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Farm Bill- Policy Issues; Water Resources; Budget; and, Immigration

Farm Bill- Lawmaker Perspectives

A news release yesterday from Senator John Hoeven (R., N.D.) indicated that, “Senators [Hoeven] and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) today announced that the House-Senate farm bill conference committee will convene next week. The senators hosted a farm bill roundtable at North Dakota State University’s Agriculture Experiment Station Research Greenhouse Complex to gather input from agriculture association leaders and discuss the priorities the senators will work on as members of the joint Senate-House committee.

“The new legislation in both the Senate and the House versions focuses on enhanced crop insurance. The measure includes a new Supplemental Coverage Option (SCO), continues the sugar program and provides new Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) to help producers through years of repetitive losses. The Senate bill saves $24 billion to help reduce the deficit and debt.”

A report posted at the Red River Farm Network (RRFN) Online (viewed earlier this morning) pointed out that, “Senator Klobuchar says they held the roundtable for a reason. ‘We want to send a clear message that republicans and democrats in farm states are working together on this. It’s time to get it done. We finally see some momentum. Out of the chaos of the last few weeks comes opportunity. Finally people are appreciating the fact that the shift from direct subsidies to crop insurance is going to save a lot of money for the public. It means that people that are not in farm states are much more interested in seeing this as part of a budget deal.’ Senator Hoven says the farm bill conference committee will start negotiations next week. ‘I hope to have it done by year end. Even if you look at the timelines that we put in place for the budget conference committee and for the continuing resolution. The budget conference committee has to have something by December 13. The continuing resolution is up January 15.’ Hoeven thinks nutrition will be the biggest challenge.”

The Red River Farm Network’s Mike Hergert provided a report on the Senator’s Farm Bill meeting, and that summary aired on yesterday’s Agriculture Today radio program – related audio here (MP3- 1:52).

Also, Sen. Klobuchar was a guest on yesterday’s News & Views program with Joel Heitkamp where some of the discussion focused on farm policy issues.  A portion of Sen. Klobuchar’s remarks from yesterday’s radio show can be heard here (MP3- 1:13).

At her Twitter page yesterday, Senator Heidi Heitkamp pointed to the potential symmetry of the current budget negotiations and the Farm Bill.  The North Dakota Democrat specifically indicated that, “As Congress works to negotiate a budget, #FarmBill should be part of that conversation. It would save $24 billion & support 16 million jobs.”

Meanwhile, Chris Clayton reported yesterday at the DTN Ag Policy Blog that, “Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., met Tuesday with members of various Minnesota farm organizations ranging from commodity groups, dairy producers and general farm groups. He also held a press call shortly after the meeting ended.

“‘They need the certainty,’ Franken said of farmers.”

Mr. Clayton noted that, “Franken also added that conservation compliance was talked about quite a bit between him and the farmers. Franken supports such cross compliance. ‘I’m for that. I voted for that. I voted for that in 2012,’ he said. Franken added, ‘I think it actually brings people in to support the bill. I meet a lot of sportsmen, you know, hunters, Pheasants Forever, Ducks Unlimited. People who want that conservation. They want that CRP. They want our waters clean … So I am very much for cross-compliance. We have some differences there.’

Franken said the Minnesota farm groups also agreed that it was important to keep the 1949 permanent-law provisions in place. The House bill updates language on permanent law to the new legislation once it is enacted.”

The DTN update added that, “Earlier in the day, Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said resolving the differences in cuts to the SNAP program will be the toughest battle in the conference debate. ‘But I have no way of judging or answering your question on the possibility,’ he said. ‘I can tell you Chairman (Debbie) Stabenow says it has to be a lot less than splitting the difference.’”

The Iowa senator told reporters he would oppose attaching a final farm bill to a must-pass omnibus funding legislation that could come by December. Grassley said that could lead to changes in the farm bill that weren’t necessarily vetted or debated publicly. Grassley has repeatedly argued that no changes should be made regarding payment caps or income eligibility for farm programs because the House and Senate passed similar language. Some conferees oppose such payment caps,” yesterday’s DTN article said.

Jon Ericson reported yesterday at the Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier (Iowa) Online that, “[Rep. Bruce Braley (D., Iowa)] said in the current climate, with rural population dwarfed by urban dwellers, it’s important to reach out to both people who live in cities and their elected representatives. A breakdown of the traditional alliances would hurt both farm and food programs, Braley says.

“‘It broke down because some of my colleagues in the House don’t realize how delicate that balance is,’ Braley said. ‘That’s why we have to educate them that there’s a close relationship between all the other titles of the farm bill and the nutrition title, and that without cooperation and common sense proposals that we can generate bipartisan support for, there won’t be a farm bill in the future.’”

