May 22, 2018

Farm Bill; Ag Economy; EPA; Immigration; and, Climate

Farm Bill

House Ag Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R., Okla.) spoke yesterday with Ramey Cozart on KKBS radio (Guymon, Okla.) and was asked: “What’s the No. 1 thing affecting production agriculture right now?”

In response, Chairman Lucas provided a general overview of the economic and policy landscape by breaking down the outlook into short, medium and long-term perspectives.

Well, in the short term it’s still weather issues, for the next few weeks and months.  Is it going to continue to rain on the Corn Belt?  Are we going to stay green for the rest of the fall?  Will we be able to put a wheat crop in the ground?

In the longer run, the real question is about the farm bill.  We’re operating now in the sixth year of a five-year farm bill.  Will I be able to go to conference in September?  Can I work out the differences with the Senate and get a farm bill on the books?  Because remember, while most farmers and ranchers know that the biggest part of the money in the farm bill is food stamps now, nonetheless the farm bill is the commodity title, it’s crop insurance, it’s the conservation programs, it’s CRP and rural development and farm credit, all those things.

“The farm bill is very important, especially if Mother Nature decides that the last few weeks of green is just temporary and we go back to drought conditions next year and the year after, or world markets take a hiccup, the Chinese stop buying imports, what that does to demand, or just a whole myriad of things.  So putting the farm bill on the books is, in the intermediate, the next most important thing.”

Chairman Lucas explained that, “And if you just want to talk about a long ways down the road, the trade agreements that are going on, because right now the President’s proposed, and it’s a legitimate thing, proposed trying to negotiate with the European Union a trade agreement to open up imports and exports to a greater degree with the Europeans and with the Pacific Rim countries, they’re trying to negotiate that.  That’s all the way from New Zealand around to Japan, for instance.

But the thing on trade agreements is it’s not just trade—is it fair?  By that are the tariffs really the same for stuff going in and out of the country?  Will the people we deal with in other countries standardize what they refer to as phytosanitary standards?  Will they grade and deal with bug and pest and variety issues in a fair and equitable fashion?  If trade is fair, these trade agreements, if they can be concluded, in the long run will open up more markets to us, but it’s got to be fair.  Not just free, it’s got to be fair.

So in the short run it’s the weather, intermediate it’s passing the farm bill, in the long run it’s still these trade deals with the rest of the world.”

As a side note, Katie Smith reported yesterday at Roll Call Online that Chairman Lucas was tied for fifth in a “top ten tally members of Congress with the most town halls scheduled this month.”

Meanwhile, Ursula Zerilli reported yesterday at the Kalamazoo Gazette (Mich.) Online that, “U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow rubbed a freshly picked hop in her hands on Tuesday while touring 30 acres of hop vines, hanging on trellises, at Hop Head Farms in Hickory Corners.

Hop Head Farms invited Stabenow to visit the fast-growing farming business, which officially opened in 2012 and is already on track to produce 60,000 pounds of hops by the end of next year.”

The article noted that, “During the visit, the owners also told Stabenow how the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program, a federal program which provides grants and outreach programs to farmers, was a huge asset in launching their farm.

“‘There will be more we can do to work with you,’ said Stabenow, describing how a new federal crop insurance program included in the proposed 2013 Farm Bill would work.”

Yesterday’s article added that, “Stabenow said the a federal crop insurance program designed to help tart cherry farmers would be announced this week, despite troubles with the Senate-passed 2013 Farm Bill that was rejected by the U.S. House of Representatives this summer due to concerns regarding food stamps.”

Also, Sarah Schuch reported yesterday at The Flint Journal (Mich.) Online that, “It was a hot, sunny day at the Mr. Rogers Program in Burton, a great time to show off the hard work teens had done in the gardens.

“U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, made a stop to the community garden and hoop house program.”

The article noted that, “The Mr. Rogers program, which is operated through Catholic Charities of Shiawassee and Genesee counties, provides mentoring for at-risk students and oversees the gardening programs. The approximately 90 teenagers in the program came to it through TeenQuest, a local pre-employment leadership training program.”

And, a news update yesterday from Senate Ag Committee Member John Boozman (R., Ark.) noted that, “We visited with Jonesboro’s KASU this morning about important issues under discussion in Washington and Arkansas. We’re kicking off our annual agriculture tour and farmers, ranchers are asking about the farm bill and we’re in a good position to help Arkansas agribusinesses get the safety nets they need. We also discussed the President’s health care law and the turmoil in the Middle East. You can listen to the interview in its entirety here.”

During the KASU interview, Sen. Boozman noted that, “Hopefully we’ll get this done before the time period runs out.  If not, have a short-term extension and try and get a farm bill done before the end of the year.  It’s so important.  The name of the game right now is jobs, jobs, jobs.  What this does is provide certainty for our farmers so that they can go forward and make the decisions that they need to as far as buying equipment and hiring people, things like that, so it really would be a big boost to the economy.”

