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Farm Bill; Ag Economy; Water Resources; and, Immigration

Farm Bill Issues

Ellyn Ferguson reported yesterday at Roll Call Online that, “Millions of low-income people will see their purchasing power fall Nov. 1, regardless of the outcome of a larger fight between Democrats and Republicans over future policies and spending levels for the nation’s largest domestic food aid program.

“That’s due to the end of a temporary boost funded by stimulus money that Congress approved in the months after the financial meltdown of 2008. The assistance comes through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which now distributes benefits electronically but is still often referred to as food stamps.”

The Roll Call article noted that, “Under the upcoming change, a household of four receiving a monthly maximum SNAP benefit of $632 will lose $36 a month, or more than $300 in fiscal 2014. Overall, the Congressional Budget Office projects that SNAP spending for fiscal 2014 will fall by $5 billion.”

Yesterday’s update pointed out that, “In the longer term, SNAP recipients potentially face even bigger changes under the House farm bill.

“The nutrition language in the House measure, if adopted, would end state flexibility on setting SNAP eligibility, move more people into state work-related activities under threat of losing benefits and prevent states from extending food benefits for able-bodied single childless adults in areas of high unemployment. The CBO estimates that the House policy changes could remove nearly 4 million people from SNAP in fiscal 2014. An average of 2.8 million would lose eligibility each year afterwards, the agency said. The Senate farm bill calls for $4 billion in SNAP reductions over 10 years, primarily by raising the threshold for utility deductions that help determine the amount of food benefits for which a household qualifies.”

In a separate update yesterday at Roll Call Online, Ellyn Ferguson reported that, “More than 20 percent of the population in seven states and the District of Columbia received some form of food aid in 2013 under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, according to a recent Department of Agriculture report.”

Meanwhile, a news release yesterday from Rep. Kevin Cramer (R., N.D.) stated in part that, “Today [Rep. Cramer] expressed his disappointment with the U.S. Senate leadership for calling a recess and delaying the first meeting of the farm bill conference committee. While the House is in session this week, the Senate recess is delaying the first meeting of the committee by at least a week. The House named conferees to the committee earlier this month.”

The news update also included “a summary of differences between the House and Senate farm bills.”

An update posted yesterday at KFYO Radio Online (News/Talk 790 – Lubbock, Tex.) indicated that, “Monday on Lubbock’s First News, Congressman Randy Neugebauer [R., Tex.] talked about Farm Bill negotiations between the House and Senate.”

Rep. Neugebauer also noted that the Senate would not be in session this week and added that, “Hopefully next week we’ll begin to sit down as a conference committee and begin those negotiations with the goal of hopefully finishing that up, I would hope, sometime in the early part of November.” (Related audio here (MP3- 1:59)).

Peter Urban of the Stephens Washington Bureau reported recently at the Times Record (Fort Smith, Ark.) Online that, “House and Senate negotiators hope to hammer out a consensus on a farm bill before the end of the year in what will likely be a contentious battle over food stamps.

“Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., and Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro, are among the 41 lawmakers chosen to serve on the conference committee tasked with bridging the differences between House- and Senate-approved bills.”

The article stated that, “On farm issues, Boozman and Crawford said they are looking to make sure that all regions and crops are treated fairly when it comes to providing a safety net against losses. In other words, they want to protect rice and peanut growers in Arkansas as best they can.

“‘The safety net needs to protect all regions and crops. I think we can come together on that,’ Boozman said.

“‘We can’t adopt a one-size-fits-all shallow loss system that is why we like producer choice that is in the House bill,’ Crawford said.”

Also, Mary Kay Thatcher, the Senior Director of Congressional Relations for the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF), was a guest on yesterday’s AgriTalk radio program with Mike Adams where the discussion focused on Farm Bill issues.

Ms. Thatcher noted that, “But I think there’s also a lot of discussion about whether or not a bill can be passed as a standalone measure or whether it has to be attached to something.

Certainly the most likely thing to attach it to would be whatever budget agreement might come up by the 15th of December to figure out what are we going to do about sequestration next year.  There’s a lot of people that just don’t want to let that happen the way it does.  And if you figure you got a farm bill with $20 or $30 billion in savings, you could use that money to offset some of the things that people may not want to do in sequestration.  So I think the real deadline is get it done so that we can probably attach it to another bill.”

And with respect to dairy issues, Mike Adams asked, “Okay, let’s look at dairy policy reform.  It looks like we’re down to the question being do you have some type of production control mechanism or not.  Which way do you think they go?”

