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Farm Bill; Ag Econ; Wheat; Smithfield; and, Immigration

Farm Bill

An update at the Senate Democrats Online indicated that, “The Senate will convene at 2:00 p.m. on Monday, June 3, 2013…Following morning business, the Senate will resume consideration of S.954, the Farm bill.

“At 5:30pm, there will be up to 2 roll call votes in relation to the following: Moran amendment #987 (alfalfa) and Coons-Johanns #1079 (food aid) (possible voice vote).”

Erik Wasson reported on Saturday at The Hill Online that, “Senate Democrats and Republicans were unable to finalize an agreement on floor amendments to the $955 billion farm bill this week, leaving the work to be hashed out at the last minute.

“‘We’re still working with the minority for a time agreement and we’ll have a clearer sense then on which amendments will be called up probably by Monday afternoon or evening,’ a Democratic aide said late Friday.

“‘All of this is still in the works,’ a GOP aide emailed.”

The Hill update noted that, “Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Ranking member Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) are hoping to limit amendments to get the farm bill passed by the full Senate by the end of the coming week.

“They are also said to be seeking to avoid additional limitations on farm subsidy payments that could further complicate the eventual task of getting a compromise with the House.”

Sens. Mark Begich (D., Alaska), Jeanne Shaheen (D., N.H.), Pat Toomey (R., Pa.), Jeff Flake (R., Ariz.) and Claire McCaskill (D., Mo.) have offered other amendments related to some aspects of the federal crop insurance program.

In addition to the Farm Bill, the Senate will also be taking up a measure on student loans this week.

Lauren Smith reported yesterday at Roll Call Online that, “Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., announced Friday that the Senate will vote during the first week of June on legislation to avert the scheduled interest rate increase. The vote could come as an amendment to the farm bill (S 954) that is pending on the floor, but will probably be done separately, a senior Senate Democratic aide said.”

Also late last week, Chairwoman Stabenow, as well as Sens. Tim Kaine (D., Va.), Mike Crapo (R., Idaho) and Max Baucus (D., Mont.), all addressed a variety of Farm Bill issues in their home states.

And with respect to the House, Niels Lesniewski reported on Friday at Roll Call Online that, “House Majority Leader Eric Cantor circulated a memo to House offices Friday afternoon outlining a busy schedule for the chamber’s June work period.

“The Virginia Republican says the chamber will turn to an assortment of legislative measures, including four fiscal 2014 appropriations bills. Those measures fund a handful of departments and agencies, including the Agriculture, Homeland Security, Defense and Veterans Affairs departments, along with some other federal functions, such as the Food and Drug Administration.”

The Roll Call item explained that, “In addition, the farm bill is on track to actually reach the House floor this year. The Agriculture Committee reported out a bill before the Memorial Day recess.

“‘This bill, together with the effects of sequestration, reflects almost $40 billion in savings reductions through eliminating and reforming wasteful government programs and consolidating more than 100 programs. Over $20 billion in savings comes from much-needed reforms to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), including eliminating benefits for lottery winners and applying asset and resources tests to all applicants,’ Cantor wrote. ‘I commend the chairman and his entire committee for their efforts and I look forward to a robust debate and an open process on the House floor.’”

Jake Sherman and Ginger Gibson reported yesterday at Politico that, “The Senate will also be busy on two other major measures that will test the House GOP leadership: agriculture and immigrationThe bipartisan farm bill could be the first sent over, testing the level conservative Republicans are willing to fight about food stamps and farm subsidies.”

And the editorial board at The Washington Post noted today that, “In the end, Congress may fail to pass a bill due to differences between the House and Senate over how much to cut food stamps. That happened last year; as a result, the country is operating under a one-year extension of the old law.”

A news release Thursday from Rep. Tim Walz (D., Minn.) stated that, “Today, [Rep. Walz] visited the Jovaag family farm near Austin, Minnesota to tour their farm and discuss the importance of passing a new, five-year Farm Bill into law and ensuring beginning farmers and ranchers have the resources they need to continue to feed, clothe, and fuel the world.”

An update Friday at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) blog provided a more detailed look “at farm bill funding issues” for both the Senate and House Farm Bill measures.

Meanwhile, Deborah Barfield Berry reported on Saturday at the Clarion-Ledger (Jackson, Miss.) Online that, “Congressional action on a new farm bill is ‘absolutely critical’ so farmers in the South and elsewhere can plan ahead for the coming crop year, according to agriculture leaders, lawmakers and farm groups.”

