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

Farm Bill- Policy Issues

AP writer Steve Karnowski reported yesterday that, “An influential Minnesota voice on agricultural policy said Wednesday that he’s hopeful Congress will pass a new farm bill this summer after efforts last year failed amid election year politics.

“U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, the ranking Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee, threatened earlier this year to sit out the process of writing a new farm bill unless he got a guarantee from House Republican leaders that they’d let the legislation come up for a floor vote this time. Peterson told The Associated Press on Wednesday that he’s now ‘fairly comfortable’ with the assurances he’s received from Speaker John Boehner and others, so his name will be on the bill when it’s unveiled later this week.”

The article noted that, “Peterson said Boehner made it clear to him in their recent discussions that ‘he wanted to get this over with.’ And he noted that Majority Leader Eric Cantor said late last week that the House will vote on it this summer. Peterson said he’s optimistic that he and Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., will be able to keep the bill close to what the committee passes and get it into a conference committee where they’ll resolve the differences with the Democratic-controlled Senate’s version.

“The Senate’s version won’t cut SNAP as much as the House version, and Peterson said they’ll need to work out that difference. But he said he expects the most difficult problem to reconcile will be the different approaches between the House and Senate bills toward restructuring crop subsidy programs.”

Mr. Karnowski explained that, “Coming back this year will be Peterson’s proposal for a dairy policy overhaul aimed at protecting profit margins rather than just propping up milk prices. He said he expects renewed attempts to remove voluntary production controls from the plan, but he said he believes he has the votes to block that.

“‘It’s the one area that really needs the bill more than any other part of agriculture,’ Peterson said of dairy policy. ‘Because what’s currently in place is just completely out of date and doesn’t work at all.’”

Also yesterday with respect to dairy, a news release from the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) indicated that, “More than 50 state and national dairy organizations, including the [NMPF], sent a joint letter today to members of the House Agriculture Committee, urging that panel to include the Dairy Security Act (DSA) in upcoming Farm Bill. The House Ag panel is expected to begin drafting a Farm Bill next Wednesday.

“The letter, which can be found online, said that dairy producers need ‘a financially-sound risk management program to help farmers better manage margin volatility,’ noting that the economic conditions that led to the development of the DSA after the dairy depression in 2009 – low milk prices and high feed costs generating terrible margins – were experienced again by America’s dairy farmers last year, when feed costs soared to record levels as milk prices dropped.”

Meanwhile, Ron Nixon reported yesterday at The Caucus Blog (New York Times) that, “A new farm bill being crafted by the House Agriculture Committee includes deeper cuts to the food stamp program than those included in last year’s version of the bill, setting up a potential fight with House and Senate Democrats who oppose additional cuts to the program.

“The chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, Frank D. Lucas, Republican of Oklahoma, is proposing to cut $20 billion from the food stamp program in the version of the farm bill that lawmakers will begin working on next Tuesday, up from the $16 billion in cuts that were in the House bill last year.”

AP writer Mary Clare Jalonick reported yesterday that, “It won’t be easy, but finding the right amount of food stamp cuts will be the only way farm-state lawmakers can get the five-year farm bill passed. The bill, which also sets policy for farm subsidies and other rural development programs, has historically included food stamps and domestic food aid to gain support of urban lawmakers who may not otherwise vote for the bill.

“This year, food stamps are making passage harder.”

Ms. Jalonick explained that, “[Sen. Ag Comm. Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow’s (D., Mich.)] bill is expected to find the $400 million in annual cuts by targeting states that give people who don’t have heating bills very small amounts of heating assistance so they can automatically qualify for higher food stamp benefits. That approach passed the Senate last year in a farm bill that died at the end of the congressional session when the House failed to move on the legislation.

“[House Ag Comm. Chairman Lucas] says the House bill will make those same changes but also end what is called ‘broad-based categorical eligibility,’ or granting automatic food stamp benefits when people are signed up for certain other programs.”

“The debate over food stamps doesn’t always fall along party lines — the top Republican on the Senate Agriculture Committee, Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran, has said he won’t support major cuts to food stamps because it is a popular program in his state,” the AP article said.

As an interesting side note, Ian Berry reported yesterday at The Wall Street Journal Online that, “Wisconsin food-stamp recipients would face sharp limits on how much junk food they could buy under a bill moving through the state legislature.

“The measure, approved Tuesday by the Wisconsin State Assembly, would require food-stamp users spend at least two-thirds of that money on healthy foods, such as fruits, vegetables and juices.”

Mr. Berry noted that, “If the bill became law, Wisconsin would have to apply for a waiver to existing USDA rules to enact its restrictions. The USDA rejected similar requests from Minnesota in 2004 and New York in 2010. A third request, from Mississippi, was withdrawn in 2012. All three requests targeted sugary snacks and drinks.

