FarmPolicy

September 19, 2019

Farm Bill; Budget; Biofuels; Ag Economy; Immigration; and Political Notes

Farm Bill

Amy Dalrymple reported yesterday at The Grand Forks Herald (N.D.) Online that, “In the middle of a crew camp that houses North Dakota oil workers, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor got an earful about agriculture.

“Cantor, a Republican from Virginia, toured the Bakken on Wednesday to see North Dakota’s energy production firsthand, but he also talked one-on-one with Cando farmer Gene Nicholas about the state’s other leading industry.

Nicholas, a retired state legislator, said he came away from the discussion with confidence that a farm bill ‘that we can live with’ will be passed this year.”

Ms. Dalrymple explained that, “Cantor’s visit was closed to the media except for a press conference in which Cantor took three questions.

During the press conference, Cantor said Speaker of the House John Boehner will appoint members of a conference committee on the farm bill in September, after passing a bill dealing with food stamps.

“‘We in the House expect to move a nutrition title out of the House,’ Cantor said. ‘That title will reflect the reform agenda that we’ve been about in the nutrition program.’”

The article noted that, “Cantor, hosted by Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., met with energy industry and community leaders at a crew camp in Williston, toured a drilling site and other oilfield locations in the Bakken and met with North Dakota Petroleum Council members in Watford City.”

Tim Alberta reported yesterday at National Journal Online that, “Since Republicans regained control of the House in 2011, conservative outside groups have executed a relentless pressure campaign aimed at pushing the House majority further toward the base, and impressing upon lawmakers the risks of voting against the recommendation of these right-wing rainmakers.

“But after a summertime spat over agriculture policy, GOP lawmakers decided to push back.

“According to several sources with direct knowledge of the situation, the Republican Study Committee—a group of 172 conservative House members—has barred Heritage Foundation employees from attending its weekly meeting in the Capitol. The conservative think tank has been a presence at RSC meetings for decades and enjoys a close working relationship with the committee and its members. But that relationship is now stretched thin, sources say, due to a series of policy disputes that culminated with a blowup over last month’s vote on the farm bill.”

Yesterday’s article stated that, “The new farm bill had passed over the objections of Heritage Action, which, to the astonishment of some RSC members, had issued another alert, telling conservatives to vote against the split bill—despite having spent years agitating for exactly that. In its warning, Heritage Action said the revised legislation ‘would make permanent farm policies—like the sugar program—that harm consumers and taxpayers alike.’

To some conservative members, this was Heritage Action moving the goalposts, plain and simple. And they were furious about it. Members mumbled to each other about how it had become impossible to please these powerful outside groups, which are known to raise more money off Democratic victories than Republican ones. There was, as one Hill aide put it, ‘enormous discontent’ among conservative members who were tired of feeling threatened by an outside group that existed as a parasite living off the Republican members of Congress.”

The National Journal article noted that, “It’s unclear whether this breach in relations will extend beyond Heritage’s removal from the RSC meetings.”

Meanwhile, an article earlier this week at The Durango Herald (Colo.) Online reported that, “[Sen. Michael Bennet’s (D., Colo.)] stop in southern Weld County was the first of his Eastern Plains Listening Tour – aimed at highlighting issues for rural Coloradans, including passing the bipartisan immigration and farm bills.”

The article indicated that, “‘It would be nice if we were at a point where we could have a conference with the House and discuss these issues,’ said Bennet, a member of the Farm Bill Conference Committee that will eventually work out and negotiate the differences between the House and Senate versions of the farm bill. ‘That’s where we’ve needed to be for a long time.’”

Katie Alexander reported this week at KWQC-TV (Davenport, Iowa) Online that, “[Clinton County Farm Bureau Board Member Curt Allen] is one of a handful of local farmers sitting down with Democratic Congressman Dave Loebsack this week. The Farm Bill Forum in DeWitt, Iowa, Monday was an informal conversation, talking about agriculture issues over lemonade and cookies – a chance to ask questions and give input about what the Farm Bill should include:

“‘We definitely want to maintain our crop insurance program,’ Allen said, ‘On a year like last year and this year, we find out if that can make a difference between staying in business and not.’”

The news item stated that, “But the general consensus among farmers and Iowa legislators is that separating the farm provisions from food stamps is not a good idea:

“‘Here in Iowa, all of the congressional delegation agrees that it is really not practical to separate the two, that the only way to get a Farm Bill is to keep those two combined,’ explained Rep. Loebsack (D-2nd Congressional District).

“‘Being a minority, it would probably be very easy for them to throw the whole thing away on the agriculture side if we were not tied to the nutritional program,’ agreed Allen.”

William Petroski reported in yesterday’s Des Moines Register that, “[Iowa GOP Rep. Tom Latham] believes [Farm Bill] approval by Congress is ‘very doable’ and he is optimistic that the differences between the House and Senate can be resolved in October.”

