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Farm Bill; Biofuels; and, Immigration

Farm Bill Issues

Erik Wasson reported on Saturday at The Hill’s On the Money Blog that, “The fate of a 2013 farm bill could come down to a key meeting in early February between two dairy policy adversaries: Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Agriculture Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-Minn.).

The two are slated to try to hash out differences on farm policy after the House returns to work on Feb. 4.

“‘We’re going to sit down together so we’ll see,’ Peterson told The Hill this week.”

Mr. Wasson noted that, “This week, [Rep. Peterson] sounded more optimistic that farm reform legislation could get done.

“‘We’ll have a markup in April or May, sometime around then,’ [Rep. Peterson] predicted…[P]eterson said the process would not move forward until the House and Senate resolve differences on budget matters.”

On the budget issue, The Hill article explained that, “This includes figuring out how to replace $85 billion in 2013 sequester cuts to discretionary spending by March 1; avoiding a government shutdown when the stopgap appropriations bill ends on March 27 and figuring out how to raise the debt ceiling again, which looms on May 19.”

(Note that also with respect to the budget, Jonathan Easley reported yesterday at The Hill Online that, “Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) predicted Sunday that ‘the sequester is going to happen,’ and blamed Democrats for not producing an alternative set of spending reductions to circumvent the across-the-board cuts.”  And Lisa Rein penned an article on the front page of today’s Washington Post titled, “Threat of automatic cuts costly to federal agencies.”)

Saturday’s update at The Hill by Erik Wasson also pointed out that, “The Boehner-Peterson meeting is key because on top of that Boehner has long been against U.S. dairy programs. Last year he described them as ‘Soviet’” [related audio clip, Speaker Boehner from July 12, 2012].

“In contrast, for Peterson, the new dairy program in the 2012 farm bill is essential.”

Gannett writer Larry Bivins reported on Friday that, “While Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has placed the farm bill near the top of his to-do list for the Democratic-controlled Senate, there has been no such commitment from House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va.

“House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., told reporters recently the committee had no timetable for working on a new bill.”

Mr. Bivins noted that, “[Rep.] Peterson is the author of a provision in the House bill that overhauls the dairy support programs…[T]he program would have saved taxpayers $140 million over five years, [Jerry Kozak, president of the National Milk Producers Federation] said, yet you had some conservative Republicans criticize it, including Speaker Boehner who called it a ‘Soviet-style’ program.”

(More specifically on dairy issues, note that Ray Scherer reported on Saturday at the St. Joseph News-Press (Mo.) Online that, “Leroy Shatto, of Shatto Dairy near Osborn [Mo.], realizes he’s in the same straits as other operators in terms of high feed costs linked to the drought…[A]ny hope for profits can be quickly diminished by feed costs, Mr. Shatto said. Procuring scarce grass hay at reasonable prices this year will be a tough proposition, given the drought.”   Also, Brownfield reporter Tom Steever filed a report Friday featuring perspective on volatility in the dairy sector from University of Missouri Agriculture economist Scott Brown.  Additionally, see “Feed costs, weather will drive dairy profits in 2013, says MU economist at dairy expo,” from the University of Missouri Extension on Friday).

In an interview last week with KASU radio (Jonesboro, Ark.), Rep. Rick Crawford (R., Ark.), the new House Agriculture Subcommittee Chairman for Livestock, Rural Development, and Credit, noted that, “I do expect though that we’ll probably see another House version [of the Farm Bill] that is very similar to what we turned out last year” (audio clip (MP3- 1:17) from the KASU interview).

And a news release late last week from House Ag. Comm. Member Martha Roby (R., Ala.) indicated that, “A bill filed this week by [Rep. Roby] would allow more farmland to be used for production rather than lay dormant in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Conservation Reserve Program (CRP).

“The Preserving Marginal Lands and Protecting Farming Act, H.R. 349, reforms the CRP by restricting the increasingly-frequent practice of paying landowners to let fertile cropland go unplanted for years.”

Meanwhile, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported last week that, “During a conference call with reporters, [Sen. Sherrod Brown (D., Ohio)] proposed that Congress also forgo pay if it cannot pass a farm bill, for instance. The Senate passed a farm bill last year that included Brown’s proposals for overhauling a crop-subsidy system that he says wastes billions. The Senate bill also included a five-year authorization for food stamps. The House, however, did not pass a farm bill, so agriculture policies continue under prior law — wasting a fortune, Brown says.

In other news, Chris Clayton reported on Friday at the DTN Ag Policy Blog that, “Three U.S. senators on Friday announced another attempt to get agricultural disaster assistance to producers for 2012 and 2013 facing losses in livestock and specialty crops.

