January 29, 2020

Farm Bill; Budget; Ag Economy, and Political Notes

Farm Bill Issues- Conference Committee, Livestock Concerns, Farm Payments

A news release yesterday from Rep. Kristi Noem (R., S.D.) indicated that, “[Rep. Noem] today said she has received an assurance from Speaker of the House John Boehner that he will appoint House conferees within the next week to the House-Senate Farm Bill conference committee. The naming of House conferees will allow formal Farm Bill conference negotiations to begin, bringing the Farm Bill one step closer to completion.

“‘Both the House and the Senate have passed Farm Bills and it is time to begin conference negotiations and finish our work on a five-year Farm Bill,’ Noem said.  ‘I spoke this morning at our weekly Republican meeting and described to my colleagues the devastation in western South Dakota that has resulted from the weekend storm. The lack of a comprehensive Farm Bill leaves all of our producers without the certainty they need.  This is especially true for our livestock producers who are currently without the protection of a livestock disaster program. After further conversations with the Speaker today, I appreciate him confirming that he plans to move forward and appoint conferees within the next week.  We need to move quickly to get a five-year Farm Bill completed.’”

A news item yesterday from Sen. John Thune (R., S.D.) stated that, “[Sen. Thune] wrote two separate letters today calling for action from Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to assist South Dakota ranchers who suffered historic livestock losses caused by the early winter snowstorms that hit the Black Hills and western South Dakota over the weekend. Thune is also providing guidance for ranchers on his website following Secretary Vilsack’s decision to make the United States Department of Agriculture website unavailable during the partial government shutdown. Thune continues to work with his colleagues in the Senate to end the partial government shutdown and move toward a bipartisan agreement on a new Farm Bill.

“Thune’s letter to Speaker Boehner called on the Speaker to appoint Farm Bill conferees so that Farm Bill Conference Committee negotiations can begin as soon as possible.”

The release added that, “Thune’s letter to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack called on the Secretary to reopen Farm Service Agency (FSA) offices in the impacted counties in western South Dakota.”

Meanwhile, Reuters writer Michael Hirtzer reported yesterday that, “Disaster aid will be slow to come for South Dakota ranchers who lost as many as 60,000 head of cattle during an historic blizzard over the weekend, industry officials said on Tuesday.

“Cattle died of hypothermia or suffocated under snowdrifts after a ‘perfect storm’ brought rain, then record snowfall and strong winds to the portion of the state west of the Missouri River, said Silvia Christen, executive director of the South Dakota Stockgrowers Association.”

Mr. Hirtzer explained that, “South Dakota is the sixth largest U.S. cattle producer with about 3.8 million head. The United States has about 89 million head of cattle – its smallest herd in 61 years.

“The state’s ranchers could apply for disaster relief under the Livestock Indemnity Program that would pay them a portion of the animal’s market value. But the program is part of the 2008 farm bill extension that expired Oct 1 – the first day of the U.S. government shutdown over a budget impasse.

And with the U.S. Agriculture Department shuttered, livestock producers also are unable to file paperwork detailing their losses with USDA’s Farm Service Agency.”

Kelsey Gee reported yesterday at The Wall Street Journal Online that, “Ranchers in South Dakota on Tuesday were tallying the damage of a blizzard that killed perhaps hundreds of thousands of cattle in the state’s southwest.

“The storm, which struck late Friday, dumped as much as 3 to 4 feet of snow in some parts of the Black Hills region of South Dakota, and in parts of Wyoming. South Dakota Secretary of Agriculture Lucas Lentsch, citing estimates from industry groups, said as much as 5% of the state’s 3.85 million cattle may have been killed, though he said the total death count may not be known until the spring.”

The Journal article pointed out that, “Relief for ranchers could be slowed by the federal government’s partial shutdown, which closed regional offices of the Farm Service Agency, an arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture where producers would normally seek assistance. Ranchers also face uncertainty over federal compensation policy for livestock losses in a disaster because of Congress’s failure to pass a new farm bill, said Silvia Christen, executive director of the South Dakota Stockgrowers Association.”

Rep. Noem discussed the weather disaster on the House floor yesterday, where she noted in part that, “Our lack of a comprehensive Farm Bill leaves these ranchers without the protection of a livestock disaster program to blunt some of the loss. I fought hard to include livestock disaster programs in our Farm Bill that would cover these producers retroactively. It is time we finish our work and go to conference. When producers could lose their livelihood, we need that safety net to help mitigate these damages. Getting the Farm Bill done could give those in western South Dakota more certainty during this time.”

In other developments, Reuters writer Charles Abbott reported yesterday that, “U.S. lawmakers must tighten farm subsidy rules to make sure the money goes only to active farmers and landowners, a congressional report said on Tuesday, warning that millions of dollars are at stake.

“Senator Charles Grassley, who requested the report, said it showed ‘there is still far too much subterfuge’ involved in the way farm payments are made and limits applied.