In response, Ms. Thatcher noted that, “I have to believe that John Boehner is going to prevail in that.  He very much does not want to have supply management in it.  He’s the person who appointed the conferees.  I suspect strongly that when he appointed those conferees, he appointed them not just on how they would vote on nutrition type programs, but also on the dairy type program…[B]ut again, if you look at the House conferees and the kind of folks who were, indeed, appointed, I think you have to believe that Speaker Boehner just isn’t going to step back from his opposition to supply management.  So I would have to say at this point I would give him the odds-on favorite that he will prevail in not having supply management in there.”

On the issue of conservation compliance AFBF’s Ms. Thatcher stated that, “We had supported linking conservation compliance with crop insurance, and our board changed their mind on that, felt like we didn’t make the progress we wanted to make on holding forth in not having means testing applied to it, and so changed our mind a couple of weeks ago.  There’s still a large coalition out there supporting it, and I think it’s probably still got better than a 50-50 chance of passing, but probably not a lot better than a 50-50.”

And in response to a question on timing, Ms. Thatcher explained that, “I still think we’re going to get it done, Mike.  I think it may be close to the first of January again, and that probably will have an impact on what kind of programs for farmers and ranchers USDA can indeed put in place for 2014.  It’s probably too close with a lot of the implementation things that would have to happen.  But I still think that there is going to be some movement, and indeed that we’re going to get that farm bill done probably sometime in December.”

In addition, Hembree Brandon reported yesterday at the Delta Farm Press Online that, “With the number of legislative days in 2013 rapidly dwindling for Congress, National Cotton Council’s Gary Adams succinctly summarizes the situation: ‘We need a farm bill. The further we go toward year’s end, the more potential problems we face for cotton — and agriculture in general.’”

The DFP article indicated that, “Adams, NCC’s vice president of economic and policy analysis, says the race against the calendar becomes increasingly critical for cotton. ‘The later we go into the year, the more difficult it will become to implement programs in the legislation.’

“The new farm bill — whether the Senate version or House version, or some combination of the two — ‘essentially makes crop insurance the delivery mechanism of a safety net for cotton producers, except for the marketing loan. There are no other Title 1 programs.

“‘This raises issues of implementation. We’re too late in the year now for STAX (Stacked Income Protection Plan) to be ready for 2014. There will also be challenges for the crop insurance industry with program changes, and it will put a tremendous burden on FSA as well when these big changes hit late in the year.’”

Yesterday’s article added that, “A new farm bill is also needed in order to avoid another extension of the current law, which could jeopardize changes important to the cotton sector, Adams says.

“‘As popular as the current programs have been in the industry, an extension would be, for cotton, a continuation of policies that were found to be in violation of our trade commitments —and Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) has indicated she doesn’t favor continuing direct payments for another year.’

“Another important consideration, Adams says:  ‘I think we need a new farm bill to take the ongoing uncertainty about this legislation off the table for U.S. farmers — to give them the ability to plan going forward, with some assurance about what farm programs are going to be.’”

A news release yesterday from the Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance (SCFBA) stated that, “The [SCFBA] sent a letter today to the Farm Bill Conference Committee leaders applauding their efforts to establish a formal conference committee on the 2013 Farm Bill, and encouraging them to negotiate and finalize a conference report for the Farm Bill before end of the year.”

Also yesterday, a letter addressed to Ag Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R., Okla.) and Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D., Minn.), that was signed by over 70 Representatives, including Vicky Hartzler (R., Mo.) and Lucille Roybal-Allard (D., Calif.), stated in part that, “First, we would like to acknowledge all of your hard work and determination that went into guiding the 2013 Farm Bill to a conference committee.  It was no small task, and your dedication has been impressive.  Second, we want to stress the importance of insisting on the House-passed language that repeals the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) catfish program is kept in the final conferenced Farm Bill.”

In other developments, a news release yesterday from Sen. Deb Fischer (R., Neb.) stated that, “[Sen. Fischer] announced today she has written a letter to the farm bill conferees to bring their attention to significant livestock losses in western Nebraska due to the severe snow storm earlier this month.

“In the letter, Fischer highlighted Nebraska’s significant cattle losses to make the case for a speedy reauthorization of the Livestock Indemnity Program (LIP), which will be included in the final farm bill conference report. LIP provides assistance to producers for livestock deaths resulting from disaster.”

Marcia Zarley Taylor, writing yesterday at the DTN Minding Ag’s Business Blog about the early October blizzard, reported that, “While livestock damages are still being tallied, official estimates put storm deaths somewhere between 15,000 and 30,000 head of cattle. That’s far lower than early estimates of as many as 100,000 animals lost. Some veterinarians think numbers could mount and livestock groups say ranchers are still hunting for lost animals. ‘Right now any estimate you get is an educated guess,’ said Jodie Anderson, executive director of the South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association.”

