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Farm Bill; and The Ag Economy

Farm Bill

On Friday, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) discussed Farm Bill issues in their weekly colloquy on the House floor.

A video replay of this portion of Friday’s discussion, along with a three-page transcript of the exchange from the Congressional Record, is available here, at FarmPolicy.com Online.

Rep. Hoyer indicated: “I note that there was not on the notice for next week—the Senate has now voted to go to conference on the farm bill. Clearly, that is a matter that I think both sides, or certainly our side, I think your side as well, feels is a priority item. Does the gentleman have any plans to move to go to conference now that the Senate has asked for a conference next week on the farm bill?

Rep. Cantor noted in that, “I’d respond to the gentleman by saying that we are committed to acting with urgency to bring to the floor a bill under the nutrition title of what was formerly the farm bill, which that title married up with the agricultural provisions.

It is our hope that we can get a nutrition bill to the floor, because we believe strongly that the programs under those titles, providing a safety net to the country’s most vulnerable, are something important that we maintain and we implement the kind of reforms to those programs that have long been called for by the GAO and others so that we can make sure of the efficient flow of dollars to those beneficiaries who most need it.”

Rep. Hoyer stated that, “The Senate has now voted to go to conference, but what I hear the gentleman saying is, like the budget bill, we’re not going to go to conference unless something else happens…[B]ut I’m a little, as I said, perplexed, because a few weeks ago you told me that the reason we passed that farm bill without the provision for nutrition, which had been in there for half a century, was so that we could go to conference. Well, now we’re there, but there’s no motion to go to conference.”

Rep. Cantor indicated that, “I said it was our intention to act with dispatch to bring to the floor a bill dealing with the SNAP program, that portion of which was traditionally the farm bill, and that we intend to be bringing that vehicle to the floor at some time in the near future.”

As the discussion on this issue came to a close, Rep. Hoyer stated that, “But allowing the farm bill to languish is dangerous for this country, for the farm community, and for others. It undermines our economy. Moving with dispatch is in the best interest of our country.”

Pete Kasperowicz reported on Friday at The Hill’s Floor Action Blog that, “But Republicans were sending mixed messages last week on how they would handle the farm bill. House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (R-Texas) said last week [July 11- related article here, related video here] that he wanted to get to a conference with the Senate and work out food stamp language there, because House Republicans were balking at passing a farm bill that included this language.

“Either way, Cantor indicated [on Friday] that a nutrition bill would not come up next week, and did not say when the House would consider it.”

In an interview Friday morning with J. Doug Williams on K-101 Radio (Woodward, Okla.), House Ag. Committee Chairman Frank Lucas noted in part that, “If we don’t have a food stamp title coming out of the House, and I’m not so sure we will, then basically we’ll go into this conference with the Senate with 11 titles of a 12 title farm bill. They’ll have 12. The Senate will say you didn’t cut anything, therefore why should we cut that $20.5 billion you talked about on the floor?

Let’s take our $4 billion in cuts, or let’s just not cut anything, because you don’t have any cuts, and we’ll sort out our issues on the commodity programs and move the bill. So the net effect may be, because I’ve been undercut, I don’t have any leverage with the Senate, and I will tell you, Doug, and I’m not referring to Inhofe and Coburn on this, I’m referring generally to the majority in the United States Senate.

The food stamp stuff seems to matter to them more than the commodity title does, and that’s a sad thing because ultimately the commodity title is how we make sure we raise enough food and fiber to meet our needs and to have extra to sell to the world.”

Chairman Lucas added that, “What I have privately told my leadership is you’ve got to give me some time to try and sort out this nutrition stuff. If we can put it together, then I’m ready to go to conference, or if it becomes impossible to address the food stamp issues, then I’m ready to go to conference.

But give me a little time, a few days, maybe a couple of weeks to sort this other issue out because it is so high on the Senate’s priorities that the food stamp issues be addressed that I’ve got to try and come to a consensus. I don’t know that that’s possible, Doug, because I’ve got too many folks on the hard left who don’t want to reform one penny and I’ve got a number of folks on the right who don’t want to spend anything on anybody.”

Erik Wasson reported on Friday at The Hill’s On the Money Blog that, “Divided House Republicans can’t agree on a food stamp bill, dimming hopes that a farm bill conference can begin before the August recess.

“House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) warned Friday that no one should expect action anytime soon given fights among House Republicans over how much to cut food stamps.”

The Hill article added that, “Lucas said a working group led by Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) will meet again early next week for the second time to try to craft a food stamp bill… [R]ep. Steve King (R-Iowa), who serves on the 20-odd member working group, said there is 50-50 chance there will be no draft food stamp bill by the August recess.”

Mr. Wasson pointed out that, “House Agriculture Committee ranking member Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) said the situation in the food stamp working group doesn’t bode well for getting a farm bill passed before the current system of agriculture subsidies expires on Sept. 30.

“‘They could very well screw this up,’ Peterson said. ‘I told them, ‘You don’t have to do this.’ We can take care of nutrition in conference, and all this is going to do is alienate people. They are going to need Democratic votes to pass whatever comes back from the Senate conference in the end.’”