Stephanie Fischer reported yesterday at the Stuttgart Daily Leader (Ark.) Online that, “Rep. Rick Crawford (R-Ark.) reminded members of the Arkansas Ag Council Tuesday that ‘the clock is ticking’ on the Farm Bill, but promised to ‘keep up the fight’ in Washington.”

“The argument over the Farm Bill is divided geographically, not politically, according to Crawford, who said legislation has been following a ‘midwestern model’ since the mid-1990s.”

The article added that, “‘The world will not end,’ Crawford said of lawmakers missing the Sept. 30 deadline, ‘but it certainly puts pressure on us’…[C]rawford said he believed some lawmakers may try to strip direct payments from the extension. He told Ag Council members he would not vote for an extension without direct payments, stressing that lawmakers ‘can’t change policy in an extension.’”

Meanwhile, Randy Krehbiel reported this week at the Tulsa World Online that, “Social services will be in U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn’s cross hairs when Congress resumes work next month.

“‘I have a speech I’ve been working on for six months on the social safety net,’ Coburn told the Tulsa World on Monday after a breakfast meeting with the Tulsa Regional Chamber.

“‘We’ll be putting out a Coburn book on social welfare programs.’”

Mr. Krehbiel noted that, “Congress, and especially Republicans, have been particularly critical of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. Participation in the program has gone from an average of 17.3 million per month in 2001 to 47.6 million in May.”

Also, Ben Goad reported yesterday at The Hill’s RegWatch Blog that, “Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.) sounded off about school lunches Wednesday, slamming healthy food regulations that ‘rich kids’ and the president’s daughters do not have to endure.

“The criticism came via Huelskamp’s Twitter feed, which proclaimed that, ‘Unlike rich kids & @MichelleObama girls, most kids cannot escape USDA school lunch menu regs.’

“The message carried the hash-tag #NutritionNannies, a nod to year-old federal health standards for the National School Lunch program, which are linked to the first lady’s efforts to combat childhood obesity.”

And Justin Sink reported yesterday at The Hill Online that, “Congressional Black Caucus Chairwoman Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) said Wednesday that it was up to Congress to end discrimination in the criminal justice system and ‘to make sure that no child goes hungry to school or to bed.’”

With respect to dairy issues, International Dairy Foods Association President Connie Tipton penned a recent column, which stated in part that, “We need to put farmers and consumers on the same team, so that our food supply is affordable and accessible, but still lucrative enough so that farmers can thrive. The Senate’s Dairy Market Stabilization Program does not do this, and instead is intended by design to drive up the price of milk at a time when very few can afford a higher grocery bill.

“When Congress finalizes the Farm Bill this fall, I encourage them to drop the Senate milk price increases, and adopt the House legislation. Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow is the chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture committee, and in a position to make the right decision for Michigan families by following the House Farm Bill on dairy.”

On a separate policy issue, AP writer David Pitt reported yesterday that, “Environmental and animal welfare groups sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday, alleging the federal agency unlawfully scrapped a rule that would have authorized it to collect information from large-scale livestock confinement farms.

“The Center for Food Safety, Environmental Integrity Project, Food & Water Watch, The Humane Society and Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement said the rule, which was dropped by the EPA in July 2012, would have provided details on the number of animals on each farm, the waste management practices used and the location of facilities.

“The groups said gathering such information is critical to the EPA’s enforcement of the Clean Water Act.”

 

Budget- Biofuels

Jackie Calmes reported in today’s New York Times that, “As tensions mount and expectations slip lower for any bipartisan consensus on a long-term deficit-reduction plan, a group of Republican senators will resume talks on Thursday with senior presidential advisers at the White House after a lapse that has lasted weeks.

“The two sides had said they would meet during the August recess, but the gathering will be the first in that time and is intended to take stock before Congress reconvenes in September. Neither side expressed optimism in interviews, with talks snagged on the same issues that killed past bipartisan efforts: Republicans’ demands for deeper Medicare cuts and President Obama’s insistence that they, in return, agree to higher taxes on the wealthy and some corporations.

“The apparent lack of progress after months of intermittent meetings suggests that the effort could soon be sidelined, if not ended, as the president and Congress turn to the more pressing work of negotiating measures to finance the government and increase the nation’s borrowing limit before October deadlines. Without the spending measures, the government would shut down on Oct. 1; without a higher debt limit, the nation would be unable to pay bills after mid-October and would risk another financial crisis.”

Todd Neeley reported yesterday at the DTN Ag Policy Blog that, “Although the House Energy and Commerce committee has started the process of reviewing the Renewable Fuels Standard that include calling a number of witnesses and issuing so-called white papers on various RFS questions, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., may attach a potential RFS reform bill to negotiations on an upcoming debt-ceiling debate, according to a story Wednesday from the Oil Price Information Service, or OPIS.

