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Farm Bill; Ag Economy; and, Immigration

Farm Bill: House Ag Committee Chairman Frank Lucas

Randy Krehbiel reported yesterday at the Tulsa World Online that, “Third District Congressman Frank Lucas says he never talked about the hailstorm while his father was alive.

Lucas was 7. When the storm passed, and Ike Lucas went out into the still dark night with a flashlight, Lucas followed.”

The article noted that, “‘It was just an ocean of broken-over stalks,’ Lucas said during a telephone interview last week. ‘It just had the whatever pounded out of it.’

That night, as much as anything, explains how 53-year-old Frank Lucas became chairman of the House Agriculture Committee and why he has become the unlikely focus of so much anger from so many political perspectives.

“The Cheyenne Republican has been attacked for cutting too much from food stamps and other federal nutrition programs and for not cutting enough. He’s been criticized for not taking a big enough axe to agriculture subsidies in their various forms, for whacking too much and for whacking in the wrong places.”

Yesterday’s article pointed out that, “He also favors continuing the move away from direct cash payments to producers in favor of federally subsidized crop and livestock insurance. While the general public may grouse about any type of agriculture support, Lucas and most other agriculture economists say they are necessary to assure reasonably priced food supplies.

“‘When you understand what farmers and ranchers go through you’re just willing to work a little harder to give them the tools to keep on doing what they do, and that benefits all the rest of us in the country,’ Lucas said.

This farm bill is the culmination of Lucas’ nearly 20 years in Congress, and in some ways his entire life’s experience.”

Recall that Chairman Lucas also made reference to his childhood experience at a March 9 Ag Committee hearing last year in Saranac Lake, New York.

In part, Chairman Lucas stated that, “Your memories of going to the field after the catastrophe reminds me of being a 7 year old and following my father to the wheat field nearest the house one night and watching him stand in that field with his flashlight and realizing every stalk was broken over and that quiet walk back. Even as a 7 year old, like yourself, there are some things you remember forever. The fact that he said nothing for 2 days made a great impression on me. That said, that’s what we’re here about, and that’s what we’re here to try to address.”

 

Farm Bill: SNAP Issues

Reid Wilson reported yesterday at the GovBeat Blog (Washington Post) that, “Extra funding for the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, one of the most impactful elements of the 2009 economic stimulus, expires Friday, meaning poor families in all 50 states will immediately see steep cuts in government food aid.

“The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 provided a 13.6 percent funding increase to SNAP recipients beginning in April 2009, money the bill’s backers said would make its way quickly into the economy. But that extra funding ends Nov. 1. Every one of the 48 million SNAP recipients will see their benefits cut in their next checks.”

Kevin Concannon, USDA Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services stated yesterday at the USDA Blog that, “[B]eginning on November 1, your monthly benefit will decrease. The amount of the decrease depends on your household size.

“Assuming no other changes in income, household size, or expenses between October and November, the table below shows the decrease in SNAP benefits in November by household size.”

Also, a recent update at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities Online provided an interactive state-by-state indication of the impact of the November 1 SNAP cuts.

Bloomberg writer Derek Wallbank reported yesterday that, “U.S. Representative John Conyers, a Michigan Democrat, introduced a bill, H.R. 3108, to extend the aid increase through fiscal 2016. The measure, filed on Sept. 17, has 55 co-sponsors, all Democrats. It hasn’t been scheduled for committee action.

“Texas Republican Michael Conaway, a member of a House-Senate panel working on a farm-subsidy bill that includes food stamps, H.R. 2642, said he expects no debate on reviving the higher level of benefits.

Ending the increase is settled and ‘it’s the law,’ Conaway said.”

Also yesterday, Members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) discussed budget priorities on the House floor.

Recall that that the CBC’s alternative budget outline addressed SNAP funding, and a summary of the budget specifically noted (at page 11) that, “The CBC strongly supports protecting and strengthening SNAP and opposes any proposals to cap or reduce funding, restrict eligibility or reduce benefits. For four decades, SNAP has received strong bipartisan support and is the nation’s first line of defense against hunger and alleviating poverty, helping to ensure that vulnerable families in our nation have a stable source of food. SNAP is an important cornerstone of the nation’s nutrition safety net. It reaches key vulnerable populations – in an average month in FY 2011, 76 percent of SNAP households included a child, an elderly person, or a disabled person, and those households received 83 percent of the benefits.”

Meanwhile, Erik Wasson reported yesterday at The Hill’s On the Money Blog that, “A group of 39 liberal senators on Monday urged the pending farm bill conference to reject any proposed cuts to the food stamp program.

