December 6, 2019

Farm Bill; Egg Bill; Ag Economy; Biofuels; Budget; and, Immigration

Farm Bill- Policy Issues

Chris Clayton reported on Friday at the DTN Ag Policy Blog that, “House Majority Leader Eric Cantor apparently won’t press another pause button on the farm bill.

“Cantor, a Republican from Virginia, sent a memo out Friday to other House Republicans. In it, Cantor outlined several key agenda items for the spring and summer, including another repeal vote on Obamacare, legislation to avoid rising interest rates for student loans and a bill to require the Securities and Exchange Commission to conduct more cost-benefit analysis for rule-making.

“In his memo, Cantor also stated on the summer agenda ‘and we will consider a farm bill produced by the Agriculture Committee and Frank Lucas.’”

Mr. Clayton added that, “The House Ag Committee is set for a May 15 markup for the farm bill and shooting to reduce the projected 10-year spending by $38 billion compared to current budget estimates.”

Erik Wasson reported on Saturday at The Hill’s On the Money Blog that, “Last year, the Senate passed a five-year farm bill 64 to 35 only to see it die in the House because conservatives opposed the funding levels for food stamps.

Democrats believe the failure of the farm bill helped them retain the majority in the 2012 election, and are hoping for a repeat as they enter the 2014 election cycle.

“‘There is no question that the House refusal to take up farm bill helped Democrats retain the Senate,’ said one senior Senate Democratic aide. ‘Democrats see an opportunity to make headway in red states and rural America.’”

The update added that, “GOP leaders refused to bring up a five-year farm bill last year, but are sending strong signals that they won’t let Democrats use the issue against them again…[B]ut passage of a sweeping farm bill is no sure thing in the House. Conservative groups decry the farm subsidies as corporate welfare and have pushed for deep cuts to food stamps that Democrats are unlikely to accept.

“In the meantime, Senate Democrats are moving full-steam ahead with legislation that won wide, bipartisan approval last year.”

Mitch Lies reported on Thursday at the Capital Press Online that, “U.S. Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., said he is optimistic over prospects Congress will send a farm bill to the desk of President Barack Obama this year.

“‘There seems to be a new energy that was lacking last time from the leadership and the chair of the (agriculture) committee,’ Schrader said in the May 1 interview with Capital Press.”

The article added that, “‘My biggest job has been to push back and make sure they don’t go after the specialty crop title for additional savings,’ he said.

“Another amendment he plans would cap the bill’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program cuts in the $4 billion range, similar to cuts proposed in the farm bill the Senate passed last year.

“‘The (proposed) idea of taking $28 or $30 billion out of SNAP isn’t going to fly,’ he said.”

Mr. Lies also noted that, “Schrader said he also is working on an amendment with Rep. Reid Ribble, R-Wis., to establish a national checkoff program for organic producers.”

More specifically on nutrition issues, Chris Clayton reported on Friday at DTN that, “As both [House and Senate Ag] committees again wade into the farm bill this month, committee-driven proposals on SNAP suggest cuts could range from $4.5 billion to $20 billion over 10 years. At least one other proposal in the House and Senate would cut $30 billion over 10 years.”

“In the Senate, Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., is still shooting for $4.5 billion in savings and holding the line on cuts to SNAP. Stabenow has said the majority of the Senate won’t go along with proposals to change eligibility or the structure of SNAP benefits.

“In the House, Lucas wants to achieve $20 billion in cuts to nutrition programs. Eliminating broad-based categorical eligibility could save $10-$12 billion over 10 years by eliminating future enrollment of 2-3 million people. In general, those people would still qualify under the enrollment guidelines, but might not do so.”

A news release Friday from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D., N.Y.) stated that, “[Sen. Gillibrand] is leading a coalition of one-third of her Senate colleagues pushing the Agriculture Committee to fully fund the nation’s food stamp program and restore the already proposed cuts. Senator Gillibrand also announced her plans to introduce an amendment to the Farm Bill to restore the proposed Senate cuts, as she did last year when the bill was on the Senate floor.”  (See a related letter sent on Friday to Senate Ag Committee leaders on SNAP issues, which was signed by 33 Senators).

Meanwhile, Brian Gehring reported on Thursday at The Bismarck Tribune Online that, “With Congress set to begin work on the 2013 farm bill as early as next Thursday, Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., said his message will be clear — crop insurance will be more important to farmers than the farm bill as a whole.

“Hoeven hosted a pair of meetings with dozens of state agriculture leaders in Fargo and Bismarck Thursday to discuss, in particular, prevented planting provisions within the crop insurance program.”

Thomas P. Zacharias, Ph.D., the president of National Crop Insurance Services and former associate professor at Iowa State University, indicated in a column posted on Friday at Roll Call Online that, “Indemnities to farmers cost about $17 billion. Thanks to crop insurance’s design, these indemnities were not completely borne by taxpayers because farmers and insurers picked up a major portion of the costs and sustained significant economic losses.