“To appease Southern lawmakers, the Senate farm bill would set higher price supports for rice and peanut farmers, meaning growers would see subsidy payments kick in sooner,” the article said.

David A. Fahrenthold reported in today’s Washington Post that, “In both the House and Senate, committees have passed farm bills that would end these direct payments. They would be replaced with other programs that often require farmers to grow actual crops.”

Also, The Billings Gazette (Mont.) indicated over the weekend in an editorial that, “In a visit this week to Billings, Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., predicted Congress will pass a farm bill this year.

“‘It’s going to be a five-year farm bill,’ he said. ‘People deserve more certainty. It’ll be good for Montana, the stock growers, grain growers and organic folks.’”

The opinion item added that, “Baucus, who served on the farm bill conference committee six years ago, said it’s likely he will get that job again. Whether he’s a conferee or not, Baucus will need to keep plowing ahead to protect Montana interests. Ranching and farming issues vary across the nation. Most members of Congress don’t represent rural constituencies. Thus, Baucus and other ag state lawmakers have to make their regional needs known while enlightening urban lawmakers.”

 

Agricultural Economy

Reuters writer Sam Nelson reported on Friday that, “Additional rainfall late this week into the weekend will further slow corn and soybean plantings in the U.S. Midwest, threatening to reduce yield potential for the 2013 crop season, an agricultural meteorologist said on Friday.

“‘It’s not the best of conditions, there will be more rain for the next two days with the heaviest southeast of a line from Kansas City to Green Bay,’ said John Dee, meteorologist for Global Weather Monitoring.”

In a separate Reuters article on Friday, Mr. Nelson reported that, “Top U.S. corn and soybean producing state Iowa has received the most spring rainfall since records began 141 years ago, slowing crop plantings and threatening to reduce yields, an Iowa climatologist said on Friday.”

The National Weather Service in Lincoln, Il. tweeted on Saturday that, “Peoria [Il.] reported its second wettest May on record with 10.41 inches.  Record of 11.49 inches set in 1915.  Normal is 4.33 inches.”

On Friday, flooding also occurred in parts of Oklahoma and Missouri, one impact of a severe weather outbreak in the Midwest.

Bloomberg writer Jeff Wilson reported on Friday that, “Corn farmers from Iowa to North Dakota who delayed planting because of unusually heavy rain may stick with plans to sow crops well beyond the date for optimum yields, rather than switch to soybeans or leave fields fallow.”

In a related item, University of Illinois Agricultural Economist Gary Schnitkey penned an update late last week at the farmdoc daily webpage titled, “Evaluating Taking Prevented Planting Payments for Corn.”

In trade related news, Brian Spegele and Thomas Catan reported in Saturday’s Wall Street Journal that, “China signaled a possible softening on a key point of contention with the U.S. ahead of a meeting between the two countries’ presidents, suggesting it might be willing to join U.S.-led talks to strike an Asia-Pacific free-trade agreement.”

However, the Journal article noted that, “Still, few experts believed that China could realistically join the talks before the existing 11 members come to an agreement. Japan is already seeking to join the talks, which were originally slated to end this year but which already appear to be slipping.”

 

GMO Wheat Issues

Victoria Shannon reported on Friday at The New York Times Online that, “Japan and South Korea suspended some imports of American wheat, and the European Union urged its 27 nations to increase testing, after the United States government disclosed this week that a strain of genetically engineered wheat that was never approved for sale was found growing in an Oregon field.

“Although none of the wheat, developed by Monsanto Company, was found in any grain shipments — and the Department of Agriculture said there would be no health risk if any was shipped — governments in Asia and Europe acted quickly to limit their risk.

South Korea, which last year purchased roughly half of its total wheat imports of five million tons from the United States, said Friday it would suspend purchases until tests were performed on arriving shipments. Results of the tests, by the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety, were expected in the first week of June, according to local media.”

The USDA released video statements related to the GMO wheat issue on Friday, which can be viewed here and here.

Also on this issue, The Washington Post editorial board indicated yesterday that, “There is nothing inherently wrong with genetically modified crops. Humans have been genetically altering foodstuffs for millennia. That’s how we got modern wheat in the first place — people promoting mutations in wild grasses over centuries to produce a crop that is easier to harvest. With contemporary techniques, scientists in a lab can quickly make genetic changes that would have taken much longer to accomplish through old-school selective breeding, and they can do it with more precision. Just as cultivating better and better strains of wheat helped feed ancient societies, newer techniques offer humanity one way to help sustain a growing population on a warming globe. The world should embrace that opportunity.

