FarmPolicy

September 3, 2014

Farm Bill; Ag Economy; Biofuels; ESA; Immigration; and, Political Notes

Farm Bill- Policy Issues

Ursula Zerilli reported yesterday at the Kalamazoo Gazette (Mich.) Online that, “Signs at the Kalamazoo Farmers Market showing that vendors accept government-assisted cash were on display as U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., visited the market on Tuesday.

“Stabenow has been traveling the state visiting farmers markets this week to tout the 2013 Farm Bill. After visiting Hop Head Farms on Tuesday morning, she met with local food access activists and toured the Kalamazoo Farmers’ Market.”

Ms. Zerilli noted that, “The passage of the farm bill isn’t being held up by farm issues; instead, lawmakers are grappling with how the bill changes federal food stamp programs.

“‘There’s a tremendous amount of politics going on in the House of Representatives right now,’ Stabenow said. ‘Their bill will play politics with food assistance and cut 6 million off of getting temporary help when they are out of work and would at the same time not help us get a farm bill done.’”

Yesterday’s article pointed out that, “Stabenow said she was confident the bill will be passed this year. Lawmakers have a Sept. 30 deadline to pass a bill, but Stabenow said she wouldn’t be surprised if that deadline was pushed back.

“‘It may slip into October, but we will get it done,’ Stabenow said. ‘We have many things in the bill that make it worth passing. We are making major changes to help farmers markets and conservation with major new effort to protect the Great Lakes. We added something called bio-base manufacturing to create jobs and help us stop using petroleum for plastics and let us use food by-products to help get us off of foreign oil. The bottom line is every community is benefited from rural development, so we need to get the farm bill done.’”

Also on the nutrition issue, Julian Hattem reported yesterday at The Hill’s RegWatch Blog that, “The U.S. Department of Agriculture has a new rule for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps.

The new regulations give state agencies more authority to deal with people who have ‘excessive’ requests for new cards used to pay for food under the program and may be trying to defraud the system.”

The Hill update indicated that, “Those state agencies will be able to deny requests for replacement cards and require that the household be in touch with them, though they will also be ‘required to protect vulnerable persons,’ including the homeless and people with disabilities, who may lose their cards.

Other provisions of the rule require that states can replace the cards within two days and that they keep track of replacement requests.”

In a related article, Pete Kasperowicz reported yesterday at The Hill’s Floor Action Blog that, “Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.) says he will introduce legislation next month that would block states from providing federal welfare benefits to people beyond the current five-year limit on those benefits.

Reed said his Promoting Assistance with Transitional Help Act would help make sure that payments after five years are only used to help people transition back to work. Today, he said, states are finding ways to make indefinite payments to people.”

The Hill article noted that, “Reed said some states are continuing to offer people welfare payments beyond five years under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program in order to ensure they are making minimum TANF payments.”

Also yesterday, a news update from Senate Ag Committee Member John Boozman (R., Ark.) stated that, “I’ve been talking a lot about the farm bill during the August work period. This morning I was on KNWA’s morning show to discuss progress toward reauthorizing the bill.”

The release added that, “The farm bill defines and authorizes funding for agriculture’s safety net. Programs authorized by this law are vital to ensuring that we do not become dependent on other countries for our food supply, in the vein that we have of our energy needs. In the coming days, I will embark on an agriculture tour to highlight how important this bill is to Arkansas. It is my hope that we can begin working with our colleagues in the House of Representatives on a compromise between the two versions we passed when we return to Washington after Labor Day.”

During the KNWA discussion, Sen. Boozman noted that, “And then again, making sure that all of the areas of the country, this is not a Republican or Democratic thing with the Farm Bill, it’s all about regional agriculture- making sure that you have a program, not one size fits all, but such that it puts the safety net in for all of our farmers.”

He added that, “If [farmers] don’t know what the rules are going to be for the next five years, it’s very difficult for them to make the plans, hire the help they need — get the bank loans they need, and so it’s all about stability.”

Rick Berman, the executive director of the Center for Consumer Freedom, noted yesterday at The Hill’s Congress Blog that, “Humane Society of the United States president Wayne Pacelle argues that a bipartisan Farm Bill amendment from Iowa Congressman Steve King, aimed at preventing California from illegally interfering in interstate trade [more details on the King Amd. here], is a federal overreach that could nullify scores of state laws. In fact, it’s a legitimate use of federal authority that will protect consumers from overreaching activists.