“One of the more questionable decisions in the nine-month extension approved by Congress was failure to extend disaster programs that had expired while protecting the $5 billion direct payment program for grain farmers. Thus, there is no disaster aid program right now for livestock producers who have suffered through multiple years of drought in some areas.

“Sens. Max Baucus, D-Mont., Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and Ag Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., introduced legislation seeking to extend some disaster programs.”

Note this related item providing background on the disaster bill from Sen. Baucus that was included in Thursday’s Congressional Record.

Mr. Clayton added that, “Those programs would include the Livestock Indemnity Program, the Livestock Forage Program, Emergency Livestock Assistance program, Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program and Tree Assistance Program. These programs collectively cost about $763 million during FY 2012, according to USDA budget numbers.

“Yet, if lawmakers couldn’t get aid for livestock producers passed in a larger tax bill that extended farm programs, it’s even more unlikely senators could get the disaster-aid programs approved in a stand-alone bill.”

Christopher Doering reported on Friday at The Des Moines Register Online that, “The U.S. Agriculture Department took steps to strip fraud from its popular food stamp program by imposing sanctions and disqualifying more than 2,000 stores last year, including four in Iowa.

“The USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service said it imposed sanctions, through fines or temporary disqualifications, on 692 stores found violating program rules for food stamps, now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

“An additional 1,387 stores were permanently disqualified for improper activities such as exchanging SNAP benefits for cash or falsifying an application.”

Additionally, Chico Harlan reported in yesterday’s Washington Post that, “In Japan, school lunch means a regular meal, not one that harms your health. The food is grown locally and almost never frozen. There’s no mystery in front of the meat. From time to time, parents even call up with an unusual question: Can they get the recipes?

“‘Parents hear their kids talking about what they had for lunch,’ said Tatsuji Shino, the principal at Umejima Elementary School in Tokyo, ‘and kids ask them to re-create the meals at home.’

“Japan takes seriously both its food and its health and, as a result, its school lunches are a point of national pride — not a source of dismay. As other countries, including the United States, struggle to design school meals that are healthy, tasty and affordable, Japan has all but solved the puzzle, using a system that officials here describe as utterly common sense.”

Meanwhile, an article Friday by DTN Ag Policy Editor Chris Clayton (link requires subscription), which featured an interview with Virginia Tech University professor emeritus David Kohl, indicated in part that, “Kohl cautioned about the prospects of making dramatic cuts in crop insurance, though there will be groups and lawmakers making such an argument.

“‘We have to be very, very concerned because that has been integral in maintaining stability in our production and stability in the agricultural structure,’ he said.”

In an interview on the AgriTalk radio show on Friday, program producer John Herath asked National Crop Insurance Services President Tom Zacharias about criticism of the crop insurance program and sought his perspective on program policy going forward.  A related audio clip from Friday’s AgriTalk program discussion with John Herath and Dr. Zacharias can be heard here (MP3- 1:11).

And Friday’s Agriculture Today radio program (Red River Farm Network) featured a segment by Mike Hergert that included perspective on the crop insurance program from National Association of Wheat Growers president Eric Younggren.  Mr. Youngren is “hopeful crop insurance will remain intact with the new makeup of the Senate Ag Committee.”  An audio clip from Friday’s Agriculture Today program from the Red River Farm Network can be heard here (MP3- 1:04).

In a statement released Friday, Senator Saxby Chambliss (R., Ga.) indicated that, “After much contemplation and reflection, I have decided not to run for re-election to the Senate in 2014.”

Alan Mauldin reported on Friday at The Moultrie Observer (Ga.) Online that, “For up and coming politicians, the retirement of veteran U.S. Saxby Chambliss spells opportunity, but for farmers it could mean the loss of a key voice in agricultural legislation.”

The article noted that, “The impact of Chambliss’ departure could be felt most among the farming and rural communities that Chambliss served particularly well, said Hayden Willis, a Moultrie attorney who chairs the Colquitt County Republican Party and at one time worked for Chambliss in Washington.

“‘You had somebody who could stand up for agriculture,’ Willis said. ‘He knew agriculture inside and out. I think that’s going to be the biggest loss. Because of his rural roots he worked for all of Georgia’s rural communities.’

The loss will be devastating both in terms of Chambliss’ leadership on farm legislation and his work to address the nation’s debt, Leary farmer Jimmy Webb said.”