A USDA spokeswoman declined to comment on the Wisconsin bill Wednesday.”

Gannett writer Brian Tumulty reported earlier this week that, “[Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D., N.Y.)] plans to fight any level of proposed SNAP cuts in the latest farm bill. The Senate version is expected to call for cutting $4.1 billion. Gillibrand said she will offer an alternative proposal to offset the SNAP spending through savings in the federal crop insurance program.”

With respect to crop insurance, an update this week from Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R., Tex.) stated that, “I think a strong crop insurance program is the best way of ensuring a strong safety net for our producers.  With crop insurance, farmers and ranchers pay a premium each year to insure their harvest.  In bad years, they get a pay out that helps them stay above water when they don’t have much revenue coming in.  It’s a shared-risk program, and it’s the preferred risk management tool for farmers and ranchers across the country.  I’ve introduced a bill to strengthen crop insurance by allowing farmers the option to protect against shallow losses.  I believe it will be included in this year’s Farm Bill.”

A report yesterday on the Agriculture Today radio program (Red River Farm Network) by Randy Koenen included remarks on the crop insurance program by Sen. John Thune (R., S.D.)- audio here (MP3- 0:43).

In part, Sen. Thune noted that, “[Crop insurance] has become, really, the foundation of the Farm Bill and the basic safety net for our producers.”

In conservation news, Joseph Morton reported earlier this week at The Omaha World-Herald Online that, “Congress should require farmers to comply with conservation requirements if they want federally subsidized crop insurance, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said Monday.

“‘We think it’s only fair that we restore that link between conservation compliance and crop insurance subsidies,’ Vilsack told The World-Herald.”

An update yesterday at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) Blog stated that, “On Tuesday, May 7, six former Chiefs of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) delivered a letter to the House and Senate Agriculture Committees, urging them to reattach conservation accountability measures to federal crop insurance premium subsidies.”

The NSAC update added that, “The letter from the former NRCS Chiefs is an important show of support for relinking conservation accountability measures to crop insurance subsidies, and NSAC will continue to support that accountability provision as we proceed to House and Senate farm bill markups next week.”

Chris Clayton reported yesterday at the DTN Ag Policy Blog that, “House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas is opposed to the agreement announced earlier this week by farm, environmental and wildlife groups to link eligibility for crop-insurance premium subsidies to conservation compliance.

“Lucas, a Republican from Oklahoma, told DTN off the House floor Wednesday that he has a philosophical problem with various lobby groups ‘tying strings to how farmers farm’ and dictating terms to producers when the farm bill is supposed to be about raising food and fiber.

“‘My perspective has always been, very sincerely, if a farm bill is about raising food — and I know 80% of it now is about making sure people have enough to eat, helping them buy their food — but if it is about raising food, farmers should have the tools to raise the food and fiber,’ Lucas said. ‘And if you engage in whole series of things, such as you can’t get crop insurance unless you plant in a certain way, on a certain day, in a certain direction, or you can’t access a variety of other programs, then we aren’t having a farm bill that helps farmers raise food and fiber, but we have a social tool here that’s used to direct how farmers use their lives and conduct their business.’”

Mr. Clayton added that, “On other conservation issues, Lucas said the House Agriculture Committee will lower cap on the Conservation Reserve Program down to 24 million acres, instead of the 25-million cap set by the committee last year. That is partly because CRP acreage has already declined, thus the cap must be lowered for the House Agriculture Committee to get credit for savings in the cost of the program. ‘We need to reflect the reality out there.’”

Also yesterday, Alexandra Wexler reported at The Wall Street Journal Online that, “The U.S. Department of Agriculture is expanding a sugar-export program, a first step in the agency’s effort to prevent a wave of defaults on loans made to sugar mills and processors.

“U.S. sugar prices have dropped 12.6% this year, with futures on ICE settling Wednesday at 19.58 cents a pound, near a four-year low. If prices don’t rebound, sugar processors could default on as much as $809 million in federal loans later this year, forfeiting sugar that was put up as collateral for the loans to the USDA.”

Meanwhile, a news release yesterday from Sen. Jon Tester (D., Mont.) stated that, “Montana U.S. Senators [Tester] and Max Baucus have introduced a bill to help boost veteran employment through farming. The Senators plan to attach the provisions to the upcoming Farm Bill, which is scheduled to be considered by the Senate Agriculture Committee next week.”

And, on a separate issue, Tom Lutey reported yesterday at The Billings Gazette Online that, “A new bill requiring labels on foods with genetically modified ingredients is dividing Montana farmers and consumers.

