- FarmPolicy - http://farmpolicy.com -

Farm Bill; Ag Economy; Regulations; and, Climate

Farm Bill: Lawmaker Perspective

An update posted on Saturday at FOX 34 News (KJTV-TV- Lubbock, Tex.) Online reported that, “Representative Frank Lucas [R., Okla.], chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, toured the food safety lab at Texas Tech [on Saturday]. The ag committee is crafting a five-year farm bill. Lucas said a key component of that bill is agricultural research.”

The update indicated that, “‘It’s time to work out all the details,’ Lucas said. ‘I think we can do that, even with less money to spend. But, remember the fundamental principle that I offered all my colleagues back east, the farm bill is still about making sure we have enough to eat and enough fiber to wear. If it’s going to be a federal farm bill, it has to be something where it is the safety network for all commodity groups and all regions. That’s what we’re pushing hard on, and not everybody agrees on that, but I think we’re going to get there.’”

A related audio clip from the Fox 34 News report can be heard here (MP3- 1:00).

House Ag Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D., Minn.) was a guest on Friday’s AgriTalk radio program with Mike Adams, where the discussion focused on the Farm Bill.

An unofficial FarmPolicy.com transcript of the AgriTalk discussion is available here.

Rep. Peterson noted that, “What happened on Wednesday I think was positive because nobody really laid down any markers, and everybody was pretty upbeat about wanting to get this thing done and work things out, which, we had a couple outliers, but by and large it was pretty good.”

We’ve done all the staff work. What needs to be done now is the tradeoffs that can only be made between members,” he noted; and added that, “But I’ve got to call Frank Lucas right after the show here, but I’m pretty sure he and I are going to go back to Washington Monday night, even though we’re not in session. And from what I can tell, people are in the mode now to get the four of us to get to work next week and potentially settle most of these issues by the end of the week.”

While pointing out that “we need to get this thing wrapped up before Thanksgiving,” Rep. Peterson also stated that, “It won’t be [part of a bigger budget deal]. We were at the White House yesterday and they assured us that they have no interest in that. We have no interest in that.”

Rep. Peterson indicated that, “But at this point, Boehner wants to get this done. I’m not sure where Cantor’s at, but Boehner wants this off his plate. The President wants this done, we want it done. As long as somebody doesn’t come in and put down some kind of demands that make it a poison pill in one body or the other, I think we can get there. But it’s going to take, you know, some judgment to try to figure out where that sweet spot is.”

With respect to nutrition, Rep. Peterson explained that, “You know, one of the problems with nutrition is it’s got focused on numbers, you know, now 40 billion versus 4 billion. There’s a lot of policy issues here that need to be resolved, and everybody’s kind of forgotten about that. And everybody’s looking at the number—is the number going to be 4 billion, or 40 billion, or 20 billion, or whatever. I wish we could get back to policy, and have us do the right things policy-wise, and see where that number comes out.

Senator Stabenow says, and I believe her, that she cannot go to double digits. So that’s why I was so upset when they did what they did on the House floor, where they voted for 40 billion, because all that did was make it that much more difficult to get a final resolution.”

He added that, “And I’ve got Nancy Pelosi, who has been a great supporter of ours all through this process—and she was the last time as well—she will help me get those votes once we get this thing done.”

And on the dairy issue, Rep. Peterson noted that, “So we think we’re on the right track. Boehner is off on this other deal. The problem is, as Speaker, we can work this out, and then he can say, well, if that’s in there, I’m not going to allow this to come up for a vote. And that’s… I don’t think he dares do that, but it’s going to be a shootout at the OK Corral here.”

He also stated that, “So if we don’t get the dairy bill that I put together, then we’re going to keep current law at the 2008 level, which means MILC goes back to 45% and it costs one and half billion dollars that we don’t have.  But we’re not going to do the Goodlatte. It’s either going to be the Dairy Security Act or current law. And the committee is behind me on that.”

And on conservation compliance, the veteran lawmaker indicated that, “Well, the Senate says they have to have it. They’ve had votes on it where it’s passed by a significant margin. I think, at the end of the day, we’re going to have conservation compliance. But I have been working on this, that if we have to have it—because right now the House is not for this—but if we have to have it, the insurance companies will not be responsible for policing this, so they won’t have to decide whether somebody is in compliance or not.”

