Casey (D., Pa.) was featured in a report late last week at CBS 21 television (Harrisburg, Pa.) where he indicated that, “he will push for Congress to work on a farm bill this year.”

Meanwhile, Colleen Creamer reported last week at The Tennessean (Nashville) Online that, “An eleventh-hour, slimmed-down extension of the farm bill folded into the package Congress passed Jan. 1 to avoid the ‘fiscal cliff’ might help farmers stay afloat and the cost of milk down, but the lack of a real plan leaves Dickson County farms unable to plan for the future.”

More specifically, Tom Lutey reported last week at the Billings Gazette (Mont.) Online that, “Things could get a little sticky in Washington, D.C., for sugar beet farmers this year, a key agriculture lobbyist said Thursday.

“‘2013 will be a very difficult year in the political environment,’ said Ruthann Geib, American Sugar Beet Growers vice president. ‘We must pass a five-year farm bill, and it has to include the current sugar policy. We have to work to balance our market, achieve compatible trade agreements, defend biotech and manage our risks.’”

And, Purdue University Agricultural Economist Otto Doering briefly spoke with Brownfield last week about the Farm Bill dynamics going forward; an overview and audio replay of this discussion can be heard here.

In other developments, Reuters writer Charles Abbott reported yesterday that, “Farmers want a new reform-minded farm law even if it means the end of a popular $5 billion-a-year subsidy that is paid regardless of need, the president of the largest U.S. farm group said on Sunday.”

The article noted that, “‘We are willing to accept that (elimination) as a foregone conclusion,’ [American Farm Bureau President Bob Stallman] told reporters, as part of phasing down traditional subsidies in favor of crop insurance and other risk management tools.”

“‘Now, we need the new Congress to show the leadership needed to pass long-term farm policy and enact the kind of reforms that the Senate and House Agriculture Committee have approved,’ Stallman said in a convention-opening speech.”  (Full text of speech available here).

Christopher Doering reported yesterday at The Des Moines Register Online that, “With Congress expected to begin work on a new five-year $500 billion farm bill in the coming months, the country’s largest farm group warned efforts to cut spending could pose a challenge to farm programs.

“‘There is going to be a lot of opportunity for people that want to come back and try to strip some money out of the farm bill budget,’ said Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation. ‘We’ll accept our fair share of reductions but we’re not going to want to be the piggy bank for those who somehow think agriculture doesn’t have enough support to maintain funding anymore.’”

Chris Clayton also reported on Mr. Stallman’s remarks yesterday at the AFBF Nashville meeting and indicated that: “‘I [Stallman] begin with these words to you on why your farms, your ranches and your rural communities matter.  In spite of reports you might have read, you are relevant.’ He added shortly after, ‘When you’re keeping people fed, I would say you’re pretty darn relevant.’

“Speaking later to reporters, Stallman said his comments were not a criticism of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack’s portrayal of the way rural America is viewed right now, but Stallman said he was instead building on some of Vilsack’s comments. In fact, Stallman said the agriculture secretary had come to Stallman’s office last fall to talk before Vilsack began to make comments about the political relevancy of rural America.”

Ron Hays of the Radio Oklahoma Network also spoke yesterday with Bob Stallman; a replay of their discussion has been posted here, at the Oklahoma Farm Report Online.


Labor Issues

Julia Preston reported on the front page of yesterday’s New York Times that, “President Obama plans to push Congress to move quickly in the coming months on an ambitious overhaul of the immigration system that would include a path to citizenship for most of the 11 million illegal immigrants in the country, senior administration officials and lawmakers said last week.”

Cameron Joseph reported on Saturday at The Hill Online that, “Several top immigration reform proponents are urging President Obama to make the issue a centerpiece of his second-term agenda, fearing that post-election momentum towards a bipartisan deal might be lost amid several other high-profile legislative battles.”

And Laura Meckler and Jon Hilsenrath reported in today’s Wall Street Journal that, “The White House is planning a big push in the weeks ahead for a comprehensive immigration-law overhaul that would include a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants.”

Meanwhile, Chris Clayton reported on Friday at the DTN Ag Policy Blog that, “Laying down their marker for immigration reform, major farm groups on Friday announced the formation of the Agriculture Workforce Coalition to help steer Congress toward legislation to ensure there is a stable pool of farm workers.

“The groups stated the Agriculture Workforce Coalition would provide a unified voice for agriculture to push for new immigration policies.”

Daniel Looker reported yesterday at Agriculture Online that, “Farm Bureau President Bob Stallman said Sunday that he’s optimistic that some type of immigration reform might be passed in Congress, if it can happen within the next nine months, before the next election cycle begins.

“‘I think the environment is ripe in this nine-month period. It’s riper than it has been for several years, maybe,’ he said.”