The DTN update explained that, “‘Recovery is not just as easy as buying more cows, even if the finances are there,’ Farm Credit Services of America CEO Doug Stark emphasized in a phone interview with DTN. For many ranching families, the genetics of their herds represent generations of work, so family identities and animal lineage are intertwined, adds Stark.”

And, a news release yesterday from USDA’a Farm Service Agency stated that, “Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that USDA has begun distributing Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) annual rental payments to participants across the country. USDA also will distribute 2013 direct payments and 2012 Average Crop Revenue Election (ACRE) program payments beginning Oct. 24. Payments originally were scheduled to be issued earlier in the month, but were delayed by several weeks due to the lapse in Federal funding.”

Also with respect to the executive branch, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew noted on Sunday at The New York Times Online that, “Another piece of bipartisan legislation that has passed the Senate, but not the House of Representatives, is the farm bill. Getting this bill signed into law is not only important for America’s farmers and protecting America’s most vulnerable children, it is important for our economy.”


Agricultural Economy

Cheri Zagurski and Emily Unglesbee reported yesterday at DTN (link requires subscription) that, “Thirty-nine percent of the nation’s corn crop was harvested as of Oct. 20, according to USDA’s latest weekly Crop Progress report. That compared to 12% the last time this report was issued, Sept. 30, 85% last year and a five-year average of 53%.”

Soybean harvest is reported at 63% complete, compared to 11% the last time this report was issued, 79% last year and a five-year average of 69%,” the DTN update said.

Reuters writer Christine Stebbins reported yesterday that, “A top U.S. Agriculture Department official said key monthly U.S. crop reports will continue to be released during CME Group Inc trading hours, despite complaints from the grain industry that high-speed traders have access to the data before it becomes available on public websites.”

And Reuters writer Tom Polansek reported yesterday that, “The U.S. Department of Agriculture is working to find the best way to compensate for samples of corn and soybean crops it was unable to collect during the partial U.S. government shutdown, a top official said on Monday.”

William L. Watts reported yesterday at MarketWatch Online that, “Farmland prices have been on a tear for over a decade, barely slowing as the rest of the country suffered a housing collapse, leading economists and investors to worry that a dangerous bubble is forming in the heartland.

The average acre of Iowa farm real estate rose 20% in value to $8,400 in 2013, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That’s up from $3,850 in 2009, and data show overall farmland prices have been on the rise for more than a decade. It’s a similar story across the Corn Belt and the Northern Plains. But it takes more than a string of big gains to blow a bubble. And while some farm real-estate professionals are wary, they argue that the evidence doesn’t justify bubble fears – at least not yet.

“‘In general, if you ask, is farmland in a bubble, I’ll say, no,’ said John Taylor, national farm and ranch executive for U.S. Trust, a private bank that is part of Bank of America Corp. ‘But if you ask, are some people paying bubble prices, I’ll say, yes.’”

And Purdue University Agricultural Economist Chris Hurt indicated yesterday at the farmdoc daily blog (“Cattle Prices Continue to Rise”) that, “Cash cattle prices have moved higher this fall, supported by small cattle supplies, a generally favorable demand base, and low feed prices that have sent feeder cattle futures prices to record highs. The outlook suggests even higher prices in coming months.”


Water Resources Bill

An update posted last month at House Speaker John Boehner’s webpage titled, “Water Resources Reform: What It Means for Families, Taxpayers,” contained additional information on the Water Resources Reform & Development Act (WRRDA), a measure that is scheduled to be considered this week in the House.

Also, the Congressional Budget Office released a cost estimate on the measure yesterday, which is available here.



Seung Min Kim reported yesterday at Politico that, “With the brutal fiscal fight now in Capitol Hill’s rearview mirror, immigration reform advocates from across the spectrum are ramping up the pressure on lawmakers to pass a far-reaching overhaul this year.

“The more aggressive wing of the immigration reform community is launching a “week of escalation” that will target the top three House GOP leaders and roughly two dozen other Republican lawmakers. Their goal is a vote on immigration reform this year. And the Evangelical Immigration Table is releasing a letter Monday signed by top faith leaders — a missive that comes amid a nationwide prayer blitz for reform.

There’s a glimmer of hope that the House will pass immigration reform this year, but after the shutdown’s end, it’s faint at best. Although the Senate passed comprehensive reform in June, most House Republicans remain highly skeptical of such sweeping overhauls, and there’s no indication that chamber will move its own package of reform bills anytime soon.”

Keith Good