Also, Jennifer Jacobs reported in yesterday’s Des Moines Register that, “Tom Harkin, Iowa’s liberal lion and a powerhouse in the U.S. Senate, revealed on Saturday that he won’t seek re-election — a bombshell that surprised political insiders and has the potential to shake up Iowa politics on all levels.”

Christopher Doering, writing on Saturday at The Des Moines Register Online, reported that, “With Tom Harkin’s decision to resign next year, Iowa farmers have lost a major advocate on Capitol Hill.

“During his nearly 40 years in Washington, Harkin was a key player shaping traditional farm policy and fostering the agriculture sector’s future in renewable energy.”

The article noted that, “From 2001 to 2003 and again from 2007 to 2009, the Democrat chaired the Senate Agriculture Committee, a prominent assignment for an Iowa lawmaker representing a state where agriculture is the top industry.

Since becoming a member of Congress, Harkin is a veteran of eight farm bills, including two — 2002 and 2008 — that were passed while he was leading the agriculture committee.”

And, Kathie Obradovich noted in yesterday’s Register that, “Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Waterloo, seems to be first in a long line of potential Senate candidates for the Democrats, unless former Gov. Tom Vilsack should seek the position. Vilsack, now U.S. agriculture secretary, has long preferred executive jobs and I doubt he longs to become one of 100.

“Congressmen Steve King and Tom Latham are the top names on the GOP side. Both have just been re-elected to new or redrawn districts that have given them wider exposure in western and central Iowa.”



Matthew L. Wald reported in Saturday’s New York Times that, “A federal appeals court threw out a federal rule on renewable fuels on Friday, saying that a quota set by the Environmental Protection Agency for incorporating liquids made from woody crops and wastes into car and truck fuels was based on wishful thinking rather than realistic estimates of what could be achieved.

“The ruling by the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia involved a case brought by the American Petroleum Institute, whose members were bound by the 2012 cellulosic biofuels quota being challenged.”

AP writer Mary Clare Jalonick reported on Friday that, “A federal appeals court has ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency is overestimating the amount of fuel that can be produced from grasses, wood and other nonfood plants in an effort to promote a fledgling biofuels industry.

“At issue is a 2007 renewable fuels law that requires a certain amount of those types of fuels, called cellulosic biofuels, to be mixed in with gasoline each year. Despite annual EPA projections that the industry would produce small amounts of the biofuels, none of that production materialized.”

Zack Colman reported on Saturday at The Hill’s Energy Blog that, “Biofuels groups are downplaying a Friday federal court decision that some believe could cut off investments in advanced green fuels.”



Rosalind S. Helderman and Sean Sullivan reported in today’s Washington Post that, “A key group of senators from both parties will unveil on Monday the framework of a broad overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws, including a pathway to citizenship for more than 11 million illegal immigrants.

“The detailed, four-page statement of principles will carry the signatures of four Republicans and four Democrats, a bipartisan push that would have been unimaginable just months ago on one of the country’s most emotionally divisive issues.

The document is intended to provide guideposts that would allow legislation to be drafted by the end of March, including a potentially controversial ‘tough but fair’ route to citizenship for those now living in the country illegally.”

The Post writers added that, “The framework identifies two groups as deserving of special consideration for a separate and potentially speedier pathway to full citizenship: young people who were brought to the country illegally as minors and agricultural workers whose labor, often at subsistence wages, has long been critical to the nation’s food supply.”

Today’s Post article also noted that, “Although advocates have long assumed that legislative action would probably begin in the Democratic-held Senate, House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said last week that members are working on the issue on a bipartisan basis in his chamber as well. It is ‘time to deal’ with immigration, he declared.”

Laura Meckler reported in today’s Wall Street Journal that, “The unveiling comes before President Barack Obama plans to set out his own, similar principles in a speech Tuesday in Las Vegas. Mr. Obama repeatedly has said revamping the immigration system is one of his top priorities, while Republicans—smarting from the overwhelming Hispanic support of Mr. Obama in November’s election—also have identified the issue as of major importance.

Still, the Senate proposal could face stiff opposition in the Republican-controlled House. Many Republicans oppose any path to legal status for illegal immigrants, viewing it as a reward for lawbreaking. Other Republicans have signaled they are comfortable with a legal status short of citizenship, but immigration advocates view that as an unacceptable second-class status.”

The Journal article added that, “Those brought to the U.S. as children or agricultural workers would face a quicker path to citizenship.”

And, Julia Preston reported in today’s New York Times that, “Lawmakers said they were optimistic that the political mood had changed since a similar effort collapsed in acrimony in 2010. Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona and one of the negotiators, said he saw ‘a new appreciation’ among Republicans of the need for an overhaul.”

Keith Good