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D., Minn.) was also a guest on Friday’s AgriTalk program were she noted that, “I felt very good coming out of that conference committee, the first opening day… [A]nd the reason I was optimistic is that I think after the chaos of last month, the shutdown, there’s really some opportunities.  And that was reflected in the members’ comments, where they talked about people at home just wanting them to get this done.”

She added that, “And I think we also see non-farm senators, non-farm state senators and also members of the House saying suddenly, you know what, as we go into the budget negotiations, saving 20 billion bucks, that sounds pretty good, and it’s given some newfound interest in our new farm bill.”

Eric Brown posted a “Q and A” update on Saturday at the Greeley (Colo.) Tribune Online with Sen. Michael Bennet (D., Colo.).  In response to a question on the Farm Bill time frame, Sen. Bennet noted that, “I’m confident we can get this done before the end of the year. We, the Senate, have passed our version of a farm bill — twice. It was a bipartisan effort — the only deficit-reducing measure passed in a bipartisan manner. And I see the farm bill getting folded into the larger deficit-reduction discussions toward the end of the year because of the cuts we’re making in the farm bill. That has to be passed by the end of the year, and that gives me hope that the new farm bill can pass at that time as well. I know that was the case last year, when we passed an extension at the last minute. But I’m hoping we don’t push it to the last minute again, and can get this done. I’m hoping we don’t have that idiocy again.”

James Q. Lynch reported on Saturday at The Globe Gazette (Mason City, Iowa) Online that, “‘I’m predicting we go up to about the Friday before Christmas to get a farm bill,’ said Sen. Chuck Grassley, who is not a member of the House-Senate conference committee working on the $97 billion-a-year farm bill.

“Sen. Tom Harkin and Rep. Steve King, both members of that committee which started meeting this week, expect an agreement before the end of the year.”

And an article posted yesterday at the Argus Leader (Sioux Falls, S.D.) Online about the October blizzard that devastated livestock operations in South Dakota (“Weathered hope: S.D. ranchers pick up the pieces after blizzard,” by Peter Harriman) noted that, “In Sioux Falls last week, Sen. Tim Johnson [D., S.D.] said optimistically that new legislation to replace the expired farm bill could pass in Congress by January.”

Meanwhile, Erik Wasson reported yesterday at The Hill’s On the Money Blog that, “The hardest issue in commodities remains how to calculate payments under price-based subsidies and whether the House bill encourages overproduction.

“Sources said this issue could hinge on a major report due out next Friday [November World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates (WASDE)] from the Agriculture Department.

The Hill update stated that, “The report could forecast price drops in major commodities and cause CBO to rescore key aspects of the House and Senate bills.

Substantially weaker prices could balloon the cost of the farm subsidies on the one hand, but could also motivate all sides to get a deal in place more quickly to protect farmers in the New Year.”

Tom Cherveny reported on Friday at the Grand Forks Herald (N.D.) Online that, “Peterson and Lucas both support a target price program to protect farmers if commodity prices fall. The two would use planted acres, rather than a base acreage, to calculate subsidies if prices fall below target levels.”

Jerry Hagstrom reported yesterday at National Journal Online that, “Meanwhile, on farm policy, the conferees seem to have turned from partisanship to the regionalism that has dominated farm bills in the past. Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, said he would defend his provision that would make it illegal for a state to ban food from another state produced under conditions that the receiving state found unacceptable. King acknowledged he wrote the amendment because California passed a law to forbid the sale of eggs produced by hens in cages smaller than those allowed in California. King said the California law would cost Iowa egg producers money to comply. But Rep. Jim Costa, D-Calif., said that the King amendment is ‘not only anti-California, but if you think about it, it sets up a one-size-fits-all policy to be determined in Washington.’

