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Farm Bill; Regulations, Trade- Ag Economy; and, Immigration

Farm Bill

A news release Friday from University of Missouri Extension indicated that, “Although Congress extended the farm bill until Sept. 30, 2013, the director of the Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute at the University of Missouri says several factors may cause Congress to revisit the legislation sooner rather than later.

“‘There’s a very good chance there could be changes in this legislation long before we get to September,’ Pat Westhoff said. ‘Not because we’ll necessarily pass a new five-year farm bill right away, but because upcoming negotiations on fiscal issues may cause us to make further cuts in programs to try to meet budgetary targets. That can mean changes in farm bill provisions even for the crop we harvest this fall.’

“Westhoff says that agricultural programs may be cut as part of three related budget debates that will occur over the next several weeks.”

Yesterday’s update also pointed out that, “Westhoff says many things could happen in the next several months that might affect farm program spending.

“‘In addition to the across-the-board sequestration, there are also annual appropriation bills that have to be passed in the next couple of months, and there is also the debt limit,’ he said. Both of those debates could also lead to proposals to cut farm program spending as part of broader efforts to limit government spending.

“‘I think a lot of people have assumed that we’ve got our farm bill in place for 2013, and it’s true as long as Congress doesn’t pass any new legislation,’ Westhoff said. ‘I think it would be a mistake to assume these things are written in stone. Some in Congress may want to come back and at least reexamine if not actually make changes in the bill they approved a month ago.’”

Meanwhile, Rep. John Shimkus (R., Il.) was a guest on WDWS radio (Champaign, Il.) yesterday (full interview) where he was asked about the Farm Bill.  During his remarks, Rep. Shimkus highlighted the SNAP program (food stamps) and indicated that the program was “an abused system” in need of reform –related audio clip here (MP3- 1:46).

In other nutrition related news, AP writer Ivan Moreno reported late last week that, “Breakfast at the desk isn’t just for grown-ups anymore. Colorado lawmakers are considering a bill to encourage more schools to serve the most important meal right in the classroom if necessary.”

The AP article explained that, “The legislation would require schools that have 70 percent of more students who qualify for free or reduced lunch to serve breakfast after the first bell of the day. Schools, from kindergarten to 12th grade, would have a choice on how and where to serve the meal.”

And, Nebraska GOP Senator Mike Johanns appeared yesterday on the AgriTalk rado program with Mike Adams where a portion of the discussion focused on the Farm Bill.  In part, Sen. Johanns noted that, “You know I think it [the Farm Bill] will kick out of the Senate pretty quickly, and when I say that, maybe February, March time-frame…”- related audio clip here (MP3- 1:15).



Ben Goad reported yesterday at The Hill’s RegWatch Blog that, “President Obama has begun to wield the power of the executive to press forward with a second-term agenda that delights the left and terrifies the right…[L]awmakers, lobbyists and policy groups say they are expecting a deluge of new rules from agencies across the federal government.”

Yesterday’s update added that, “Advocacy groups and liberal lawmakers are drawing up wish lists of new regulations that would cover everything from air pollution to vehicle safety to labor protections. And that doesn’t include a torrent of forthcoming rules required by the healthcare law and the Dodd-Frank financial reform act.”


Trade- Agricultural Economy

AP writer Josh Funk reported yesterday that, “Ranchers welcomed Japan’s decision Monday to ease restrictions on U.S. beef imports, saying it will provide a boost to the American meat industry but cautioning that it will take time before exports to Japan reach their levels of a decade ago.”

Peter Schroeder reported yesterday at The Hill’s On the Money Blog that, “Under the new compromise, American exporters will be able to ship to Japan beef from cattle that are less than 30 months old. Previously, Japan would only accept U.S. beef from cattle ages 20 months and younger. Administration officials hailed the change as a boon to U.S. cattle ranchers.

“Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) praised the decision as a win for his home state, while noting that it came after he brought up the issue with Japan’s prime minister during a trade mission last summer.”

Sen. Pat Roberts (R., Kan.), Sen. Mike Johanns (R., Neb.) and Rep. Adrian Smith (R., Neb.) all welcomed the beef trade development yesterday, while Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.) indicated that, “I applaud the administration for working closely with our trade partners in Japan to address barriers on U.S. beef exports and pave the way for creating new agricultural jobs here at home,” Chairwoman Stabenow said. “We produce the world’s safest and highest quality beef and countries like Japan represent significant export opportunities, bolstering the brand of American agriculture around the world. Today’s announcement represents a major and promising step forward.”

And a news update yesterday from the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association noted that, “This is great news for cattlemen and women and is a significant milestone in our trading relationship with Japan,” said NCBA President J.D. Alexander. “Japan is a great market for U.S. beef and we look forward to continuing to meet Japanese consumer demands. This move is an important step forward in paving the way toward greater export opportunities to one of our largest export markets.”