“The letter comes two days before the conference committee on the House and Senate-passed farm bills begins.

“Organized by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), the letter urges the House-Senate conference to put aside both the $4.5 billion in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) cuts in the Senate farm bill and the $40 billion in cuts over 10 years in the House version.”

O. Kay Henderson reported today at Radio Iowa Online that, “According to [Rep. Steve King (R., Iowa)], the dispute over federal funding for ‘food stamps’ is the most difficult to resolve.  House Republicans have voted to cut the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program by $40 billion. The bipartisan Farm Bill that cleared the Democratically-led Senate in June called for $4 billion in cuts to the food stamp program — 10 times less. King has asked House Republicans leaders to present him some ‘creative ideas’ for bridging that 36-billion dollar divide.

“‘I don’t want to tip any hand on it. I chair the subcommittee that deals with nutrition and so what I say — it might affect the negotiations,’ King says. ‘But I want to get to the end of this thing and I want a bill on the president’s desk I said before the snow flies. I know in part of Iowa I’m already too late on that, but we’re going to try to get this done and I think we get it done by the end of the year.’”

 

Farm Bill: Additional Issues

AP writer Mary Clare Jalonick reported yesterday that, “The fight over renewing the nation’s farm bill has centered on cuts to the $80 billion-a-year food stamp program. But there could be unintended consequences if no agreement is reached: higher milk prices.

“Members of the House and Senate are scheduled to begin long-awaited negotiations on the five-year, roughly $500 billion bill this week. If they don’t finish it, dairy supports could expire at the end of the year and send the price of a gallon of milk skyward.”

The article noted that, “One way to pass the bill quickly could be to wrap it into budget negotiations that will be going on at the same time. The farm bill is expected to save tens of billions of dollars through food stamp cuts and eliminating some subsidy programs, and ‘that savings has become more key as we go into budget negotiations,’ [Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D., Minn.)] said.

“If that doesn’t work, lawmakers could extend current law, as they did at the end of last year when the dairy threat loomed. But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has said he wants to finish the bill and won’t support another extension.”

An update yesterday at the Oklahoma Farm Report Online indicated that, “National Association of Conservation Districts (NACD) President Earl Garber sent a letter to Farm Bill Conferees today outlining the association’s priorities for the Farm Bill.

“‘Our nation’s farmers and landowners deserve to have long-term certainty to effectively and efficiently manage their land, resources and businesses for the years ahead,’ stated Garber.”

In other policy news, note that the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure today will markup legislation relating to agriculture, including measures impacting pesticides, storm water runoff, and fuel storage.

 

Agricultural Economy, Biofuels, Biotech

Cheri Zagurski and Emily Unglesbee reported yesterday at DTN (link requires subscription) that, “Just over three-quarters of the nation’s soybean crop and nearly 60% of the nation’s corn crop were harvested as of Sunday, Oct. 27, according to USDA’s latest weekly Crop Progress condition report.”

Bloomberg writer Jeff Wilson reported yesterday that, “Corn futures fell to the lowest in more than three years as dry weather improved harvest prospects for a U.S. crop that the government estimates will be the world’s biggest ever.”

University of Illinois Agricultural Economist Darrel Good indicated yesterday at the farmdoc daily blog (“Prospects for a Rebound in Corn Prices”) that, “Corn prices appear to be completing the ‘short crop-long tail’ pattern stemming from the drought reduced U.S. crop of 2012 with record large production this year. For many producers, the lower prices now being experienced have been partially offset by high yields or by expected indemnities from crop revenue insurance.”

The update noted that, “Beyond the size of the U.S. crop, prices will be influenced by the strength of demand as reflected in the rate of consumption. The focus for the next 10 weeks will be on the pace of exports and the pace of ethanol production. The pace of feed and residual use will not be revealed until the release of the USDA’s December 1 stocks estimate in the second week of January.”

After additional analysis, yesterday’s farmdoc update stated that, “Corn prices, particularly during the last half of the marketing year, will also be influenced by the expected size of the 2014 U.S crop. The higher prices for the 2014 crop now reflected in the market suggest that a decline in production is expected. Such expectations would have to be based on acreage rather than yield expectations. With corn producers reporting nearly 3.6 million acres of prevented planting in 2012 and with current 2014 crop prices favoring corn over soybean production in many areas, a decline in corn acreage in 2014 seems unlikely.

Taken together, current prospects do not seem to favor a quick or substantial recovery in corn prices without production problems in South America. Without an increase in the price for the 2014 soybean crop, lower corn prices may be more likely.”