Farmers had insurance deductibles so they shouldered at least $12.7 billion in losses before they collected a single check from their insurance companies. Not exactly ‘laughing all the way to the bank.’”

“When combined with the $4.1 billion farmers paid out of their own pockets to purchase crop insurance last year, total farmer investment neared $17 billion. To any reasonable person, that constitutes ‘paying their fair share.’”

Dr. Zacharias explained that, “It is also important to note that when crop insurance premiums exceed losses, the government sees underwriting gains that help offset payments in bad years. In fact, the government experienced nearly $4 billion in gains from 2001 to 2010.

“Perhaps most important of all, Congress was not asked to fund an ad hoc disaster bill despite the historic devastation endured by our agricultural producers.

“That is in stark contrast to the days before the current crop insurance system. In fact, 42 ad hoc disaster bills totaling $70 billion have been passed since 1989, according to the Congressional Research Service.”

And with respect to executive branch perspective on the Farm Bill, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack indicated in a column on Friday at the USDA Blog that, “As Congress returns to Washington in the coming days, leaders from both parties have signaled a willingness to come together and get a Food, Farm and Jobs Bill passed.  That is promising news. USDA intends to provide whatever technical assistance we can to help Congress pass a long-term, comprehensive bill.”

And a news release Friday from USDA indicated that, “Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced new rules to better target Community Connect broadband grants to areas where they are needed the most. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) remains focused on carrying out its mission, despite a time of significant budget uncertainty. Today’s announcement is one part of the Department’s efforts to strengthen the rural economy.”


Egg Bill

David Rogers reported on Friday at Politico that, “If hens are given enough room to stretch their wings and scratch, what will the sows be demanding next?

“That’s the barnyard buzz these days with farm bill markups starting soon in Congress and the prospect that new national standards for egg production will be added to the mix.

“Under pressure from producers at home, Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) is leaning strongly in that direction, judging from talks between her top staff and agriculture lobbyists Tuesday. And there’s been a flurry of activity since in anticipation of a fight when the Senate panel begins voting, possibly as early as next Thursday.”

The article noted that, “‘Egg producers are struggling with a patchwork of regulations that vary from state to state, and having one uniform national standard is critically important to them,’ said Cullen Schwarz, a Stabenow spokesman. ‘We’re working with stakeholders and Agriculture Committee members to find a solution to help keep American egg producers in business and avoid losing jobs in the industry.’”

Mr. Rogers pointed out that, “Nonetheless, powerful pork and beef cattle lobbies are up in arms, fearing the precedent, they say, of Congress dictating housing for livestock. Just as important perhaps is their antipathy to giving the Humane Society a foot in the door on farm policy.”

Friday’s article noted that, “‘The lesson is you can pick up the phone and find common ground,’ said Chad Gregory, president of the UEP [United Egg Producers]. Proponents also point out that the language amends the 1970 Egg Products Inspection Act, which is unique in that the Food and Drug Administration is charged with the inspections of the hens –making it less of a precedent for other livestock.

“‘It’s insane, ludicrous for a staff person of NCBA [National Cattlemen’s Beef Association] or NPPC [National Pork Producers Council] to be deciding the fate of a family egg business that has been in business for several generations,’ said Gregory. ‘What right do they have as a staff person to decide someone else’s future? This egg bill has nothing to do with them!’”

The egg bill was also a topic of discussion on Friday’s AgriTalk radio program with Mike Adams.  Nebraska GOP Senator Mike Johanns stated on Friday’s show that, “The other thing I’ll tell you—and this is pretty strong, but I feel very strongly about this—if this language goes into the mark on the farm bill, it will bring the farm bill down.”

Ellyn Ferguson reported on Friday at Roll Call Online that, “Egg producers in Michigan, a top 10 egg-producing state, support putting the national agreement in federal law which, if approved, would pre-empt more stringent requirements voters approved in a ballot initiative. The agreement also would supersede similar state laws on laying hens in Ohio, Oregon and Washington.”

The Roll Call article noted that, “[Rep. Kurt Schrader (D., Ore.)], a former veterinarian who sits on the House Agriculture Committee, introduced similar legislation last year. He found few allies on the committee when the panel wrote its farm bill. Instead, the committee adopted an amendment by Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, that would have prevented states such as California from requiring out-of-state agricultural goods to meet their agricultural production and manufacturing laws in order to be sold in their jurisdictions. Iowa is the nation’s top egg and pork producing state.”

(Note: To listen to the full discussion leading up to the vote on the King Amendment that took place during last year’s House Ag Committee markup, just click here (MP3- 23:00).  The clip includes remarks from Reps. Steve King (R., Iowa), Kurt Schrader (D., Ore.), Dennis Cardoza (D., Calif.- since retired), Bob Goodlatte (R., Va.), Chairman Frank Lucas (R., Okla.), Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D., Minn.), Mike Conaway (R., Tex.), and Marlin Stutzman (R., Ind.)).

