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Farm Bill; Ag Economy; and, EPA

(Note: An item in yesterday’s FarmPolicy report regarding the agricultural economy and population has been corrected.)

Farm Bill

David Rogers reported yesterday at Politico that, “Farm bill talks advanced Thursday as the top leaders of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees met to begin their discussions and the Senate later took the first steps to request a formal conference with the House.

“‘We are very serious about working together and getting this done,’ Senate Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) told POLITICO. ‘And I am very confident we will.’

“That said, the Michigan Democrat had to endure a long afternoon of uncertainty before finally getting her consent request to go to conference through the Senate Thursday evening.”

Mr. Rogers explained that, “At one stage, the Democratic leadership thought the effort was doomed. But Stabenow went in and out of the GOP cloakroom and recruited Republican members of her committee to overcome threatened objections.

“Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.), who happened to be speaking on the floor at the time, was instrumental, as was Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.). Even the sometimes disgruntled Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kans.) came back to the fold to work through the objections, many of which appeared to come from the conservative Steering Committee faction in the Senate GOP.”

The Politico article stated that, “In a single stroke, the Stabenow motion served to call up and amend the House farm bill—approved last week—with the Senate’s fuller version that includes a nutrition title funding food stamps and local food banks around the country.

“This is important because the House Republican leadership had jettisoned the same nutrition title last week to win back the votes of conservatives for the farm bill. By doing what she did, Stabenow establishes the nutrition programs as a qualified subject for the House and Senate conference.

Mindful of this, Republicans in the House are expected to slow walk the process of appointing conferees to give them more time to reach agreement on how to approach the food stamp issue.”

A video replay of Chairwoman Stabenow’s floor remarks on the Farm Bill and Senate procedural actions can be viewed here, at FarmPolicy.com Online.

Also, Ramsey Cox reported yesterday at The Hill’s Floor Action Blog that, “Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) sent the Senate farm bill to the House in order to form a conference committee.

“‘We are in fact now sending back our Senate bill and requesting a conference on the farm bill,’ Stabenow said on the Senate floor Thursday. ‘We have produced a product that is comprehensive … and addresses food security and conservation of our soil, land and water.’

“Stabenow said she was confident that the Senate and House could come up with a bipartisan compromise, although the bills have vast differences.”

The Hill update added that, “Earlier Thursday, Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) urged colleagues to support a conference committee and pointed out that that current farm bill expires in September.

“‘I urge my colleague to join with me now to form a conference committee with the House on the farm bill,’ Hoeven said. ‘We need to get going. We need to get this done.’”

A video replay of Sen. Hoeven’s Farm Bill remarks on the floor can be viewed here, at FarmPolicy.com Online.

And, Hill writer Erik Wasson tweeted yesterday that, “Senate moves to go to ‪#farmbill conference with unanimous consent. 7 Dem and 5 GOP conferees

Earlier in the day yesterday, Ag. Committee member Rick Crawford (R., Ark.) was interviewed by Mark Smith on KASU radio (Jonesboro, Ark.) who asked Rep. Crawford about the procedural way forward on the Farm Bill: “So what happens next?  Eventually you do have to conference I assume with the Senate bill, how will that work?  Can what the House passed still be conferenced with the Senate bill?”

Rep. Crawford explained that, “Well, what will happen is, we passed the commodity title— Chairman Lucas has committed on the House floor that we’re going to pass a nutrition title as well, and they will merge the two.  They will be passed separately but then they will be merged as one bill and they can then be conferenced with the Senate.  So that’s the game plan at this point going forward.” (Related KASU audio here).

In a tele-news conference with reporters yesterday, Sen. Mike Johanns (R., Neb.) talked about the Farm Bill process and noted in response to a question on the topic that, “The answer to your basic question, can we conference with what the House passed, the answer is yes. You literally could form a conference committee. You can really conference with anything.

Now I will add to that we’ve got to build in some reality here. These are two really, really different bills. Chairman Lucas on the House side said just within the last day or so that he didn’t feel in good conscience that they could conference until they get the nutrition piece done. And so if that’s what they’re waiting for they’ll have to pass that in the House and then I guess send both over to conference where really a final bill would be written.