He added that, “We need to make sure that we have a safety net that allows all of the different sectors of agriculture—in the South we irrigate a lot, the Plains states have different requirements, different concerns, so you need to have a good crop insurance program.  You also have to, for those that irrigate a lot, get into a system of target prices and things.  The direct payments will go away.

But again, in their place, we’re working hard to put in a system that allows the banks to know that there is a safety net in place so that they will lend to our farmers, but also to make sure that we’re doing the very best that we can in regard to the taxpayer.”

Meanwhile, Rep. Kevin Cramer, a Freshman GOP lawmaker from North Dakota, was a guest on yesterday’s News & Views radio program with Joel Heitkamp (790 AM Fargo-Moorhead, N.D.).

During yesterday’s discussion, Rep. Cramer noted that, “But Joel, we passed a Farm Bill by separating it.  It failed for lack of- I mean I know [Rep. Collin Peterson (D., Minn.)] is frustrated- God knows he has worked hard on it; none of this his fault, he has been a very strong ally for agriculture, but his conference has changed dramatically as well- as has the Republican conference.  And extremists in both conferences have made it very difficult to broker the type of deal that we used to be able to brokerAlso by the way, the economy that our country finds itself in has made it more difficult.

“But when food stamps have more than doubled in five years, there gets to be a point where even agriculture doesn’t want to be tied to that type of a welfare program.  So times change, the era has changed, and so we tried it the other way.  Let’s try separating them, see if that works.  When we separated the two, the farm portion passed.

I believe when we come back in September we will pass the food stamp portion, or maybe we won’t.  Whether we pass it or we don’t pass it, what it does do is it moves the ball one more first down to the conference, and then we will name conferees and there will be a conference.  And I believe Joel, as a matter of practicality, and you and I are pragmatic people, all of this stuff is just a process that will get us to probably, a pretty similar Farm Bill to what would have passed if we wouldn’t have done all of this process.”

David Montgomery reported yesterday at the Argus Leader (Sioux Falls, S.D.) Online that, “After years of setbacks and false starts, Rep. Kristi Noem said it looks like Congress will finally pass a farm bill in the coming months.

“‘My leadership team has told me that it’s going to happen, because I’ve been pretty ugly with them at different times,’ said Noem, a Republican. ‘So I’m taking them at their word that they’re going to make sure it gets scheduled and they’re going to make sure we’ve got the votes.’”

The article noted that, “Despite a divided, partisan 113th Congress and the farm bill’s recent legislative difficulties, Noem predicted that compromise would not only be reached but would pass both houses.

“‘We’ll meet somewhere in between,’ Noem said. ‘So it probably won’t have the reforms that all the Republicans necessarily want, but it probably won’t make all of the Democrats happy in the Senate, either.’

“Noem made her prediction after a town hall meeting at the Dakotafest ag expo in Mitchell, where several audience members asked about progress on the farm bill.”

Mr. Montgomery pointed out that, “Also at the town hall, Noem expressed interest in reforming the food stamp program by placing new requirements on food stamp recipients, including possibly pilot programs letting states impose drug testing or work requirements on recipients.

Most of the audience raised their hands when Noem asked how many would be interested requiring able-bodied workers under 55 without young children to have a job in order to receive food stamps.

“Both Noem and questioners praised the federal renewable fuels standard, which requires ethanol in gasoline.”

Pete Kasperowicz reported yesterday at The Hill’s Floor Action Blog that, “Rep. Dan Benishek (R-Mich.) on Tuesday compared efforts to keep Republicans unified to ‘getting 230 frogs in a wheelbarrow.’”

“According to the Mining Gazette, Benishek pointed to the farm bill as an example of how hard it can be to keep Republicans unified. In that case, GOP leaders called up a bill that would have cut $20 billion in food stamps, but the bill was rejected 195-234 when 62 Republicans decided the bill did not cut enough.

The farm bill vote was by far the biggest public display of disagreement in the GOP ranks this year, although the party has split on other votes.”

In addition, Nanci Hellmich reported earlier this week at USA Today Online that, “Fewer kids ate school lunch last year after new nutrition standards put more vegetables and fewer french fries on their plates. But breakfast consumption at schools rose as more places started offering the meal in creative ways and often at no charge.

“Government data show that average daily participation in school lunches decreased about 3% from 31.9 million students a day during the 2011-2012 school year to 30.9 million during the 2012-2013 school year. The biggest drop came in students who pay for their own lunch, not those who get it at a free or reduced price lunch.

“Meanwhile, participation in school breakfast — which is getting a nutrition makeover this year — went up by about 2.5% during that same time period. The number of kids eating school breakfast daily increased from 12.81 million in 2011-2012 to 13.15 million during 2012-2013, partly due to the increase in children getting free breakfasts.”

And in other policy news, Reuters writer Carey Gillam reported yesterday that, “More than 150 U.S. farm and food businesses and organizations on Wednesday called for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to strengthen its oversight of field trials of experimental, genetically modified crops.