There will also be a bitter regional battle over the commodity title that seems to be about both ideology and how the program would affect acreage for individual crops. The growers of soybeans, corn, pulse crops, and oilseeds favor the Senate version of the bill based on payments to cover ‘shallow losses’ not covered by crop insurance, while rice and peanut growers favor the House bill based on higher target prices. Wheat growers have stayed out of that battle, but they maintain that because most wheat is grown in large Western counties, subsidies need to be triggered by losses on individual farms rather than by county averages.”


Farm Bill: Executive Branch Perspective- Sec. Vilsack

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack was on C-SPAN’s “Newsmakers” program this weekend, where he was peppered with questions about the Farm Bill from Roll Call writer Ellyn Ferguson and Bloomberg writer Alan Bjerga.

A video replay of the program is available here, while an unofficial FarmPolicy.com transcript of the wide ranging discussion can be found here.

Ms. Ferguson asked Sec. Vilsack, “Chairman Lucas has been sending out SOS signals for several months on the SNAP issue. Doesn’t the White House think he needs help?

Sec. Vilsack stated in part that, “I would imagine that that’s an issue that will likely be dealt with after all of the other 90 some differences between the House and Senate version of the bills have been worked out.

“Obviously that’s a tough issue, and it’s a big issue, and it’s an important issue, but there are also a lot of other issues that need to be resolved, and so I think most of the focus today, most of the focus this week, most of the focus next week will likely be on some of those other key issues that need to get worked out—the commodity title, conservation compliance, the dairy portion of the commodity title, for example.”

Later in the discussion, Sec. Vilsack noted that, “Well, we are providing the technical assistance and the creative thought and ideas that are requested from the committee. We’re working every single day, our staff and teams are working. I’m meeting with and talking to Chairman Lucas, Chairwoman Stabenow, ranking members, other members of the conference committee. So that process is ongoing. I’m not quite sure what folks would expect us to do beyond that.”

Ms. Ferguson asked Sec. Vilsack, “Is there going to be a meeting at the White House on the farm bill with the primaries?”

Sec. Vilsack indicated that, “I can’t speak for what the White House schedule is. I can tell you that we are meeting, and I know that the White House is engaged, and White House officials are conversing and communicating with the chairs and the ranking members on a regular basis. I think there’s no doubt about that.”


Farm Bill: SNAP Issues

Evan Halper and Cindy Chang reported on the front page of Saturday’s Los Angeles Times that, “Some 47 million poor Americans who rely on food stamps for their meals will have to get by on less, after their benefits were cut Friday.

“In California, which struggles with nearly 9% unemployment, local officials are girding for the fallout after the benefit for a family of four receiving food stamps was lowered by $36 a month.”

The article explained that, “The cut was triggered by the expiration of stimulus spending Congress approved in the depths of the Great Recession. It is unlikely to be the last; in Washington, the House and Senate are trying to reconcile measures each approved that would reduce food stamp spending by billions of dollars more.

“Friday’s benefit reduction was meant to coincide with a brightening economy, yet many Americans remain stuck in poverty despite improvements from the worst of the recession.”

The article noted that, “Obama administration officials say the reductions that went into place Friday are certain to result in missed meals for those enrolled. There are seven million Americans for whom food stamps is the only source of income, according to Kevin Concannon, undersecretary for food, nutrition and consumer services at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“The cut ‘is a huge challenge for those households,’ he said. Local food banks, Concannon said, are not positioned to serve as backstops.”

Walter Hamilton and Tiffany Hsu reported on Friday at the Los Angeles Times Online that, “‘We’re a little concerned about the food stamp cut,’ Dennis Eidson, chief executive of Spartan Stores Inc., a Michigan supermarket chain, said in a conference call with analysts last week. ‘That could be a meaningful event for us.’

“Other chains downplayed the effect, saying customers will use their own money to buy groceries.

William S. Simon, chief executive of Wal-Mart U.S., told investors that his company could benefit if cash-strapped consumers look for bargains. Wal-Mart estimates that it gets about 18% of all food stamp spending.”

The New York Times editorial board noted on Saturday that, “It is useful to recall that premature cuts to food stamps and federal unemployment benefits hurt everyone because they reduce consumer spending and, with it, economic growth. There are, in fact, no good reasons at this time for cutting either program, but there are plenty of bad ones.”