“The Iowa Republican called for ‘closing loopholes that allow non-farmers to game the system.’”

The Reuters article noted that, “Ferd Hoefner of the small-farm group National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition said the current definition of farm management was ‘a wide-open loophole … used to get almost unlimited payments’ to large operations.

The House and Senate bills would allow only one person per farm to claim subsidies as the manager. They also would set a $250,000 per limit on payments for a couple and bar payments to the wealthiest operators. The two bills, which are yet to be reconciled, have different levels for the cut-off point for income.”

Also yesterday, Chris Clayton reported at the DTN Ag Policy Blog that, “President Barack Obama noted his administration has been good to farmers as he talked about small businesses during a Tuesday afternoon press conference on the federal shutdown.

“In criticizing House Republicans for the government shutdown, the president cited various business-related activities that aren’t taking place. Obama then challenged the argument that Republicans are friendlier to small businesses than Democrats. For instance, the Small Business Administration gives out $1 billion in loans every month, but that isn’t happening during the shutdown. ‘So there are small businesses in every state that are counting on loans to get their business going and you have got the party of small business going out there saying the Small Business Administration can’t do it,’ Obama said.”

The DTN update indicated that, “‘You have got farmers, who are waiting for loans right now and those loans cannot be processed,’ he said. ‘The Republican Party says it’s the party that looks out for farmers. I happen to disagree. I think farmers have done real good under my administration. But having said that, why would you keep the government shut down and those farmers not get those loans?’”

Ellyn Ferguson reported yesterday at Roll Call Online that, “Cranberry farmers turned part of Union Station into a bog Tuesday in a bid by a growers’ cooperative to draw congressional attention to the tart fruit.”

The article pointed out that, “The bog is also an example of how even the lesser-known sectors of the nation’s agricultural economy are coming forward to press lawmakers for action on replacing the now-expired farm bill, in this case to help boost overseas sales after U.S. cranberry surpluses depressed market prices.”

And an update yesterday at the Heritage Foundation Online noted in part that, “The House and Senate are expected to meet soon to work out differences in their farm bills—or more appropriately titled, their food stamp bills…[T]o achieve any substantive reform, agriculture policy and food stamps must be separated into different bills now and in the future. For political reasons alone, food stamps and agriculture policy have been combined into farm bills. By getting urban legislators who tend to support food stamps and rural legislators who tend to support farm programs into a coalition, Congress has enacted farm bills without proper consideration of these programs on their merits. Real reform will only be achieved when Congress takes the time to address these issues independently.”


Budget Issues- Food Safety and Other Impacts

Brady Dennis reported in today’s Washington Post that, “Nearly a dozen experts on foodborne illnesses who were furloughed because of the government shutdown have been called back to work, in part to help with an ongoing salmonella outbreak that has sickened nearly 300 people, including some who have been hospitalized with difficult-to-treat infections.

“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday that it had called back several data analysts and epidemiologists whose jobs are to track down and respond to foodborne illnesses across the country.”

The Post article stated that, “The CDC’s move came on the heels of a safety alert issued Monday by the Agriculture Department’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, warning of the growing number of illnesses caused by strains of Salmonella Heidelberg, which have been associated with raw chicken products produced by California-based Foster Farms.”

In a related article, David Pierson and Tiffany Hsu reported yesterday at the Los Angeles Times Online that, “A salmonella outbreak in Foster Farms chicken contains several antibiotic-resistant strains that may explain an unusually high rate of hospitalization.

“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday that some salmonella strains found in the outbreak were resistant to one or more drugs — and that 42% of those sickened have been hospitalized.”

Julian Hattem reported yesterday at The Hill’s RegWatch Blog that, “Food safety advocates worry that the shutdown is making it harder for regulators to protect public health.

“‘This outbreak shows that is a terrible time for government public health officials to be locked out of their offices and labs, and for government websites to go dark,’ said Caroline Smith DeWaal, the food safety director at the Center for Science in the Public Interest.”

Meanwhile, Sen. Dick Durbin highlighted some of the impacts of the federal budget impasse in an interview yesterday on WDWS radio (1400- Champaign, Il.).

In part, Sen. Durbin pointed out that hundreds of thousands of families across Illinois run out of WIC payments this week.  The Illinois Democrat pointed out that some 60% of baby formula goes through the WIC program.  He also expressed concern about the shelving of government reports that contain important market information for agricultural producers.

A brief audio clip from yesterday’s interview with Sen. Durbin can be heard here (MP3- 1:00).

An update yesterday from the National Chicken Council indicated that, “Last week, poultry groups sent a letter to congressional officials expressing their concern about the possibility of stalled vaccine delivery as a result of the government shutdown.  The letter noted that two weeks of stalled vaccine delivery would directly impact food safety, animal health and bio-security and called on congressional officials to appropriate funding immediately to the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s (APHIS) Center for Veterinary Biologics (CVB) – the agency overseeing the release of vaccines for use in animal health, particularly poultry, cattle and swine.