Also yesterday, Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D., Md.) tweeted that, “Congress should address comprehensive immigration reform, the farm bill, voting rights & #job creation in the fall, I told press. #TimeIsNow”

 

Farm Bill: Additional Issues

An update yesterday at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition Blog indicated that, “As the House and Senate head to conference on the farm bill, NSAC sent out a letter to conferees highlighting our key priorities for the conference committee.  The letter calls on conferees to adopt key reforms to the farm safety net, preserve critical conservation programs, and provide continued support to a host of innovative programs that invest in sustainable agriculture, many of which were left stranded during last year’s extension of the 2008 Farm Bill.”

And a news release yesterday from Save the Children indicated that, “As members from of both houses of Congress prepare to negotiate a final version of the U.S. farm bill, a bipartisan group of more than 50 members of the U.S. House of Representatives sent a letter to the chairs and ranking members of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees expressing strong support for reforms in the Senate version of the bill. The letter urged the conference committee to modernize U.S. international food aid programs by including broadly supported reforms that passed the Senate earlier this year.

“The members’ letter strongly supports the goals of U.S. international food assistance programs saying they, ‘play a vital role in preventing famines, reversing acute and chronic child malnutrition, assisting those uprooted by conflict or natural disaster, and enabling vulnerable populations to build resilience against future food price shocks.’ Achieving these goals requires that, ‘in a time of constrained budgets and increasing needs, more must be done to enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of our food aid system.’”

With respect to nutrition funding in the Farm Bill, the editorial board at the Billings Gazette (Mont.) indicated yesterday that, “We agree with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack who last week said: ‘There are ways in which we can improve this program [SNAP]. But we shouldn’t be decimating the program, and we shouldn’t be basically sending 2 to 3 million folks who would otherwise be in need of the program out of the program. We should be focusing on ways in which we can make it more efficient.’”

And Mark Sommerhauser reported earlier this week at The St. Cloud Times (Minn.) Online that, “Like any business owner, Dennis Ritter wants to know what’s next.

But the unsettled status of federal farm policy is making it tough for Ritter, a Melrose dairy farmer, and other agricultural producers to plan.”

The article noted that, “In Stearns County, Minnesota’s top county for dairy production, those provisions in the next farm bill will be closely watched.

“The Senate version of the farm bill contains a Dairy Security Act provision.”

Mr. Sommerhauser noted that, “It would create a market stabilization program to provide incentives to curb production if margins for dairy products drop below a certain level, said Steve Schlangen, an Albany dairy farmer who chairs the Stearns County Dairy Advisory Committee. The House version of the bill lacks such a provision.

Schlangen said he favors the Senate provision, which he said would provide a good safety net for farmers while stabilizing milk prices for farmers and consumers.”

 

Farm Bill: Executive Branch Action Stymied Until New Measure Passed

A news release yesterday from Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D., N.D.) stated that, “[Sen. Heitkamp] today continued her efforts to support North Dakota ranchers recovering from a devastating fall snowstorm that killed tens of thousands of cattle across the region and destroyed up to 50 percent of many ranchers’ cattle herds.

Heitkamp organized the meeting in southwest North Dakota to connect ranchers with resources, such as agriculture groups and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and to reinforce the need to pass a comprehensive Farm Bill so ranchers aren’t forced to go without critical support. Because the Farm Bill expired, programs which help ranchers and farmers withstand losses from natural disasters are currently not available.”

A news release yesterday from USDA indicated that, “Under Secretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services Michael Scuse announced today that conservation assistance is available from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for those affected by the Atlas Blizzard that swept through western South Dakota earlier this month. Scuse made the announcement in Rapid City during a meeting with western South Dakota producers.

“‘This blizzard impacted lives and livelihoods across the region and USDA is committed to doing all we can to help ranchers during this difficult time,’ Scuse said. ‘Due to the lack of a new Farm Bill, our means to help are limited – but we will do all we can. This disaster is a reminder of the unpredictable nature of agriculture, and the need for a strong farm safety net that would be provided by a new Food, Farm and Jobs Bill.’”

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney noted yesterday in a news briefing that, “[Pres. Barack Obama] is committed to working with Congress to try to get comprehensive immigration reform passed and signed into law. He’s committed to the congressional effort and the help we can provide to it through regular order and the budget process to reaching an agreement on a broader budget deal with Congress, with Republicans and Democrats in Congress.

And he believes, as he had mentioned last week, that similarly — similarly there is the opportunity to pass and sign into law a bipartisan farm bill.

“So — and that’s just the — some of the things that continue to get the president’s focus and attention.”

