Budget- Farm Bill, Policy Issues
Damian Paletta reported in today’s Wall Street Journal that, “Federal workers are expected to begin taking unpaid leave by late March or early April if the government absorbs $85 billion in spending cuts set to start March 1, according to estimates from different agencies.
“Even though the process begins March 1, many federal agencies must notify employees 30 days before beginning furloughs. That means the eventual impact of the cuts at many agencies could be slow-moving and give Congress and the White House more time to negotiate an alternative to the cuts—something both sides say they favor.”
The Journal article pointed out that, “Also causing consternation is a dispute about whether federal agencies have more flexibility than they claim to redirect the effects of the cuts.
“Federal law requires U.S. meat and poultry inspectors to be on site when plants are operating. The American Meat Institute, a group that represents the majority of the meat and poultry industry, has recently pleaded with the U.S. Department of Agriculture not to furlough inspectors at meat plants, worried that the plants would be temporarily shut down and production would halt. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a letter to the organization last week that such furloughs would be a ‘last option’ but ultimately unavoidable.
“USDA has said that to account for a $51 million cut in its food-safety branch, it plans to furlough meat inspectors for 15 days at more than 6,000 meat-production facilities in the U.S.”
A news release yesterday from Representative K. Michael Conaway (R-Texas), chairman of the House Agriculture Subcommittee on General Farm Commodities and Risk Management, stated that, “[Rep. Conaway] has asked Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack for answers on how the U.S. Agriculture Department plans to implement its sequester cuts.
“The agency announced a few weeks ago that it may furlough USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service meat inspectors if sequestration goes into effect March 1. As the secretary has not made public how the agency will continue to comply with the Federal Meat Inspection Act and the Poultry Production Inspection Act’s requirements to inspect meat, Rep. Conaway asked for a thorough analysis.
“‘I am concerned that your plan to furlough FSIS inspectors is impractical and misguided, as it could prevent FSIS from meeting its responsibilities to packers, processors and consumers…This industry and American consumers depend on the services provided by FSIS inspectors to ensure a safe and healthy food supply,’ Rep. Conaway wrote in a letter to Secretary Vilsack today.”
More broadly on the sequester issue, Pete Kasperowicz reported yesterday at The Hill’s Floor Action Blog that, “House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) told a Michigan radio station Tuesday that he doesn’t see any viable way around the $85 billion budget cut, known as the sequester, that is due to take place March 1.”
And Jonathan Weisman reported in today’s New York Times that, “House Republicans, shrugging off rising pressure from President Obama, are resolutely opposing new tax increases to head off $85 billion in across-the-board spending reductions, all but ensuring the cuts will go into force March 1 and probably remain in place for months, if not longer.”
Echoing this observation, Hill writer Alexander Bolton reported yesterday that, “Republicans have decided that the sequester scheduled for March 1 — not a government-funding bill due at the end of March — is where they’ll make their stand on spending cuts…‘Republicans are not going to take a stand on a government shutdown. We’re not going to take a stand on the debt ceiling. We’re going to take a stand on the sequester,’ said a Republican senator, who requested anonymity to discuss his party’s strategy.”
In Farm Bill news, Agweek writer Mikkel Pates reported yesterday that, “North Dakota’s congressional delegation members say they’ll work to run a new, five-year farm bill up the congressional flagpole again in the next few months. All offer optimism the bill can pass this year.
“Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., at the Fargo Holiday Inn, on Feb. 20, led an ag issues roundtable discussion that included colleagues Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., and Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D. About 20 leaders from most commodity and farm groups in the state attended the meeting, which is the first of its type since Heitkamp and Cramer have been elected to their posts.”
Mr. Pates noted that, “Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., has talked about taking a bill to a committee bill mark-up in March.
“Hoeven says he’ll likely be a part of that, adding provisions to disconnect crop insurance from conservation compliance and to keep a counter-cyclical program in the bill to keep southern senators on board.”
The Agweek article added that, “Hoeven says he’ll support legislation that would ‘make sure the administration has the flexibility’ to selectively make cuts, instead of sequestration, so that meat inspectors don’t have to be furloughed. He says he thinks the administration already has the authority to make meat inspectors essential employees that can’t be cut, but he wants that to be clear. He adds Republicans can’t push that through the Senate without administration and Democrats agree to do it.
“Heitkamp says farmers should be wary of giving that flexibility to the administration because an administration might cut something farmers find vital.”