“‘We would like to express our gratitude to the House Agriculture Committee, USDA, APHIS, the administration, and the many congressional officials who helped in making sure there are no interruptions at CVB in dispensing vaccines during the government shutdown,’ said U.S. Poultry & Egg Association President John Starkey, National Chicken Council President Mike Brown, and National Turkey Federation President Joel Brandenberger.”


Budget- Looking Ahead

Carol E. Lee, Janet Hook and Patrick O’Connor reported in today’s Wall Street Journal that, “President Barack Obama warned Tuesday of ‘economic chaos’ if a political stalemate causes the U.S. to no longer be able to pay its bills, and said he would accept even a short-term increase in the borrowing limit to give lawmakers time to negotiate…[H]ouse Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) quickly shot down the idea of a short-term reprieve that excludes Republican priorities, saying any increase in the nation’s statutory borrowing limit must be paired with deficit-reduction measures.”

“The exchange left the stalemate no closer to resolution, with the parties dug in even on terms over which they would conduct negotiations,” the article said.

The Journal writers added that, “Meanwhile, the House and Senate headed down separate tracks in their attempts to resolve the stalemate. The Republican-led House late Tuesday passed a bill to create a bipartisan team of negotiators  from the House and Senate to set terms for raising the borrowing limit. The panel is instructed to set levels for annual appropriations, also known as discretionary spending, as well as recommend ‘reforms’ in entitlement programs.

“Mr. Obama rejected the idea, saying the instructions meant the committee would consider Republican spending-cut proposals without Democratic ideas for raising revenue.”

Senate Democratic leaders formally introduced legislation late Tuesday to extend the borrowing authority until after the 2014 midterm elections. The bill includes none of the policy provisions demanded by many Republicans,” the article said.

Jonathan Weisman and Jackie Calmes reported in today’s New York Times that, “Not only was Washington apparently no closer to resolving the dual crises [partial government shutdown, debt limit], but the tensions between the parties and between President Obama and the Republican-controlled House seemed to worsen, with differences becoming personal and public.”

Also on current budget issues, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R., Va.) penned an opinion item yesterday at The Washington Post Online (“Divided government requires bipartisan negotiation”), while House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) had an item published in today’s Wall Street Journal (“Here’s How We Can End This Stalemate.”)


Agricultural Economy- Trade, Biotech, Biofuels, and Regulations

Vicki Needham reported yesterday at The Hill’s On the Money Blog that, “A comprehensive Asia-Pacific free trade deal is still on track for a year-end finish despite a daunting slate of unresolved issues, negotiators said on Tuesday.

“The 12 leaders of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) said they made ‘significant progress’ toward completion of the ambitious deal at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit but fell short of a final agreement.”

The Hill article added that, “[U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman] said he expects world leaders to finalize language on intellectual property and worker protections, state-owned enterprises and the environment during the World Trade Organization’s December meeting in Bali.

But an administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said it’s possible that work on the trade deal could stretch into 2014.”

Jenny Hopkinson reported yesterday at Politico that, “Washington state voters look ready to deliver the country’s first mandatory GMO labeling law with no strings attached early next month.

“But the food and biotechnology industries are far from giving up in their battle against labeling requirements for food containing genetically modified organisms and, in fact, have several more arrows in their quill — including a bill to preempt all state laws.”

The Politico article outlined in greater detail components of a potential strategy regarding labeling issues including: “Campaign like crazy to win in Washington state,” “File a lawsuit,” and, “Lobby for a federal law.”

Ben Goad reported yesterday at The Hill’s RegWatch Blog that, “The American Petroleum Institute filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday challenging Obama administration regulations requiring biofuel to be mixed with conventional gas.

“The suit, filed in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, drew immediate criticism from the renewable fuels industry.”

A news release yesterday from the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) stated in part that, “The [AFBF] took action Monday to appeal a recent court decision that upheld the Environmental Protection Agency’s ‘pollution diet’ for the 64,000-square-mile Chesapeake Bay watershed.  AFBF filed a notice to appeal the Sept. 13 federal district court ruling, seeking reversal of a decision that gives EPA wide latitude to dictate local land-use and development decisions.”


Political Notes- Ranking Member Peterson

Emily Cahn reported yesterday at Roll Call Online that, “Rep. Collin C. Peterson, D-Minn., raised about $83,000 in the third quarter, according to his third-quarter fundraising report filed with the Federal Election Commission.”

The update pointed out that, “Such a small haul raises questions about Peterson’s plans for 2014 because weak fundraising can signal that a member is looking to retire. On Tuesday, Peterson’s campaign said in a statement that the congressman is still considering his plans for 2014.

“‘It’s premature to read too much into Congressman Peterson’s report this fundraising quarter given that he does not yet have an opponent, he is still considering whether he will run again, and the amount raised is similar to what he’s raised previously in off-year quarters,’ the campaign said in the statement. ‘At this time, he remains focused on getting the farm bill completed.’”

Keith Good

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