And with respect to trade, William Mauldin reported yesterday at The Wall Street Journal Online that, “Former officials and trade experts expressed concern that rising European distrust of Washington over U.S. spying could derail negotiations over a trade agreement with the European Union.”

Also, the Senate Finance Committee is set to hold a hearing tomorrow morning titled, “The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership: Achieving the Potential.”

Meanwhile, Julian Hattem reported yesterday at The Hill’s RegWatch Blog that, “New fuel regulations could drive up gas prices if they require car owners to use a ‘potentially damaging’ type of gasoline that could hurt cars’ engines, according to AAA.

“The automobile club said in a statement on Monday that the Environmental Protection Agency could cause gas prices to surge if it requires fuel refiners to blend a high percentage of ethanol in with conventional gas as part of the 2014 renewable fuel standard (RFS).”

Yesterday’s update noted that, “The fuel mandate, which is expected from the EPA in coming weeks, requires refiners to mix certain amounts of ethanol and other biofuels in with gasoline each year as a way to spur innovation in new fuel sources and reduce American dependence on foreign oil.

“Leaked drafts of the EPA’s 2014 standards indicate that the agency is planning to roll back its requirements for ethanol.”

Ms. Hattem pointed out that, “In a statement sent to The Hill, the EPA said that the administration ‘remains firmly committed to furthering the development of all biofuels – including corn-based ethanol, cellulosic biofuel, and advanced biofuel – as part of the President’s commitment to developing a clean energy economy.’

However, the agency added that it is still working on draft standards and has yet to make a final decision about the 2014 rules.”

And in news regarding biotech issues, Bill Tomson to force labels on foods and beverages that contain genetically modified organisms – this time in Washington State. It’s on a long list of manufacturers that sell products using ingredients derived from either corn or soy, both of which are nearly impossible to source in the United States without using genetically modified crops.

“In fact, should Washington pass its ballot initiative 522 next week, good luck finding any processed foods or beverages in an Evergreen State grocery store that don’t have GMO warning labels.”

 

Immigration

Marjorie Cortez reported recently at the Deseret News (Salt Lake City, Utah) Online that, “The sheep industry has exemptions to the H-2A visa that are not available to other livestock producers, dairy operators and growers. Those industries must abide to the strict limits of the farm worker visa, which is intended to provide a workforce for temporary, seasonal work.

“Workers who enter the country under that program can work for one employer doing one type of work. Typically, a worker may remain in the country for 10 months but is supposed to return to his or her native country.”

The article stated that, “That arrangement doesn’t suit the labor needs of the dairy industry, says Brad Bateman, whose family dairy farm in Utah County milks 6,800 cows three times a day.

Dairy farming is neither seasonal nor temporary, which is something Bateman said he hopes Congress will acknowledge in the immigration reform debate in Washington, D.C.

“‘The thing we have to keep in mind as we talk about this issue and look at it, it’s not about cheap labor. It’s about labor — period. It’s about getting a workforce, Bateman said during a recent farm tour offered by the Utah Farm Bureau.”

A news release yesterday from the American Farm Bureau Federation indicated that, “As farmers gather in Washington, D.C., today to share their stories of why a reliable agricultural workforce is a crucial part of immigration reform, the American Farm Bureau Federation is releasing three video stories that show the need for immigration reform is more than just hype. The videos, produced as part of the organization’s ‘The Heat is On’ campaign to push Congress to act on immigration reform this year, will help drive the ag labor message home as more than 50 fly-in participants from 15 states visit Washington this week to urge Congress to take action now on immigration reform.”

AP writer Donna Cassata reported yesterday that, “Prospects for comprehensive immigration legislation this year grew murkier on the eve of an all-out push by a coalition of business, religious and law enforcement to persuade the House to overhaul the decades-old system.

“At the same time, proponents seized on a California GOP lawmaker’s willingness to back a House Democratic plan as a Senate-passed measure remained stalled in the House.

“But in a blow to their effort, Sen. Marco Rubio signaled support for the piecemeal approach in the House despite his months of work and vote for the comprehensive Senate bill that would provide a path to citizenship for the 11 million immigrants living here illegally and tighten border security.”

While the article noted that, “[Pres.] Obama on Monday reiterated his call for Congress to complete action on an immigration overhaul before the end of the year,” it also added that, “Although House Republican leaders say they want to solve the issue, which has become a political drag for the GOP, many rank-and-file House Republicans have shown little inclination to deal with it. With just a few legislative weeks left in the House, it’s unclear whether lawmakers will vote on any measure before the year is out.”

Keith Good