Stephanie Strom and Hiroko Tabuchi reported in today’s New York Times that, “Reflecting diminishing fears over mad cow disease, Japan eased its decade-old restriction on imports of American beef on Monday, but industry experts said beef producers faced many more challenges to reverse a prolonged slump that has pared the nation’s herd to its lowest level in 60 years and sent prices soaring…Aside from the reduction in exports, ranchers have also been grappling over the last half-dozen years or so with rising feed prices as ethanol producers drove up the price of corn, and with drought that has parched grazing land and deprived their animals of water. The recession and changing consumer tastes contributed to the woes. While the industry has had boom and bust cycles lasting on average four to five years, the current decline is firmly entrenched.”

Andre Gallant reported on Saturday at the Athens (Ga.) Banner-Herald Online that, “Poultry, pork and especially beef consumption has peaked in the U.S., so if Georgia’s producers want to expand business, they must increasingly turn to the global marketplace.

“Production of those commodities has trailed off domestically due to slowing demand and higher input prices, said USA Poultry and Egg Export Council president Jim Sumner. But global consumption of pork and chicken continues to climb.”

The article pointed out that, “If the Great Plains can fend off another year of drought, UGA Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development Director Kent Wolfe said, feed grain prices should drop and translate into greater profits for Georgia producers.”

John Magsam reported on Friday at the Arkansas Democrat Gazette Online (“Post-drought dairy herds shrink again Arkansas milk production down 12%”) that, “Dairies in Arkansas continued to downsize their herds in the fourth quarter and the state’s milk production continued to decline after a severe drought struck the state and most of the U.S. in 2012.

“The Arkansas Dairy Stabilization Program, which made subsidy payments to farmers based on milk prices and production, also expired in June, adding pressure on dairy operations.”

Mr. Magsam noted that, “Floyd Wiedower, general manager of the Arkansas Dairy Co-op Association based in Damascus, said Thursday that ongoing drought conditions is the primary challenge facing the fewer than 50 dairy farms in Arkansas that are part of the organization.”

Meanwhile, a news release late last seek from University of Missouri Extension stated that, “Cattle prices are expected to set new records in 2013 while hog prices are expected to have their second highest year ever. High feed costs have led to lower numbers of animals, which University of Missouri Extension agricultural economist Ron Plain says is why meat prices will be going up.

“‘The U.S. meat supply per capita has been steadily declining,’ Plain said during the 2013 MU Extension Winter AgMarketing Outlook Conference. ‘It’s expected that 2013 will be the seventh consecutive year with less meat per person, down 22 pounds from 2006 and the lowest per capita supply since 1991.’”

And University of Illinois Agricultural Economist Darrel Good provided a look at several variables associated with U.S. corn consumption (“Update on Corn Consumption”) in a brief update that was posted yesterday at the farmdoc daily blog.

In other trade news, Jack Ewing reported earlier this week at The New York Times Online that, “President Barack Obama is committed to reaching an agreement to smooth trade with the European Union, the United States’ top negotiator has said, but only if it is constructed in a way that would overcome objections from farm groups and that could win congressional approval…‘We greatly value the trans-Atlantic relationship,’ [U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk] said at a hotel in Davos. ‘We have devoted an extraordinary amount of time’ to a possible trade agreement, he said. But the administration wants to make sure objections from farmers and other constituencies are addressed first, he said. Otherwise, officials might spend years negotiating an agreement only for Congress to reject it.”

The article added that, “But Mr. Kirk noted that members of Congress with farmers as constituents far outnumbered those whose districts included big companies like Boeing or Apple that would benefit from a trade deal. ‘Agriculture tends to be a challenging issue,’ he said.

“That is partly because American farmers are already on the lighter side of the trade scale. The European Union exports far more farm products to the United States than vice versa: 14.6 billion euros, or $19.7 billion, versus 8.2 billion euros, according to E.U. figures for 2011, the most recent available.”

Also with respect to the global agricultural economy, Brad Plumer reported on Saturday at the Wonk Blog (Washington Post) that, “The world’s population is soaring past 7 billion. Food prices keep spiking every few years. Freshwater supplies in plenty of areas are dwindling.

“And so, in response, a slew of countries and investors — from Chinese state corporations to Gulf sheiks to Wall Street firms — have started buying up farmland overseas, in an apparent attempt to acquire as much precious soil and water as possible. This phenomenon is known as ‘land grabbing,’ and it has been accelerating ever since the massive surge in grain prices back in 2007.

“So how much land and water is actually being grabbed? Quite a lot, according to a big new study published in the ‘Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences’ this week. The authors find that somewhere between 0.7 percent and 1.75 percent of the world’s agricultural land is being transferred to foreign investors from local landholders. That’s an area bigger than France and Germany combined.”

And, Nicholas Bakalar noted this week at the Well Blog (New York Times) that, “Egg yolks are high in cholesterol, but a new analysis adds to the evidence that they are not the dietary sin we once thought they were. The review suggests that for most people, eating one egg a day is not bad for the heart.”