 

Policy Issue: Animal Production- Antibiotics

Melinda Henneberger reported in today’s Washington Post that, “The farm and pharmaceutical lobbies have blocked all meaningful efforts to reduce the use of antibiotics in raising livestock in the United States, a practice that contributes to an increasingly urgent public health risk, a study released Tuesday found.

“Congress has killed every effort to restrict the feeding of farm animals the same antibiotics used in human medicine, the study says, even as antibiotics have grown less effective in treating infection. And regulation has gotten weaker under the Obama administration.”

The Post article indicated that, “The report was authored by a commission that included ranchers, experts in public health and veterinary medicine, and former U.S. agriculture secretary Dan Glickman. Former Kansas governor John Carlin chaired the panel.

“A spokeswoman for the Animal Agriculture Alliance, Emily Meredith, said producers ‘tend to disagree with much of what is said in the report,’ have made significant progress over the past decade and have for years been using antibiotics judiciously.

“The alliance, a coalition of food producers, released its own report on industry practices on Monday, defending modern farming techniques as necessary and ethical to feed a growing global population.”

Today’s Post article also stated that, “The FDA’s plan to address the issue ‘is to phase out the use of medically important antibiotics in food animals for growth promotion and feed efficiency,’ Shelly Burgess, an agency spokeswoman, said via e-mail. ‘FDA believes these drugs should be used only in situations where they are necessary for treating, controlling, or preventing a specifically identified disease, and only under the oversight of a veterinarian.’”

 

Policy Issue: Biotech

Lewis Kamb reported this week at the Seattle Times Online that, “Initiative 522 – the statewide ballot measure to require labeling of genetically engineered foods –  is clinging to a slight lead heading into the final two weeks before Election Day.

“But momentum has clearly shifted against the measure, thanks to a barrage of opposition advertisements over the last month.

“Or so says Seattle pollster Stuart Elway, whose latest poll on the Washington initiative has I-522 winning 46 to 42 percent, with still 12 percent of voters undecided.”

Elise Viebeck reported yesterday at The Hill Online that, “According to Dave Murphy, the national movement to label genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, sprang to life in 2007 because of presidential candidate Barack Obama, the same man Murphy now criticizes as inactive on the issue.

“‘It’s an incredibly heartbreaking failure,’ said Murphy, the 45-year-old activist from Iowa, referring to the gap between what candidate Obama promised and what the Obama administration has done on the issue.”

Meanwhile, The Washington Post editorial board penned an item today titled, “Genetically modified crops should be part of Africa’s food future.”

And Marc Van Montagu authored a column in today’s Wall Street Journal titled, “The Irrational Fear of GM Food.”

 

Policy Issue: Biofuels

Ben Goad reported yesterday at The Hill’s RegWatch Blog that, “A dozen House members on Tuesday joined a growing chorus of lawmakers expressing concern over the potential for manipulation of the market for ethanol credits.

“The group – eight Democrats and four Republicans – urged the Commodity Futures Trading Commission to increase its oversight of Renewable Identification Numbers (RINs), which are assigned to ethanol-blended fuels that meet the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) renewable fuel standard (RFS).”

 

Water Resources Bill

An update yesterday from the Rules Committee stated that, “The Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA) authorizes key missions of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to develop, maintain, and support our nation’s waterways. Additionally, H.R. 3080 allows Congress to update our nation’s infrastructure policies to meet the demands of our dynamic maritime economy.”

The update added that, “The rule and bill are expected to be on the floor: October 23, 2013.”

 

Budget

Erik Wasson reported yesterday at The Hill’s On the Money Blog that, “The new House-Senate budget conference is expected to meet for the first time on Oct. 30.”

Emma Dumain reported yesterday at Roll Call Online that, “As the first bicameral, bipartisan budget conference committee gets under way, Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer said he had both high hopes and tempered expectations.

“The Maryland Democrat wants a ‘big deal,’ one that would last 10 years — but he’s not sure if that’s achievable.”

 

Immigration

Mark Brunswick reported this week at the Minneapolis Star Tribune Online that, “With the shutdown in Washington behind them and the waning calendar for this session in front of them, Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., on Monday said the time is right for Congress to renew efforts to address federal immigration reform.”

In a column in today’s Wall Street Journal, William A. Galston noted that, “Comprehensive immigration reform would be to Mr. Obama’s second term what the Affordable Care Act was to his first: a signature legislative achievement.

Unlike the ACA, immigration reform enjoys majority support. The American people strongly back a comprehensive approach that includes a path to earned citizenship for the 11 million immigrants now here illegally. In a survey performed by the Public Religion Research Institute, 84% said the economy would benefit if illegal immigrants became taxpayers; 76% believe illegal immigrants would work hard to earn citizenship; 64% think illegal immigrants take only jobs that Americans don’t want.”

Keith Good