Mike Hergert and Don Wick included a report on the North Dakota Farm Bill roundtable on yesterday’s Agriculture Today radio program (Red River Farm Network); to listen to a portion of the audio segment from yesterday’s program, just click here (MP3- 1:52). In addition to the Farm Bill, the report also includes a look at sequestration issues that were noted at the roundtable meeting.
In other policy developments, DTN Ag Policy Editor Chris Clayton reported yesterday (link requires subscription) that, “More than nine years after the first cow with bovine spongiform encephalopathy was found in the U.S., a scientific commission for the World Organization for Animal Health has recommended upgrading the U.S. risk status to ‘negligible risk,’ meaning there is less threat of the disease spreading among the domestic cattle herd.
“USDA announced the recommendation Wednesday by the World Organization for Animal Health, which is typically known by its French acronym OIE.”
Mr. Clayton explained that, “Countries generally apply for upgraded risk status late in the year and the science commission reviews the applications. The OIE general assembly will vote on the recommendation in the spring.”
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D., Mont.) noted yesterday that, “The scientists at the World Organization for Animal Health are confirming what we already know – U.S. beef is as safe as any in the world. As we work to strengthen our trade ties in Europe and across the Pacific, our partners must accept the science and drop unjustified barriers to our beef exports. Every bit of market access we gain overseas means more exports for our ranchers and more jobs here at home.”
National Cattlemen’s Beef Association President-Elect Bob McCan, a cattleman from Victoria, Texas, stated yesterday that, “This announcement by OIE’s Scientific Commission is great news for U.S. cattle producers. The U.S. beef industry has worked with government officials and scientists to implement multiple interlocking safeguards to prevent BSE from taking hold in our country.”
And American Meat Institute President J. Patrick Boyle stated yesterday that, “We are extremely pleased that OIE has moved forward to reaffirm the health of our U.S. cattle herd and the safety of our beef supply. This decision is a testament to the two decades of industry, government and scientific community collaboration to protect our cattle and produce safe, wholesome beef products for consumers worldwide. It’s a proud day for all us.”
And, on a separate policy issue, a news release yesterday from Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) indicated that, [Sen. Inhofe] and five Senators today sent a letter to the Director of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Daniel Ashe requesting a 60-day extension of the comment solicitation period and a six-month extension of any final decisions on the proposal by the Fish & Wildlife Service to list the Lesser Prairie Chicken as a threatened species. Senators on the letter include Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), and Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.).”
Meanwhile, Dan Saltzstein reported in yesterday’s New York Times that, “Locally grown. Market-sourced. Farm to table: These phrases have become the mantras of the American menu, promising ingredients that are supremely fresh, in season and produced within a tight radius of the restaurant.
“But what can they possibly mean in the dead of winter, in northerly climes where farms are battened down and the earth is as hard as a raw cabbage?”
The Times article noted that, “At Rouge Tomate, an Upper East Side shrine to fresh local produce, the executive chef, Jeremy Bearman, admits to using the occasional nonlocal winter ingredient, particularly tropical fruits (bananas, mangoes, pineapples) in desserts. ‘I don’t think you can be one of those restaurants here in the Northeast saying, only things from 50 miles away,’ he said.”
Agricultural Economy- Trade- Biofuels
A recent update at NOAA Online stated that, “Given current drought conditions, coupled with predictions for continued drought in 2013, the NOAA-led National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS) is co-sponsoring with the National Drought Mitigation Center, a National Drought Early Warning Outlook, on Thursday, February 21 on Capitol Hill.”
Also, University of Illinois Agricultural Economist Gary Schnitkey noted yesterday at the farmdoc daily blog (“Locating the 2012 Drought Using State Corn Yields”) that, “An examination of 2012 corn yields relative to trend yields provides evidence of where the drought had its worst impacts. For corn, the lowest state yields occurred in Kentucky, Missouri, Indiana, and Illinois. Most states in the southeast had above trend yields. Minnesota and North Dakota had yields close to trend” [related graph].
Also yesterday, the National Agricultural Statistics Service (USDA) released its Milk Production report, which stated in part that, “The annual production of milk for the United States during 2012 was 200 billion pounds, 2.1 percent above 2011.”
With respect to trade issues, a news release yesterday from Sen. Rob Portman (R., Ohio) stated that, “Today, [Senators Portman] and Bill Nelson (D-FL) led a bipartisan group of Senators in sending a letter to President Obama welcoming his announcement that the United States will pursue a Transatlantic agreement with the European Union (EU) and urging him ‘to seek the elimination of unnecessary trade and regulatory barriers in all sectors, including difficult areas like agriculture and services.’”