Mr. Looker added that, “Farm Bureau is one of eleven groups that recently formed the Agriculture Workforce Coalition to push for reform of guest worker programs that would make them easier for farmers and ranchers to use….[T]he AWC staff has also reached out to the Obama Administration.

“‘They had a meeting at the White House to talk about what we’re doing and to encourage them to move forward,’ Stallman said.”



Alexandra Jaffe reported on Saturday at The Hill Online that, “Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) indicated in the Republican Party’s weekly address that the GOP hopes to maintain full spending for military programs while pursuing cuts to entitlements during the debt-ceiling debate coming up this spring.

“‘The president will soon ask Congress to raise the nation’s debt limit — again. I believe we cannot agree to increase the borrowing limit without addressing our out-of-control spending,’ she said in the address.”

On the other hand, Rosalind S. Helderman reported in Saturday’s Washington Post that, “Democratic leaders in the Senate on Friday urged President Obama to consider bypassing Congress to prevent the nation from defaulting on its spending obligations if lawmakers cannot agree to raise the nation’s $16.4 trillion debt ceiling next month.

“In a joint letter that served as a warning to congressional Republicans, Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) and his leadership team encouraged Obama to ‘take any lawful steps’ to avoid default — ‘without Congressional approval, if necessary.’”

And, Jim Vandehei, Mike Allen and Jake Sherman reported yesterday at Politico that, “‘I think it is possible that we would shut down the government to make sure President Obama understands that we’re serious,’ House Republican Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington state told us. ‘We always talk about whether or not we’re going to kick the can down the road. I think the mood is that we’ve come to the end of the road.’

“Republican leadership officials, in a series of private meetings and conversations this past week, warned that the White House, much less the broader public, doesn’t understand how hard it will be to talk restive conservatives off the fiscal ledge. To the vast majority of House Republicans, it is far riskier long term to pile up new debt than it is to test the market and economic reaction of default or closing down the government.

GOP officials said more than half of their members are prepared to allow default unless Obama agrees to dramatic cuts he has repeatedly said he opposes.”


Agricultural Economy

Gregory Meyer and Jack Farchy reported on Friday at The Financial Times Online that, “Wheat and corn prices rallied sharply after the US government said  that inventories of the grains would be even tighter than previously expected.

“The US Department of Agriculture said the balance of supply and demand in the corn market was ‘historically tight’ and would ‘support continued strong and volatile prices well into summer’”.

The FT article added that, “The USDA’s more bullish outlook could prolong the period of high prices for agricultural staples that was triggered by the country’s devastating drought last summer, keeping concerns about food inflation at the forefront of policy makers’ minds.

“According to the USDA’s forecasts released yesterday, corn inventories in the country will fall to just 602m bushels by the end of the current season – below its previous forecast of 647m bushels and the lowest in 17 years… [D]espite high price levels, the agency said domestic farm animals were consuming more corn and wheat than previously assumed.”

The article also noted that, “A separate report showed farmers seeded 2 per cent less hard red winter wheat, a high-protein variety used for bread. ‘Widespread drought conditions and lack of moisture continue to be a concern,’ the agency said.”

Also on Friday, USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service released its Grain Stocks report which noted that, “Corn stored in all positions on December 1, 2012 totaled 8.03 billion bushels, down 17 percent from December 1, 2011.”

In an interview on Friday with Todd Gleason of University of Illinois Extension, U of I Agricultural Economist Darrel Good discussed all of the USDA reports from Friday, including the stocks report, and provided an overview of the implications of the latest USDA estimates–  audio here (MP3- 11:53).

Meanwhile, Caroline Porter reported in today’s Wall Street Journal that, “Emergency rock blasting on a portion of the Mississippi River and a change in weather is giving the Army Corps of Engineers increasing confidence it can keep the river—a major conduit of bulk materials like grains, fertilizer and fuel oil—open to shippers through spring.

“But the news, while welcomed by shippers and others that rely on the river, offers only temporary relief. The shipping lanes remain historically shallow and a closing could be in the offing if expected rains don’t arrive.”

Also in today’s Wall Street Journal, John W. Miller reported that, “Subfreezing temperatures in parts of California are threatening to damage the state’s $2 billion a year citrus industry and have forced farmers to adopt emergency measures.”



James Politi and Ben Bland reported last week at The Financial Times Online that, “The US launched a trade dispute against Indonesia over import restrictions on a wide range of agricultural products – including fruits, vegetables, plants and meats – arguing that the measures by the southeast Asian nation were damaging US exporters.

Ron Kirk, the US trade representative, said on Thursday that the US was requesting ‘consultations’ with Indonesia at the World Trade Organisation – the first step in a formal legal battle to be handled by the global trade body.”

Keith Good

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