And, a recent statement from UEP on the egg bill noted in part that, “‘The Egg Bill only affects egg farmers and the egg industry. The bill says so explicitly,’ [Chad Gregory, president of UEP] said.  “This bill is needed to save family egg farms and protect interstate commerce in eggs, at no cost to taxpayers. It’s legislation that the overwhelming majority of egg farmers support and need. It has the support of many animal welfare groups as well as consumer groups such as the National Consumers League and the Consumer Federation of America.  The bill is based on sound science. A nearly identical bill introduced last year received support from the American Veterinary Medical Association, the Association of Avian Veterinarians and the American Association of Avian Pathologists. ”

UEP also released a brief video on Friday explaining some aspects of the “egg bill.”


Agricultural Economy

The front page of Saturday’s Des Moines Register included a photo/graphic with the heading, “A Late Start;” and, a corresponding article by Perry Beeman indicated that, “In fact, the planting season is off to its slowest start since flood-wracked 1993, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reports. Nationally, we haven’t seen such a paltry amount of seed in the ground this time of year since 1984.

This spring’s fickle weather has analysts wondering if the near-record corn planting that seems to be in store will result in a lesser yield than expected. That could affect more than just the corn market, with everything from ethanol production to beef prices hanging in the balance.”

Mr. Beeman noted that, “Planting next week still gives farmers time to get much of the seed in the ground before Friday, the informal deadline set by Iowa State University for farmers who want a full yield. But they are likely to plant into the week after.”

The Register article added that, “[Chad Hart, Extension economist at Iowa State University] said he’s guessing the late planting will mean a drop of 1 percent to 2 percent in yield in Iowa. Still, last year’s Iowa average yield of 137 bushels per acre should balloon to 170 this year, still a bit shy of what many farmers want.

Nationally, Hart expects an average of 140, up from 123 last year.”

Recent agricultural related tweets, which included photos, depicted corn being planted in Ohio (May 3), Illinois (May 2), and Nebraska- here (May 4) and here (May 4).  However, snow was shown in Wisconsin  (May 3) and Iowa (May 3).

A news release Friday from University of Arkansas Extension stated that, “Friday’s snowfall in northwest Arkansas was a record setter. Never before had snow been recorded in May in Arkansas, according to the National Weather Service.”

Meanwhile, AP writer Sharon Cohen reported on Saturday that, “The merciless drought that ravaged large sections of the Midwest and Plains is over, disappearing this spring in a dramatic weather reversal: heavy rains and floods swamping fields with mud in many areas. But some farmers and ranchers in parts of the West and the Plains, including southwest Oklahoma, are pondering the prospect of another year of a desert-like landscape and a disappointing harvest.

It’s far too soon for predictions. Rain this winter and spring blanketed central and eastern Oklahoma, bringing relief to a state that marked its hottest year ever in 2012 and its driest May-through-December on record, according to Gary McManus, associate state climatologist. But the western third of Oklahoma, including the Panhandle, remains gripped by drought, along with stretches of the central Plains from South Dakota down to west Texas and parts of New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming and Nevada.”

In other news, Reuters writer Christine Stebbins reported on Friday that, “U.S. grain farmers have enjoyed a rare combination of soaring prices and land values since 2009 but if incomes dip as expected they should be careful not to fall into the trap of borrowing against inflated land values, the Kansas City Federal Reserve said in a report on Friday.”

With respect to trade issues, Dow Jones news reported on Friday that, “Brazil hopes to reach an agreement to export corn to China when Brazil’s agriculture minister visits the Asian state next week, state-controlled Xinhua News Agency reported Friday.”



Ellyn Ferguson reported on Friday at Roll Call Online that, “A House panel’s decision to look back at mandates set in the 2007 renewable-energy law could be a pivotal moment for industries hoping to slow down growth in the ethanol industry.

“The Energy and Commerce Committee, which helped write the Renewable Fuel Standard, is taking comments on the effect of mandates for commercial use of conventional ethanol, cellulosic ethanol, advanced biofuels and biodiesel. So far, the panel has issued two white papers on the policy and plans three more in a bipartisan attempt to depict RFS successes and failures. Committee leaders also may use the process to provide guidance to the EPA, which reviews and sets the renewable-fuel mandates.”



Pete Kasperowicz reported on Friday at The Hill’s Floor Action Blog that, “Congress returns from a week off to consider an issue that could dominate the agenda for much of the summer — the debt ceiling.

“The House will start the process by considering a Republican bill that would let the government borrow money in excess of the debt limit, in the event the government bumps up against that limit. But it would only allow this borrowing to help pay for interest on the national debt or to make interest payments related to the Social Security trust fund.

“The measure is a backup plan in case the two parties fail to reach an agreement on the debt ceiling. While a deal is still expected, the road ahead runs through what has become rough but familiar terrain.”



Russell Berman reported yesterday at The Hill Online that, “The push for immigration reform enters a crucial period when Congress returns this week, as Senate legislation faces the gauntlet of a committee mark-up and House negotiators try to complete their own long-awaited bill.”

Keith Good

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