“From the endless email alerts, blogs, Facebook posts, and Tweets from the Humane Society—to say nothing of Pacelle’s ad hominem attacks on King—you’d think the amendment would cause the sky to fall. Far from it. What’s all the clucking really about? King’s amendment would stop animal liberation groups from using one state’s ballot box to force its views on the rest of the country.”

Mr. Berman noted that, “Food safety, in fact, is already regulated at the federal level under the Egg Products Inspection Act and various other regulatory regimes. If King’s amendment passes, it hardly means that standards and regulations are going out the window.”

Kathleen Parker noted on the opinion pages of today’s Washington Post (“Steve King’s inhumane farm bill measure”) that, “Despite strong opposition from animal rights groups as well as nearly 200 fellow House and Senate members, King has invoked the Commerce Clause to defend his amendment. He avers that having so many different laws in different places violates the federal government’s authority to regulate interstate commerce. One of the problems, as he sees it, is that states such as California that have strong laws about how chickens must be raised (enough room in a cage to stand and spread their wings) can impose their standards on other states that sell their egg products in California: ‘The impact of their large market would compel producers in every other state to invest billions to meet the California standard of ‘means of production.’”

The fate of King’s amendment will be determined when Congress reconvenes in September. For now, dozens of animal rights organizations, as well as the head of the National Conference of State Legislators, are lobbying hard to kill it,” Ms. Parker added.

And, a news release from the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) stated that, “Farm Bureau is working hard to ‘Bring the Heat’ during the August congressional recess, so members of Congress know they need to get things done when they return to Washington, according to [AFBF] President Bob Stallman.

“‘The farm bill is at the very top of the list of things Congress needs to get done,’ Stallman said in remarks presented at IDEAg Dakotafest. ‘We have to keep the heat on Congress to get a five-year farm bill done this year. It’s premature to even be talking about an extension’ of the 2008 legislation, Stallman emphasized.”

Meanwhile, Dr. Stephanie Mercier, an Agricultural Policy Consultant at Agricultural Perspectives and former Chief Economist at the Senate Ag Committee, recently made a presentation at the AAEA annual meeting titled, “Agricultural Policy Issues Outside the Farm Bill.”

In particular, Dr. Mercier noted that, “Not so long ago, almost all the federal policy issues that mattered to U.S. agriculture were contained within the farm bill process.

Increasingly, U.S. agriculture has become more diverse and more sensitive to macro policies and forces outside the jurisdiction of the House and Senate Ag Committees.

“In an effort to stay ahead of the game, the farm bill has added several new separate titles in the last few rounds.

– Conservation (1985).

– Renewable Energy (2002).

– Livestock (2008).

– Horticulture and Organic Agriculture (2008).

These moves also reflect an effort to appeal to a broader set of interest groups and constituents, because the geographic area where production agriculture is still a key part of the local economy has been shrinking over time.”

The presentation also contained this interesting graphic illustration depicting “Farm Program and Nutrition Spending as Share of Federal Budget, Selected Years.”

Dr. Mercier’s slide presentation went on to provide a brief overview of other important policy considerations for the agricultural sector including: Biofuels, immigration, transportation, environmental laws, EPA, and global food security.

As part of the presentation summary, Dr. Mercier pointed out that, “U.S. agriculture is uniquely vulnerable to an array of outside forces among U.S. economic sectors.”

 

Agricultural Economy

AP writer Steve Karnowski reported yesterday that, “Cornfields and pastures are drying out across parts of central and eastern Minnesota, leading some cattle producers to thin out their herds.

There hasn’t been significant rain in parts of the region for several weeks, and corn and soybeans are wilting on land that’s not irrigated, said Dan Martens, a University of Minnesota Extension educator. Growth in hay fields and pastures there has come to a halt, he added.”

The article noted that, “Minnesota farmers are still expected to harvest the second-largest corn crop in state history, but a narrow swath of abnormally dry conditions is found from the southwest corner through central Minnesota and eastern Minnesota north of the Twin Cities, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.”

On a separate issue, Sarah Varney reported in today’s New York Times that, “Farm labor contractors across California, the nation’s biggest agricultural engine, are increasingly nervous about a provision of the Affordable Care Act that will require hundreds of thousands of field workers to be covered by health insurance.

“While the requirement was recently delayed until 2015, the contractors, who provide farmers with armies of field workers, say they are already preparing for the potential cost the law will add to their business, which typically operates on a slender profit margin.”