“The group includes organic and natural food industry representatives as well as family farm and trade policy players. It said the disarray in international markets after an unapproved genetically modified wheat developed by Monsanto Co was discovered growing unchecked in Oregon this spring is the latest example of the need to change GMO field trial regulations.”


Agricultural Economy

Eric Bradner reported yesterday at Politico that, “What could conservative Republican Reps. Michele Bachmann and Walter Jones and liberal Democratic Rep. Rosa DeLauro possibly agree on?

They all want to limit President Barack Obama’s ability to ‘fast-track’ international trade deals.”

Mr. Bradner noted that, “The three representatives are gathering lawmakers’ signatures on letters that seek to block Obama from using the fast-track process called Trade Promotion Authority, which limits Congress to up-or-down votes on free-trade agreements and bars all amendments. Every president since Richard Nixon has had that power, although it lapsed in 2007 because of a lack of major trade deals requiring its reauthorization.

“The stakes are high: The Obama administration is rushing to complete the 12-country Trans-Pacific Partnership by the end of this year, and is also in the early stages of negotiating a massive pact between the United States and the European Union. Advocates say the deals together would be worth tens of billions in new U.S. exports each year – but that they could be derailed unless the president has fast-track authority to finalize an agreement without the risk of lawmakers sending it back to the drawing board.”

A news update yesterday from the U.S. Trade Representatives Office (USTR) indicated that, “In Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei Darussalam, Ambassador Froman engaged today with a broad group of trade ministers, emphasizing the Obama Administration’s commitment to deeper economic engagement with one of the world’s most dynamic regions.

“Ambassador Froman met with the trade ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), a 10-country bloc of Asian countries – Brunei Darussalam, Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. Taken together, these 10 countries are the United States’ fourth-largest export market.”

The USTR update added that, “Starting tomorrow, the TPP ministers will meet as the 19th round of TPP talks begins here, to review outstanding issues and chart a path toward the TPP Leaders’ goal of concluding a high-standard, ambitious agreement this year. The United States views the TPP as an important component of a robust trade strategy designed to open markets for American exports, help American firms — including small and medium-sized businesses — participate in global supply chains, and support jobs at home.”


EPA- Environmental Protection Agency

A news release yesterday from Sen. Jim Inhofe (R., Okla.) stated that, “[Inhofe], senior member of the Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee, and Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) sent a letter Thursday to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy requesting clarification on the EPA’s interpretation of its authority with regard to enforcing the Spill, Prevention, Containment, and Countermeasure (SPCC) rule on farmers. In the letter, the Senators expressed concern for the EPA’s intent to retroactively enforce the rule despite bicameral and bipartisan congressional support to delay implementation and ultimately exempt much of the agriculture industry from it.”



Emma Dumain reported yesterday at Roll Call Online that, “The fate of an immigration overhaul in the House has become a guessing game, but in two separate statements this week, one Republican lawmaker with significant influence over how the process will unfold hinted at what could — or won’t — come to pass.

“First, in an interview on Monday with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, Judiciary Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte, R-Va., said he supported providing legal status for ‘Dreamers,’ the children of undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country illegally by their parents. He wouldn’t, however, support a pathway to citizenship, which Democrats say is a sticking point for them in any comprehensive overhaul of the nation’s immigration system.”

Ms. Dumain added that, “On Wednesday afternoon, Goodlatte sent a letter to Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano weighing in on another aspect of the immigration debate: reports of a surge of undocumented immigrants coming into the country claiming asylum under false pretenses ‘to game the system by getting a free pass into the U.S. and a court date that they do not plan to show up for.’

“Goodlatte and other Republicans have said that any immigration overhaul effort must not be tantamount to an ‘amnesty’ bill for the 11 million undocumented citizens living in the United States.”

Ramsey Cox reported yesterday at The Hill’s Floor Action Blog that, “Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said he hopes the House passes a better immigration reform bill that fixes the ‘broken’ system since the Senate-passed bill is ‘chock-full of loopholes.’

“‘Unfortunately, the bill passed by the U.S. Senate won’t fix what’s broken and is chock-full of loopholes that make the legalization system far from ideal,’ Grassley said. ‘Now the U.S. House of Representatives has a chance to get it right.’”

And, Mike Lillis reported yesterday at The Hill Online that, “Comprehensive immigration reform would pass the House today if GOP leaders would bring it to the floor, Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) said Wednesday.

“‘The question isn’t whether or not there are 218 votes. There are probably 235, 240 votes for comprehensive immigration reform,’ Gutierrez said Wednesday in an interview with MSNBC. ‘Maybe not the Senate bill, but for comprehensive immigration reform with a path to citizenship and a broad pathway to legalization.’”



Amy Harder reported yesterday at National Journal Online that, “After virtually ignoring the nation’s biggest environmental issue for years, Republican leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee are planning a major hearing on climate change on Sept. 18 and are inviting leaders of 13 federal agencies to testify. It will be the first time since President Obama unveiled his climate action plan in June that administration officials will testify on Capitol Hill about the agenda.”

Keith Good

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