“You know any action is positive, but we’re still a long way away from getting a farm bill done. I think this is still a very, very complex process.”

The former Ag. Secretary added that, “The Senate farm bill this time was not as pleasing to me as the one that was done a year ago. Not so much in terms of its impact in Nebraska. I can tell Nebraskans under both bills, the crop insurance program is in great shape. Conservation really is virtually identical. Things that Nebraskans really care about work good.

But unfortunately for some southern crops and other crops, target prices were raised. I just think that’s 1950s farm policy. I just think we should be moving on that – beyond that to a risk-based system instead of a guaranteed price system. Nobody gets guaranteed prices these days. I don’t care if you’re running a grocery store or a car wash or whatever. And so I just didn’t like that.

“But having said that, it mostly impacts really two crops: rice and peanuts. I’m not thrilled about it, but it’s probably not egregious enough to be – to cause me to be a no vote on the farm bill.”

Also yesterday, Speaker John Boehner indicated at a press briefing that, “There was a conversation yesterday with a group of members on the food stamp issue and I’m optimistic that we’ll be able to put something forward hopefully sooner rather than later.”

Kip Hill reported today at The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, Wash.) Online that, “But [Chair of the House Republican Conference, Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R., Wash.)] doesn’t think the [Farm] bill will emerge from a conference with the Senate unless funds for food programs are reinstated.

“‘I really don’t see that happening,’ McMorris Rodgers said. The House also plans to bring a separate SNAP funding measure to the floor for a vote within a week, she said. Spending would be similar to that proposed in the more traditional House farm bill combining farm support and low-income nutrition assistance that failed to pass several weeks ago.”

And Christopher Doering reported earlier this week at the Argus Leader (Sioux Falls, S.D.) Online that, “Lawmakers in both the House and Senate first must meet to craft a farm bill that is voted on and approved by both chambers. It is uncertain when that will happen or which Democrats and Republicans will be on the committee charged with writing the bill.

“‘The timing … is somewhat unclear at the moment due to ongoing conversations in the House on what the nutrition title will look like and when it will be considered,’ said Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., a member of the House Agriculture Committee who voted in favor of the revised farm bill last week. ‘I’m eager to move forward and get into formal negotiations with the Senate so we can get a bill signed into law.’”

Mr. Doering noted that, “‘Time is running short, with limited legislative days remaining before the end of the fiscal year,’ [Sen. Tim Johnson (D., S.D.)] said in a call with South Dakota reporters. ‘There are huge differences between the House and the Senate bills. Frankly, I will support the Senate bill or something close to it as being satisfactory. I will not support the House ag bill.’

“‘At the end of the day, the farm bill should include nutrition and the traditional ag programs,’ he said.”

A news item posted yesterday at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition blog stated in part that, “Today 243 food and farm organizations from around the country called on Congress to appoint conferees and get to work immediately on producing a final full and fair Farm Bill before the current farm bill extension expires on September 30.”

And Dan Glickman and Ann M. Veneman, who both served as Agriculture Secretary, penned an opinion item earlier this week at The Hill Online titled, “Farm policy, nutrition go together.”


Agricultural Economy (Trade)

AP writer Jim Abrams reported yesterday that, “The Obama administration’s top trade official said Thursday the goal of concluding a major trade agreement with Pacific Rim countries by the end of this year is difficult but ‘doable.’

“U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman acknowledged at a House hearing  that numerous obstacles remain, however, including ensuring that Japan lives up to its commitments to open its markets to American products.”

Reuters writer Doug Palmer reported yesterday that, “Lawmakers urged the White House on Thursday to step up efforts to win approval of ‘trade promotion authority,’ which is needed to wrap up trade deals and to respond to congressional concerns about foreign currency practices.

“‘While we are making progress (on crafting a trade promotion authority bill), we will not be able to do that without the administration’s full involvement and engagement,’ House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp told U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman during a hearing.”