Meanwhile, Corey Boles reported in Saturday’s Wall Street Journal that, “Senators of both parties are rejecting removal of food-stamp funding from a multiyear farm bill, setting up a clash with conservative House Republicans who want to pare back federal nutrition programs that have grown steadily in recent years.”

The Journal article indicated that, “‘Food-stamps funding has been part of the wider farm bill for 40 years and Senate Democrats will continue to insist that it remains part of a comprehensive bill,’ said Sen. Dick Durbin (D., Ill.), the assistant majority leader.

“Two GOP senators among the 17 Republicans who support the Senate farm bill—Sens. Mike Johanns (R., Neb.) and John Boozman (R., Ark.)—also said that food stamps must be included in the legislation in order to pass the Senate.”

And Steve Virkler reported on Saturday at The Watertown Daily Times (N.Y.) Online that, “‘For the Senate to pass the bill, it will have to include nutrition,’ [Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand (D., N.Y.)] said.”

A very interesting Wall Street Journal graphic on the SNAP issue pointed out that, “While counties carried by President Barack Obama tend to have higher rates of participation in the food-stamp program than those won by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, the numbers are fairly closeAnd some of the nation’s most rural counties also have some of the highest rates of food-stamp recipients.”

And in a related analysis, Dante Chinni explained on Friday at the Washington Wire Blog (Wall Street Journal) that, “But the current formulation of the Washington Farm Bill argument – urban Democrat benefits versus rural Republican subsidiesmisses the reality of who’s really gaining from the Farm Bill and how. Partisan politics may be driving the handling of the Farm Bill in Congress, but the impacts of the bill are about a lot more than just the blue/red divide.”

With respect to Montana, a rural state, Tom Lutey reported yesterday at the Billings Gazette Online that, “Here’s what the 128,000 Montanans using SNAP look like, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities: Almost 72 percent of Montanans enrolled in SNAP are in families with children. More than a quarter of them are in families with a member who is elderly or disabled. More than 46 percent of those families have members who work. Able-bodied family members ages 16 to 59 must register to work unless they’re in school. More than 53,000 of Montanans using SNAP are children.”

Mr. Lutey also noted that, “Crystal Rondeaux is already thinking about going to the store with the SNAP card and buying better food. She’s thinking about the trip in the context of being humble, of using the card with the eyes of other shoppers upon her maybe as she’s still dressed nicely from work. She doesn’t want anyone accusing her of being undeserving of SNAP, or being lazy.

“‘I am a woman of color, I don’t know if it means anything or should mean anything, but what it does say is that I’m a little bit more sensitive about who’s watching me,’ Rondeaux said. ‘For me it will be a very difficult situation. I will be very cognizant that I maintain my pleasant demeanor and not be oversensitive. I am preparing myself for those situations coming up, where I am going to be viewed as a woman of color in professional clothing using an EBT card.'”

The SNAP issue was also brought up briefly yesterday on NBC’s “Meet the Press” by Ag. Committee Member Marcia Fudge (D., Ohio), who is also the Chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Elizabeth Titus reported yesterday at Politico that, “The chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus says there’s ‘a broader discussion that we need to have [about] how we are treating poor and minority people in this country.’

“In a roundtable discussion on NBC’s ‘Meet the Press’ about how much the federal government — and President Barack Obama — can do to address racial inequality in the wake of the Trayvon Martin case, Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) cited the Supreme Court’s recent ruling that ‘gutted’ the Voting Rights Act, as well as the exclusion of food stamps in the House farm bill.

“‘We are being attacked from so many sides that you have to at some point decide where you can have the most impact,’ Fudge said.”

Meanwhile, The Des Moines Register editorial board recently noted that, “The growth [in the SNAP program] is also explained by the fact that more families are struggling to put food on the table, even after the recession ended. This phenomenon is more evidence of the growing numbers of working poor in this country. Beyond those families who have jobs but make so little money, SNAP is an essential source of nutrition for the elderly, those with disabilities and children.”

Also, Julie Siple noted in an update on Friday at Minnesota Public Radio Online that, “‘Now that the recession is over and conditions are better, the public is still concerned about nutrition of the elderly and kids and so forth,’ said [Ron Haskins, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution]. ‘But when Republicans say we went too far, the program has increased too much, we need to save money, I think a fair number of people realize that that’s a rational argument.’”

And Ben Terris noted in an article late last week at National Journal Online that, “‘We definitely missed a near term opportunity to reform food stamps,’ said Rep. Mike Conaway, a deputy whip from Texas. ‘It’s just not going to get to the president’s desk anywhere near as quickly as if left in [a] combined bill. In my opinion, I don’t think we’ll change food stamps at all at this stage.’

“Rep. Frank Lucas of Oklahoma, the chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, also believes the GOP squandered a golden opportunity by not passing the first bill.

If we don’t end up with substantial cuts to food stamps, we can thank Club for Growth and Heritage for that,’ he said, referring to two groups that opposed the bill. ‘They took a bill that could cut $20.5 billion from food stamps, and we could end up getting zero. That would be the irony of ironies.’”