“The story written by reporter Rachel Gantz cites Cantor spokeswoman Megan Whittemore who told OPIS, ‘The majority leader listed a number of options to fix this issue (of the RFS), and one option was if we came up with a good bipartisan reform agreement out of the Energy and Commerce committee, then maybe we could try attaching it to a must pass bill like the debt ceiling.’”

Daniel Looker reported earlier this week at Agriculture Online that, “The top lobbyist for a South Dakota-based ethanol trade group said Tuesday that repeal of the Renewable Fuel Standard is unlikely in Congress this year.

“‘The repeal of the Renewable Fuel Standard is already off the table,’ Brian Jennings, executive vice president of the American Coalition for Ethanol told the group’s members at their annual conference in Des Moines, Iowa.”

Mr. Looker noted that, “The House of Representatives, [Jennings] said, has given up on repealing the law and is now focusing on what ethanol opponents call reform.”

And DTN writer Todd Neeley reported yesterday that, “Claims that the approaching ethanol blend wall cannot be overcome through the current Renewable Fuels Standard are false and a waiver requested by the oil industry is unnecessary, the Renewable Fuels Association said in a letter to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy Wednesday.”

 

Agricultural Economy

Bloomberg writer Ranjeetha Pakiam reported today that, “Soybeans headed for the biggest monthly advance in more than a year on concerns U.S. yields may be curbed by hot, dry weather in the Midwest.

“Soybeans for delivery in November rose as much as 0.7 percent to $13.8225 a bushel on the Chicago Board of Trade before trading at $13.78 at 12:56 p.m. in Singapore. Prices touched $14.095 on Aug. 27, the highest since June 6. Futures added 14 percent this month, the most since July 2012.”

And Bloomberg writer Tony C. Dreibus reported yesterday that, “Corn dropped for a second day as damage to plants from hot, dry weather in the U.S. Midwest may be limited, as the crop is past the critical pollination development stage. Wheat fell, while soybeans rose.”

Joel Aschbrenner reported in yesterday’s Des Moines Register that, “Don’t expect any immediate relief following what was Des Moines’ warmest day of the year. Today will be even more of a sauna, with humidity forecast to climb and temperatures expected to flirt with triple digits as a heat wave persists across the region, a meteorologist said.”

Alexandra Wexler reported in today’s Wall Street Journal that, “Sugar prices settled at a more than five-month high, in a sign the U.S. Department of Agriculture is making headway in its efforts to boost prices by buying the sweetener.

“The agency has been attempting to stave off a potential wave of defaults on $320 million in outstanding federal loans to U.S. sugar processors that come due at the end of August and September. The USDA estimates that defaults would occur when domestic sugar prices are below 20.9 cents a pound.

“Sugar for November delivery, the front-month contract, on the ICE Futures U.S. exchange rose 0.33 cent, or 1.6%, to 20.95 cents a pound Wednesday, the first settlement above 20.9 cents since March 27 and the highest close since March 15.”

And University of Illinois Agricultural Economists Darrel Good and Scott Irwin authored an interesting update yesterday at the farmdoc daily blog titled, “USDA Corn and Soybean Production Forecasting Procedures Revisited With a Focus on Derived Ear Weights.”

The conclusion of yesterday’s farmdoc update stated: “This review of the USDA’s corn and soybean yield and production forecasting procedures is a reminder of the size and robustness of the survey and forecasting methodology. The methodology is time tested and has no parallel in the private sector. One of the criticisms of the August corn yield forecast this year was that assumptions about ear weight included in the forecast process may have been too conservative, resulting in a forecast that understated actual yield potential. The ‘too low’ ear weight argument may reflect some misunderstanding of the yield forecasting methodology used by NASS, the USDA agency responsible for making the forecasts. In particular, the derived ear weight reported by NASS is a ‘hybrid’ measure reflecting information from both the objective yield survey (OYS) and agricultural yield survey (AYS). Ear weight assumptions or calculations used by farm operator respondents to the AYS are not known and this makes it impossible to ‘back out’ the 5-year average ear weight assumption used by NASS for the OYS side of the yield estimation process. Ironically, given the way the 2013 corn growing season is ending, average ear weights this year may be lower than most expected a month ago.”

 

Immigration

Jake Sherman and Carrie Budoff Brown reported yesterday at Politico that, “Immigration reform advocates have a new enemy: the congressional calendar.

“Fall’s fiscal fights have lined up in a way that could delay immigration reform until 2014, multiple senior House Republican leadership aides tell POLITICO, imperiling the effort’s prospects before the midterm elections.

“The mid-October debt ceiling deadline — an earlier-than-expected target laid out Monday by Treasury Secretary Jack Lew — is changing the House GOP leadership’s plans to pass immigration bills that month.”

 

Political Notes

Katie Smith reported yesterday at Roll Call Online that in “a top 10 tally of members of Congress with the most town halls scheduled this month,” House Ag Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R., Okla.) is tied for fifth place.

Keith Good

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