“The federal bill, dubbed the ‘Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act,’ mandates that all food containing genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, be clearly labeled. It has bipartisan support in the U.S. Senate, including from that body’s lone farmer, Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont.”

With respect to animal production issues, a news release yesterday from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D., N.Y.) stated that, “Senators [Gillibrand,] Dianne Feinstein, and Susan Collins today introduced bipartisan legislation aimed at combating antimicrobial drug resistanceThe Antimicrobial Data Collection Act calls for increased data collection by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), enhanced transparency and public awareness of antimicrobial drug use in agriculture and strengthened FDA accountability regarding unsafe antimicrobial drug use.”

The release added that, “Specifically, the legislation requires a pilot program to look into new data sources on antibiotics used on food producing animals.”

 

Egg Bill

Recent news reports have indicated that Sen. Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.) will not include a bill that she has cosponsored to establish a national standard for the humane treatment of egg-laying hens and the labeling of eggs in the Committee’s Farm Bill draft.

Chad Gregory, president of United Egg Producers, made the following comments yesterday in an emailed statement to FarmPolicy.com:

“Egg farmers appreciate the efforts of Chairwoman Stabenow to try to help not only the egg farmers in her state, but in all 50 states. We are appreciative also of Senator Feinstein and her Senate co-sponsors for her leadership in getting our Egg Bill introduced in the Senate, as it also has been introduced in the House,” said Chad Gregory, president of United Egg Producers, which represents farmers who produce nearly 90 percent of all eggs in the U.S.

“We can’t begin to express our utter disappointment in our fellow livestock and farm groups –who we’ve always supported in the past — who blocked this legislation that is critical to the egg industry’s survival as we know it … simply because these groups were paranoid that somehow an amendment to the Egg Products Inspection Act would affect them, despite explicit language in the bill which exempts them.

“Without this legislation, egg farmers will go out of business; states will lose jobs; consumers will see disruption and price affects in their local grocery stores; and grocers and restaurant companies will find interstate commerce in eggs grinding to a halt. All because of pork and beef farmers, and the American Farm Bureau Federation.

“We are hopeful that Congress, in its wisdom, will still find a way to support American egg farmers, and the consumers who count on the 76 billion eggs produced safely, efficiently and economically every year in this country.”

 

Budget

An update yesterday  at the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) Online stated that, “CBO plans to release its updated 10-year baseline projections of federal spending, revenues, and budget deficits on Tuesday, May 14. The projections reflect new information obtained since The Budget and Economic Outlook: Fiscal Years 2013-2023 was issued in February and will be available on CBO’s website Tuesday afternoon.”

 

Agricultural Economy

Reuters writer Sam Nelson reported yesterday that, “Better corn planting weather is expected in the U.S. Midwest over the next week to 10 days following wet weather that has hampered the seeding pace to the slowest in nearly three decades, an agricultural meteorologist said on Wednesday.”

Agricultural related tweets from yesterday, which included photos, showed corn planting in Indiana and Ohio, as well as some corn that had emerged in Illinois.

A news release yesterday from Sen. Chuck Grassley stated that, “[Sen. Grassley] is pressing the Secretary of Agriculture and the U.S. Trade Representative to engage U.S. trading partners in high-level discussions on breaking down barriers to biotechnology.  Grassley is the former Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction over international trade policy.

“‘The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that as much as 90 percent of commodity crop acres utilize seeds improved through modern biotechnology.  Trade disruptions caused by barriers to biotechnology derived crops hurt both American farmers and the international customers they serve,’ the senators wrote to U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Acting U.S. Trade Representative Demetrios Marantis.”

 

Immigration

Lisa Mascaro and Brian Bennett reported yesterday at the Los Angeles Times Online that, “The immigration reform bill crafted by a bipartisan group of senators has deeply split the Republican minority even as lawmakers prepare to take the first votes on the proposal Thursday.

“Alabama’s Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions, a conservative former prosecutor with a courtly drawl, has emerged as the leading opponent of the bill. He is aiming at his GOP colleagues with unusual zeal, and calls out the architects of the bill as, essentially, dishonest.”

The Senate Judiciary Committee webpage indicated today that, “The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold its next executive business meeting at 9:30 am on Thursday, May 9, 2013, to consider S. 744, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act. The bipartisan legislation was introduced on April 17, and the original text can be found here. The first amendment circulated to the bill is the Sponsors’ Amendment, which is expected to be offered at the next executive business meeting. A copy of the Sponsors’ Amendment can be viewed here. This document shows changes to the bill as introduced.

“The deadline to file amendments was 5 p.m. on May 7, 2013. All filed amendments can be viewed here, and additional information on the history of immigration reform can be viewed here.”

Keith Good