The New York Times editorial board noted today that, “Unlike other trade deals between the United States and countries like South Korea and Colombia, the trans-Atlantic deal would not primarily be about reducing tariffs, which average only about 4 percent between America and the 27-nation union. Instead, it would need to focus on the regulatory differences that limit trade between the continents — and fashion mutually acceptable regulations on matters from car emissions to food safety.
“And that’s where the biggest challenges and frictions lie. Europe, for instance, has taken a strong stand against genetically modified crops and has restricted American food exports to the continent.”
The Times noted that, “Some of these strains were showing shortly after Mr. Obama backed the trade deal in his State of the Union speech. The president of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, said that restrictions on genetically modified crops would not be part of the negotiations, though President Obama’s trade representative, Ron Kirk, said all issues, including thorny agricultural matters, would be on the table.
“The Obama administration believes that a deal on agriculture could be achieved without changing European or American laws if, for instance, the two sides agree to accept each other’s food-safety regulations.”
In news regarding biofuels, Megan R. Wilson reported yesterday at The Hill’s RegWatch Blog that, “The Obama administration is setting renewable fuel standards for 2013 and putting in place new methods to reduce fraud.
“The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a public meeting to be held in Ann Arbor, Mich., on March 8, to discuss a proposed rule to set guidelines for the annual quotas and other standards to be required for renewable fuels in 2013. It has also extended the comment period for the proposal until April 7.”
The article added that, “In another rule, the EPA aims to reduce abuse of the Renewable Identification Numbers (RIN) that petroleum refiners and importers use to prove they are complying with volume quotas for biofuels.
“The 290-page document lays out a pilot program for quality assurance and audits of the RIN numbers by third parties, among other proposals to ensure that companies are using them properly. The program would be voluntary.”
An update earlier this week at the Minneapolis Star Tribune Online noted that, “U.S. ethanol producers on Tuesday criticized the European Union for imposing a five-year tariff that will drive up the price of American ethanol sold in Europe by about 10 percent, or 25 cents per gallon.
“The duty, imposed after an investigation of alleged dumping, will benefit German, French, British and other E.U. renewable energy producers but threatens to raise transatlantic trade tensions.”
Regulatory Issues- EPA
A news release yesterday from the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) stated that, “Early this week the [NCBA] was notified by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that the agency had been collecting information from states on Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs). This information was requested by extremist groups, including Earth Justice, the Pew Charitable Trust and the Natural Resources Defense Council through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request and granted to them.
“‘When we reviewed the information submitted by the states and released by EPA, we were alarmed at the detail of the information provided on hard-working family farmers and ranchers, family operations including my own,’ said NCBA Past President J.D. Alexander, a cattle feeder from Pilger, Neb. ‘It is beyond comprehension to me that with threats to my family from harassment atop bio-security concerns, that EPA would gather this information only to release it to these groups. This information details my family’s home address and geographic coordinates; the only thing it doesn’t do is chauffeur these extremists to my house. For some operations, even telephone numbers and deceased relatives are listed.’”
And the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) noted yesterday that, “The [NPPC] is extremely troubled by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s release earlier this month to several activist groups of personal information on U.S. hog farmers and on other livestock and poultry farmers and, possibly, business-confidential data on their farms.”
Meanwhile, Ben Geman reported yesterday at The Hill’s Energy Blog that, “President Obama is strongly leaning toward nominating Gina McCarthy as the next administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, according to sources tracking the process and published reports.”
George Skelton noted yesterday at the Los Angeles Times Online that, “Except for illegal immigrants, no group has more at stake in the national fight over immigration reform than California farmers.
“‘It doesn’t pay to plant a product if you can’t harvest it,’ notes Mark Teixeira of Santa Maria, who says he had to let 22 acres of vegetables rot last year because he couldn’t find enough field hands to gather the crop. ‘That hurts.’”
Mr. Skelton pointed out that, “California growers need a more reliable source of labor — one they believe would come from immigration reform. Workers would be here legally, able to move freely from farm to farm and able to cross back and forth across the border without worrying about being jumped by some federal agent.”
Danny Yadron reported in today’s Wall Street Journal that, “Key senators are exploring an immigration bill that would force every U.S. worker—citizen or not—to carry a high-tech identity card that could use fingerprints or other personal markers to prove a person’s legal eligibility to work.
“The idea, signaled only in vaguely worded language from senators crafting a bipartisan immigration bill, has privacy advocates and others concerned that the law would create a national identity card that, in time, could track Americans at airports, hospitals and through other facets of their lives.”