And the Los Angeles Times editorial board noted on Sunday that, “The percentage of the population on food stamps is alarming, but lawmakers shouldn’t mistake a symptom of the economy’s problems for its cause. They also have to recognize, as they try to navigate their way out of massive, recession-fueled deficits, that pulling federal dollars out of the economy has consequences too. It’s a balancing act. The best way to cut spending on food stamps isn’t to lower benefits or make them harder to obtain, it’s to speed up economic growth and put jobless Americans back to work.”

Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) tweeted on Friday that, “We can’t allow House Republicans to gut the food stamps program. This small amount of assistance prevents hunger.”

A news release late last week from Rep. Marcia Fudge (D., Ohio) noted that, “Congresswoman Fudge is a cosponsor of H.R.3108, the ‘Extend Not Cut SNAP Benefits Act,’ a one-year extension through FY 2014 of the 2009 Recovery Act boost to SNAP benefits.”

A news release Friday from Sen. Bob Casey (D., Pa.) indicated that, “As vital SNAP benefits are slated to expire for 1.7 million Pennsylvanians on Friday, [Sen. Casey] unveiled legislation to retroactively maintain these additional SNAP benefits for another year. During a press conference joined by hunger advocates, Casey made the case for continuing this initiative for one year. Casey also discussed the need to protect SNAP funding in the upcoming farm bill at a time in which some in Congress are seeking $40 billion in additional cuts.”



Ben Goad reported on Friday at The Hill’s RegWatch Blog that, “The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) issued new regulations Friday that align the federal protections against mad cow disease with international standards.

“The long-awaited rule, issued by the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), drew praise from lawmakers from both sides of the aisle, who said it would help to open more international markets to U.S. beef products.”

Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow noted on Friday that, “I applaud USDA’s actions to make sure that America’s beef producers have access to new export markets.  This effort is crucial to breaking down other countries’ unfounded trade barriers, and re-opening trade markets that are closed to U.S. beef. American agriculture has long set the gold standard for food production and safety. Today’s actions will ensure U.S. beef producers can operate on a more level playing field and help grow our agriculture economy.”


Agricultural Economy

Tony C. Dreibus and Brett Philbin reported in Saturday’s Wall Street Journal that, “Farmers in the upper Midwest are used to dealing with drought, disease and pests. Now, they are grappling with a different problem: a propane shortage.

“Unusually heavy rains have left corn from this year’s bumper harvest soggier than normal. Farmers are struggling to acquire enough propane to fuel the giant, oven-like machines that dry corn before it is stored to prevent rot. The dash for the gas has helped send U.S. domestic propane prices to an 18-month high and is slowing the corn harvest, already delayed because of wet weather during planting.”

Bloomberg writers Elizabeth Campbell and Dalton Barker reported yesterday that, “The biggest-ever U.S. corn harvest is spurring poultry farms to expand chicken production, sending domestic supplies of the meat to a record and cutting costs for buyers from Costco Wholesale Corp. to McDonald’s Corp.

Corn fell 50 percent from its peak during last year’s U.S. drought, boosting profit for Tyson Foods Inc. and other poultry producers and expanding supplies of broiler meat the government says will reach a record this year and next. Wholesale prices will drop 7.1 percent to 92 cents a pound in 2014, according to the median of seven analyst estimates compiled by Bloomberg.”


Climate Issues

Justin Gillis reported on the front page of Saturday’s New York Times that, “Climate change will pose sharp risks to the world’s food supply in coming decades, potentially undermining crop production and driving up prices at a time when the demand for food is expected to soar, scientists have found.

“In a departure from an earlier assessment, the scientists concluded that rising temperatures will have some beneficial effects on crops in some places, but that globally they will make it harder for crops to thrive — perhaps reducing production over all by as much as 2 percent each decade for the rest of this century, compared with what it would be without climate change.”

And Ben Geman reported on Friday at The Hill’s Energy Blog that, “President Obama on Friday demanded ‘new strategies’ to boost the nation’s resilience to powerful storms, drought, heat waves and other dangerous weather linked to climate change.

“Obama issued a wide-ranging executive order designed to support ‘climate resilient’ infrastructure investment in states and communities.”

Keith Good