Jerry Hagstrom noted in an article that was posted yesterday at National Journal Online (“Farm Bill’s Roots in Old Laws Should Be Sustained”) that, “Farm groups, nutrition advocates, Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., Peterson, and President Obama all strongly oppose either changing permanent law or leaving SNAP without authorization. But as Congress continues the difficult task of trying to write a farm bill this year, temptations will arise to do anything to get it across the finish line.”

In other Farm Bill developments, AP writer Blake Nicoholson reported yesterday that, “Last year’s drought has contributed to confusion over crop insurance rules for some Upper Midwest farmers who couldn’t get a crop in the ground this past spring due to the opposite weather extreme — too much moisture.

“Some farmers are worried they won’t qualify for insurance payments this year on cropland that was too wet to plant. The government acknowledges the confusion and says it is committed to clearing it up, but federal officials also say some farmers are misinterpreting an informational memo that went out a year ago.

“Members of North Dakota’s congressional delegation and farmers in the state — where the confusion and potential impact appear to be most pronounced — are urging the federal Agriculture Department’s Risk Management Agency to clear up the matter once and for all. Agency Administrator Brandon Willis plans to come to North Dakota sometime in August to meet with producers about the issue, according to Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D.”

Richard Simon reported in yesterday’s Los Angeles Times that, “[A]n effort to end a $200-million-a-year federal program that promotes U.S. agricultural products abroad has run into bipartisan opposition in Congress and has created a rare rift among Republicans in California, which receives a large chunk of the money.

“At issue is a U.S. Department of Agriculture program that provided funds to about 65 groups last year, including nearly $7 million to the San Francisco-based Wine Institute, about $4.2 million to the California Walnut Commission and $2.2 million to the California Dried Plum Board. Funds also went to promote U.S.-produced candy, catfish, pet food and popcorn, among other products.”

The article pointed out that, “Supporters also note that trade groups and other participants match or exceed the taxpayer contributions.”

And Matea Gold and Kathleen Hennessey reported on the front page of yesterday’s Los Angeles Times (“Michelle Obama’s nutrition campaign comes with political pitfalls”) that, “Nutrition advocates disagree over how to rein in food and beverage company practices that they believe contribute to obesity, including the roughly $1.8 billion spent each year on marketing to kids: Will companies respond to voluntary efforts or only to government pressure?

“[Michelle] Obama has come down on the side of persuasion. She has used her celebrity to reward corporations that join her campaign to encourage children to eat better and exercise more. And she has largely avoided public policy fights that could pit her against the companies, arguing that obesity cannot be eradicated ‘by passing a bunch of laws in Washington.’”

 

Agricultural Economy

Perry Beeman reported on the front page of Saturday’s Des Moines Register that, “Mark Kenney doesn’t like what he sees in his soybean and corn fields near Nevada.

Beans that should be thigh-high are struggling to reach the top of his calves. Corn leaves are rolling, a defense mechanism to save water, shutting down growth for part of the day.”

The Register article noted that, “‘What a deal!’ marveled Kenney, 33, who lives in Ankeny but farms north of Nevada. ‘You go from three weeks ago and the wettest conditions this ground has ever seen, to worried about it being hot and dry.’

“‘We’ve never seen anything like this,’ added Kenney. ‘The heat stress is becoming concerning.’

Agronomists say the conditions almost guarantee Iowa won’t see even an average corn yield this year. But there’s still hope of beating last year’s drought-shrunken results.”

Owen Fletcher reported in an article at Barron’s today that, “Corn futures prices have dived more than a third from last year’s record highs, which were fueled by an historic drought. And they have further to fall.

“This month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture projected this fall’s corn crop will total 13.95 billion bushels, which would break the previous record of 13.1 billion set in 2009. That forecast, if realized, will mark a dramatic jump of 29% from last year’s drought-stricken harvest of 10.78 billion bushels, which was the country’s smallest since 2006.

Weather conditions in the rest of July will be a major determinant of final yields this year. Much of the U.S. corn crop will be in its crucial pollination phase, which determines the number of kernels each ear of corn produces.”

In other news, John Mangalonzo reported on Friday Abilene Reporter-News (Tex.) Online that, “For the past two decades, there has been a continual decline in cattle numbers in Texas and the historic drought of 2011 did nothing but aggravate the situation.

“With the January 2013 total of all cattle and calves in the nation at 89.3 million head — the lowest reported number in over 60 years — the industry is very short on calf supply. In addition, lack of moisture has created poor pasture conditions in most areas, driving the demand up for high-priced feed.”

And on Friday, USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service released its Cattle on Feed report, which stated in part that, “Cattle and calves on feed for slaughter market in the United States for feedlots with capacity of 1,000 or more head totaled 10.4 million head on July 1, 2013. The inventory was 3 percent below July 1, 2012…[M]arketings of fed cattle during June totaled 1.90 million, 4 percent below 2012. Marketings for the month of June are the lowest since the series began in 1996.”

Keith Good