And Vicki Needham reported yesterday at The Hill’s On the Money Blog that, “Michael Froman, the White House’s top trade official, warned Congress on Thursday that his agency lacks the resources needed to fulfill the nation’s ambitious trade agenda.

“Froman, the U.S. trade representative, said budget constraints are making it difficult to meet the growing number of global trade goals.”

More specifically on agriculture, in this brief video clip from yesterday’s hearing, Rep. Adrian Smith (R., Neb.) asks U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman to explain how the Administration is working to ensure science-based food safety standards and strong enforcement mechanisms in upcoming trade negotiations.

And Rep. Mike Thompson (D., Calif.) also highlighted agricultural issues at yesterday’s hearing with a specific focus on wine, rice and textilesrelated audio available here (MP3- 3:13).

Meanwhile, Toko Sekiguchi reported yesterday at The Wall Street Journal Online that, “As far as many Japanese farmers are concerned, the best choice at the polls on Sunday might be: None of the above.

The government’s decision to enter into Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade talks has left many rural voters worried about the impact on their livelihood, and the outcome of Sunday’s vote is unlikely to alleviate those fears, regardless who wins.

“‘What we want to know is where the country’s farm policy is headed,’ says Kohichi Kotani, a local farmer north of Obihiro in Hokkaido’s Tokachi district. But even as trade talks are set to begin next week, such details are still difficult to come by.”

The Journal article noted that, “Freshman Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker Yuko Nakagawa said she spends her day running from one Hokkaido farm in her district to another, with little information available about where the government stands in the TPP talks that could determine the future of her constituents’ livelihoods.

“‘Because negotiations are secret, all I can do is piece together information gathered from my personal sources,’ says Ms. Nakagawa, who won on an anti-TPP platform in the December lower house election that returned government control to the Shinzo Abe-led LDP.”

More broadly on trade issues, Shawn Donnan reported yesterday at The Financial Times Online that, “Pascal Lamy, the outgoing head of the World Trade Organisation, has fired a parting shot at EU-US trade talks and other US-led regional trade initiatives, questioning their ‘coherence’ and value to global liberalisation efforts.”

The article noted that, “But in an interview with the Financial Times just weeks before he leaves office after eight years as director-general of the Geneva-based WTO, Mr Lamy was quietly critical of the EU-US and TPP efforts.

“‘The reality is that the jury is still out’ on whether they will succeed or not, the former European trade commissioner told the FT.”

The FT article added that, “Such regional agreements also seemed intent on assembling a ‘coalition of the willing’ to avoid difficult issues such as agricultural subsidies.

“‘None of these bilateral, plurilateral, mini or mega [negotiations] will ever lead to an agreement to reduce trade-distorting agricultural subsidies,’ he [Lamy] said. ‘We’ve heard a lot about this EU-US [negotiation towards a trade agreement]. But nobody ever said that these two elephants would put on their menu the reduction of their trade-distorting subsidies. And they still have quite a lot of them. And it is probably the same between the EU and Japan or even Switzerland and Japan.’”

In other developments, Financial Times writers Joshua Chaffin and Jim Pickard reported this week that, “Monsanto, the US agribusiness, will withdraw applications to grow genetically modified crops in the EU in an acknowledgment that Europeans’ deep-seated resistance to such products is not likely to change in the foreseeable future.”



Darren Goode reported yesterday at Politico that, “The Senate on Thursday confirmed Gina McCarthy to head the Environmental Protection Agency, adding the last major player to the team President Barack Obama needs to drive his climate agenda.”

Meanwhile, Zack Colman reported yesterday at The Hill’s Energy Blog that, “The White House on Thursday doubled down on its support of a biofuel-blending rule that’s drawing intense attacks from the oil industry and lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

Heather Zichal, President Obama’s top energy and climate adviser, said the renewable fuel standard is the ‘backbone of our policy’ for reducing oil imports, and added it would help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“‘Calls to repeal the renewable fuel standard are nothing but short-sighted,’ Zichal said at a Thursday event hosted by The Hill and the Advanced Biofuels Association.”

Keith Good