Rosalind S. Helderman and William Branigin reported in today’s Washington Post that, “A bipartisan group of senators outlined a far-reaching proposal Monday to overhaul the nation’s immigration laws, saying that the time has come to fix ‘our broken immigration system.’

“At a joint news conference, five of the eight senators who signed on to a detailed statement of principles to guide the effort portrayed it as a way to resolve the plight of millions of undocumented immigrants living illegally in society’s shadows and to modernize and streamline the legal immigration system.”

The Post article noted that, “The White House embraced the immigration proposal Monday but stopped short of pledging President Obama’s signature, noting that legislation on the issue has yet to be drafted.”

“The group outlined the key balance in its proposed framework: Legalization would be afforded almost immediately to the nation’s 11 million undocumented immigrants, provided they pay back taxes and a fine. But the opportunity to pursue full citizenship would not become available until the border was secured and new systems were in place for employers to verify workers’ immigration status and for the government to ensure that legal immigrants cannot overstay their visas,” today’s article said.

Janet Hook, Kristina Peterson and Laura Meckler reported in today’s Wall Street Journal that, “House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) gave a measured welcome to the senators’ framework, even though it offers a path to citizenship for many of the nation’s 11 million illegal immigrants—something conservatives have long opposed…[A] bipartisan House group is also on track to release a plan within the next couple of weeks. Still, opposition is expected there, with many in the GOP saying citizenship would amount to amnesty for lawbreakers.”

The Journal article added that, “The agriculture sector has lobbied for an immigration overhaul amid worker shortages. The principles ‘include a recognition of agriculture’s unique workforce needs and the necessity of developing a new agriculture-worker program,’ said a statement from Western Growers, a California-based association that represents produce growers. More than 1.4 million people are employed as field workers in the U.S. each year, and the Labor Department estimates more than half are in the U.S. illegally. Grower groups say that number exceeds 75%.”

Ricardo Lopez reported last night at the Los Angeles Times Online that, “After a group of bipartisan senators unveiled a plan to grant legal status to an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the U.S., California farmers lauded Monday’s announcement, saying it would help farmers more easily hire farmhands.”

An update yesterday from United Fresh indicated that, “United Fresh applauds the framework for comprehensive immigration reform put forward today by a bipartisan group of eight senators. The Agriculture Workforce Coalition (AWC), of which United is a founding member, has made an impact on the discussion as a broad, unifying agriculture coalition.

“‘This bipartisan initiative addresses a top priority and longstanding challenge for fresh produce industry employers,’ said Tom Stenzel, United Fresh president & CEO. ‘We’re encouraged these senators have taken the lead and we look forward to further developing these principals into effective legislation.’”

A separate statement from the AWC yesterday noted in part that, “The principles put forward today by a bipartisan group of eight Senators serves as an important first step as Congress begins the task of crafting legislation to address the issue of immigration. Each of these eight Senators should be commended for the leadership and thoughtfulness shown in moving to address this issue, one of particular importance to agriculture.

“The [AWC] is heartened that the group’s principles recognize the unique labor needs of production agriculture and the vital role that immigrant farm workers play in feeding all Americans. Quite simply, American agriculture as we know it would not be possible without the contributions of more than 1.5 million hired workers each year. As such, the Senate principles reflect a major step in the right direction.”

An update yesterday from the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives (NCFC), which is a member of the AWC indicated that, “‘What is notable in their proposal,’ [NCFC President Chuck Conner] continued, ‘is their recognition of two of the principles that have driven the AWC’s effortsfirst, that the current, experienced farm workers who may lack legal status need to be given a chance at adjusting their status; and second, that agricultural employers need to have access to a program to provide a skilled workforce as current employees move on to other sectors.’

“The AWC has developed principles that provide a framework program that can help meet both the current and future employment needs of agriculture. It moves beyond the shortcomings of current programs like H-2A, which in the last few years has become broken beyond repair. The proposal includes both an adjustment in status for current agricultural employees who lack documentation and a new, flexible market-based visa program to ensure that farmers will be able to find new skilled employees as current workers move on to new employment opportunities.”

And an update yesterday from AGree noted in part that, “AGree commends the Senators’ recognition of the agricultural industry’s need to have a stable, legal workforce by taking special consideration of the unique circumstances and needs within this sector.”

Note that Rick Barrett reported earlier this week at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Online that, “The dairy industry says it will push hard this year for immigration law reform that would allow foreign workers to be employed on farms year-round and could give them a pathway to permanent jobs in whatever industries they choose…A coalition of farm groups, including the National Milk Producers Federation, says the changes are a top legislative priority.”

Also, David Nakamura and Rosalind S. Helderman reported in today’s Washington Post that, “The Obama administration has developed its own proposals for immigration reform that are more liberal than a separate bipartisan effort in the Senate, including a quicker path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, people with knowledge of the proposals said.

President Obama is expected to provide some details of the White House plans during a Tuesday appearance in Las Vegas, where he will call for broad changes to the nation’s immigration laws. The speech will kick off a public push by the administration in support of the broadest overhaul of immigration law in nearly three decades.”

Keith Good