The article noted that, “‘I’ve been to at least a dozen seminars on the Affordable Care Act since February,’ said Chuck Herrin, owner of Sunrise Farm Labor, a contractor based here. ‘If you don’t take the right approach, you’re wiped out.’

The effects of the law could be profound. Insurance brokers and health providers familiar with California’s $43.5 billion agricultural industry estimate that meeting the law’s minimum health plan requirement will cost about $1 per hour per employee worked in the field.”

Ms. Varney pointed out that, “The concern is felt from vineyards in Napa County to the almond orchards outside Coalinga in the Central Valley. Farm labor contractors generally rely on a 2 percent profit, and they say they will have to pass the added health care costs required by the law on to growers.”

 

Biofuels

A news release yesterday from Iowa GOP Senator Charles Grassley (R., Iowa) stated that, “U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar (D, MN) and [Grassley] called on the Justice Department and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate possible anticompetitive practices by oil companies that limit consumers access to homegrown renewable fuels. In a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder and FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez, Klobuchar, the Chair of the Antitrust Subcommittee, and Grassley, the Ranking Member of the Judiciary Committee, urged the Administration to take action to address recent reports indicating that oil companies may be undermining efforts to distribute renewable fuels, including higher ethanol gasoline blends, that help boost our nation’s energy security and lower the price of gas for consumers.

“‘The promise of renewable fuels is rapidly becoming a reality and introducing much needed competition to the transportation fuels sector,’ the members said. ‘Given the implication these alleged activities, if true, could have on competition in the marketplace, we urge you to investigate them and consider whether any action is necessary. We look forward to working with you to ensure that Americans can continue to realize the benefits of cheaper, cleaner renewable fuel.’”

 

ESA- Endangered Species Act

Pete Kasperowicz reported yesterday at The Hill’s Floor Action Blog that, “Two House Republicans say the Obama administration is willfully ignoring local opinions on whether and how to expand coverage of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and are calling for field hearings in Montana and North Dakota to ensure these opinions are heard.

“Reps. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) and Steve Daines (R-Mont.) asked House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) for local meetings and said they are particularly worried about plans to cover the greater sage-grouse, a ground-dwelling bird, under the law.”

 

Immigration

David Harrison reported yesterday at Roll Call Online that, “A coalition of evangelical groups plans to spend $400,000 advertising on Christian radio stations to call on Congress to pass a broad immigration overhaul that would grant citizenship to many of the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the country.

“The ads will play in 14 states and 56 congressional districts, mostly represented by Republicans, said Barrett Duke, vice president for public policy and research at the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.”

And Jennifer Jacobs reported yesterday at the Iowa Politics Blog (Des Moines Register) that, “A national advocacy group says Iowa would benefit if Congress were to approve comprehensive immigration reform.

“The Center for American Progress, a think tank founded by former White House Chief of Staff John Podesta that promotes liberal policies, prepared a state-by-state estimate of economic benefits.

The report, released this afternoon, says that over 10 years, Iowa would see 867 additional jobs annually, a $3.3 billion cumulative increase in the earnings of all Iowa residents, and $2.8 billion cumulative additional earnings for Iowa immigrants, who will pay an additional $283 million in state and local taxes over this time period.”

 

Political Notes

A recent editorial from The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead (N.D.) stated that, “Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., is square in the sights of the National Republican Congressional Committee. The long-serving District 7 congressman is described in an NRCC cable TV ad as an out-of-touch politician who has been in Congress too long.

“The voters of the district disagree. And it is likely (although anything can happen before November 2014) Peterson will easily win another term if he decides to run again. By the way, he should seek re-election. He’s done well by the people of the 7th and they have rewarded him again and again with near-landslide victories.”

The opinion item added that, “Peterson knows the people of his district. He has represented their interests as a moderate Blue Dog Democrat. They seem more than satisfied with his work. Despite the NRCC’s attempt to paint him as anti-farmer, most farmers in the 7th know better. Despite the lame charge that Peterson is responsible for ‘gridlock and dysfunction in Washington,’ voters in the district know which party controls the U.S. House; they know House Republicans are blocking a balanced farm bill.

“Peterson should welcome the NRCC’s attack ad. It seems desperate. It is shallow political boilerplate. He can enjoy the rest of the August recess in the beautiful 7th, and take some comfort that the NRCC is targeting him. He’ll spin it into a badge of honor.”

Keith Good

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