“The United States’ large soybean, corn and cotton industries, to name a few, already have. A soybean strain engineered to resist pesticides is widely cultivated. Drought-resistant versions of corn and other crops are coming to market, which might help farmers adapt to the changes in growing conditions climate change promises to bring. Genetic engineering won’t solve every agricultural problem here or elsewhere, but it’s one tool humanity must not discard.

“The fruits — or, rather, seeds — of such efforts, of course, should still be subject to safety mandates and review. And, in fact, the strain of wheat that sprouted up in Oregon was. It underwent seven years of test cultivation. The Food and Drug Administration had no questions that this variety was as safe as others.”

The Post added that, “Under the law and according to prudence, government regulators must also be cautious about how genetically altered organisms might interact with wild species and habitats. Given that, if there is anything concerning in the news about the Oregon wheat, it’s that no one seems to know how it got into the field. That’s not a great sign for those who oversaw its open-air test cultivation. The Agriculture Department must get to the bottom of what happened.

A Japanese official, meanwhile, says that the country’s import halt is temporary. We hope very temporary.”

Meanwhile, Klaus Brune reported yesterday at The Wall Street Journal Online that, “Monsanto doesn’t plan to apply for the approval of new genetically modified seeds in Europe due to low demand from farmers and stiff opposition from the general public, the U.S. agricultural company’s German spokeswoman said Sunday.”

 

Smithfield Purchase

Christopher Doering reported recently at The Des Moines Register Online that, “Pork producers are optimistic that the surprise $4.7 billion purchase of Smithfield Foods by Shuanghui International Holdings will help them tap further into the lucrative Chinese market, but some concerns remain about the takeover of a major U.S. company by a foreign entity.

“‘When you hear things like that you always have mixed emotions, but I always say you need to sit down and think about it and let cooler heads prevail,’ said Sam Carney, a former president of the National Pork Producers Council, who has grain and livestock operations in Adair. ‘I believe this is going to be an excellent opportunity to export more pork to China.’

“About $900 million of pork is shipped annually to China and Hong Kong, with an estimated 30 percent of it coming from Iowa.”

The Register article noted that, “Producers fear China could impose further restrictions on how pork is raised in the United States, shutting out other U.S. suppliers in favor of meat from the Smithfield business that meets its qualifications. They worry that a spike in pork demand for the meat in China could increase the chance that more of it heads overseas and, at least in the short term, lead to shortages and higher prices in the United States.”

Bloomberg news reported yesterday that, “Wan Long, who helped turn a single hog processing plant into China’s largest producer, explains the reasons for his $4.7 billion swoop on Smithfield Food Inc. (SFD) as he adjusts six miniature porcelain pigs on his desk.

“The 72-year-old chairman of Shuanghui International Holdings Ltd., who last week won Smithfield’s acceptance for what would be the largest Chinese acquisition of a U.S. company, is not just reordering the pink and blue swines in front of him. He’s seeking to tap foreign expertise and technology to help reshape food safety and production in China’s pork industry.

“‘The question of food safety, whether it’s to American consumers or Chinese consumers, is a big deal,’ Wan said in interview at his office in Luohe city in Henan province, about 800 kilometers (500 miles) south of Beijing, sitting in front of a world map that hangs behind him. ‘Our nation has a tighter and tighter grip over food safety.’”

The article noted that, “China has been seeking to reassure consumers about food, creating a new administration in March charged with overseeing food and drug safety in the country. Premier Li Keqiang told a government meeting in May a large amount of money should be spent for food safety to build up people’s confidence in what they eat, China National Radio reported May 13.”

 

Immigration

Jeremy Redmon reported late last week at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution Online that, “National and state farm leaders have lined up in support of the immigration overhaul bill now pending in Congress, saying a major part of the state’s economy is at stake in the debate.”

And the Los Angeles Times reported on Friday that, “But the opponents face a much different landscape than six years ago. Not only are key Republicans not overtly attacking the [Senate immigration] proposal, but support appears much more solid among Democrats, who had also played a role in dashing earlier efforts.”

Russell Berman reported yesterday at The Hill Online that, “Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Sunday predicted the Senate would pass its immigration reform bill by July 4 and said a strong vote for the measure could force House Republicans to embrace the Gang of Eight’s bill, despite Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) vow to the contrary.

Schumer said he and the other authors of the proposal hoped to win 70 votes, including nearly a majority of Republicans.”

Keith Good