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Farm Bill; Ag Econ; Immigration; and, Political Notes

Farm Bill

A news release yesterday from Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D., N.D.) stated that, “[Sen. Heitkamp] today spoke with North Dakota agriculture producers about the progress that has been made on the Farm Bill, and urged them to keep the pressure on lawmakers to get the job done.

“Heitkamp addressed farmers in Jamestown at the Precision Agriculture Action Summit and in Fargo at the Crop Insurance Conference 2014.

“‘After three years of debate, we are now closer than ever to passing a long-term, comprehensive Farm Bill,’ said Heitkamp.”

The update noted that, “Heitkamp stressed the importance of maintaining a strong crop insurance system. She highlighted the crop insurance provisions she pushed for in the Senate-passed bill, including: additional crop insurance supports for new and beginning farmers; a provision to make sure disaster years don’t unfairly harm production histories, resulting in weaker coverage for farmers; and a provision to make permanent the enterprise units system that has been very successful in North Dakota.”

 

Agricultural Economy

Bloomberg writer Rudy Ruitenberg reported on Sunday that, “Efforts to rid the world of hunger face ‘immense challenges’ as farmers deal with resource scarcity, climate change and loss of soil fertility, agriculture ministers from 65 countries said.

“Economic and financial crisis and ‘excessive’ price swings create uncertainty that endangers investment in agriculture, the policy makers gathered in Berlin wrote in a joint statement published by the German agriculture ministry and dated yesterday.”

The Bloomberg article pointed out that, “Food production will have to rise 60 percent between now and 2050 as the world population expands to 9 billion, the United Nations’ Food & Agriculture Organization estimates. The FAO estimates about 870 million people were undernourished in 2010-12. International food prices in the past three years have been higher than ever before, FAO data show.”

Reuters writer David Stanway reported on Sunday that, “China’s top policy priorities for 2014 will be improving the rural environment and maintaining food security, according to a key policy document published by the official Xinhua news agency on Sunday.”

The article stated that, “This year’s document also focused on the development of ‘modern agriculture’ and laid out improvements to the way the countryside is governed. However, hopes that Beijing would explicitly relax a longstanding 95-percent food self-sufficiency target and open the floodgates for more imports appear to have been dashed.

“The document said China would continue to pursue ‘basic grain self-sufficiency’ while increasing the use of overseas markets and allowing an ‘appropriate’ amount of imports, but it stressed it ‘would not relax domestic food production at any time.’”

And, Leslie Josephs reported yesterday at the Wall Street Journal Online that, “Demand for U.S. cotton is picking up, adding to concerns about the availability of supplies of the fiber…[T]he news helped boost cotton prices to the highest level in nearly five months”

The Journal article explained that, “The U.S. exports more cotton than any other country in the world. Its biggest customers are in Asia, where mills spin the U.S. fiber into thread and yarn to make textiles.

“But the most recent U.S. harvest, which ended last year, is also likely to be the smallest in four years: 13.2 million bales.”

The article added that, “The recent price gains could encourage growers to plant more cotton this spring.”

 

Immigration

Russell Berman reported yesterday at The Hill Online that, “Congressional Democrats and advocates for immigration reform will have to decide how much to bend as they await proposals from House Republicans that are likely to fall far short of what they have demanded.

“House GOP leaders plan to release as soon as next week their principles for rewriting the nation’s immigration laws, a document that could be followed by a series of legislative proposals.

“The principles are expected to be broad-brush in nature and emphasize border and interior security measures, but they are likely to include a first-ever official House GOP endorsement of legal status for many of the nation’s 11 million illegal immigrants, according to people familiar with the deliberations.”

The Hill update added that, “Republicans are expected to push for granting more power to state and local authorities to enforce immigration laws, a move that Democrats have long opposed. And while the principles may propose legal status for illegal immigrants, Republicans in the House are against creating a new pathway to citizenship, and they want legalization tied to stronger enforcement triggers than were included in the bill the Senate passed last year.”

Also, Miriam Jordan reported in today’s Wall Street Journal that, “While Congress mulls an immigration overhaul, state legislatures across the country are passing bills aimed at integrating illegal immigrants rather than cracking down on them.”

 

Political Notes

Brett Neely of Minnesota Public Radio reported yesterday that, “As Republicans look at the Minnesota election map this year, many believe their best chance of picking up a congressional seat is the 7th District, which covers the western half of the state and runs from the Canadian border almost all the way to Iowa.

“Voters in the conservative region have reliably selected Republican presidential candidates for years. But since 1991, U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, a gun-owning, guitar-playing conservative Democrat, has represented the district in the U.S. House. Now the state’s longest serving member of Congress, Peterson hasn’t yet announced whether he will run for re-election this year.

“‘I’m waiting until we get the farm bill done. I’ve got a lot of other things on my mind,’ Peterson said in response to a question about his political future.”

Mr. Neely indicated that, “Despite winning re-election comfortably for the past 20 years, Peterson finds himself confronted with an unfavorable trend in American politics. Before the 1990s, it was common for voters to vote for one party’s candidate at the presidential level and another party’s candidate for congressional seats.

“That’s become increasingly rare. Peterson is now one of just nine Democrats in the House to represent a district carried by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney in 2012. Romney won nearly 54 percent of the vote compared to 44 percent carried by President Barack Obama.”

Also, Lucy McCalmont reported yesterday at Politico that, “Oklahoma Rep. James Lankford announced Monday he will seek to fill Sen. Tom Coburn’s Senate seat.”

The article added that, “GOP Rep. Tom Cole said Sunday that he will not seek to fill Coburn’s seat.”

Alexandra Jaffe reported yesterday at The Hill’s Ballot Box Blog that, “Shortly after jumping into the race to replace retiring Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), Rep. James Lankford (R-Okla.) dismissed conservative criticism of his candidacy as ‘just Washington, D.C., stuff’ and said he isn’t concerned about their impact on his chances in the race.”

And with respect to Sen. Coburn’s time as a lawmaker, The Wall Street Journal editorial board noted in part today that, “[Sen. Coburn] succeeded in winning a Senate earmark moratorium and a federal database of online spending, and he more or less single-handedly killed the ethanol tax credit.”

More broadly, Patrick O’Connor  reported in today’s Wall Street Journal that, “President Barack Obama’s sagging approval ratings and the rocky health-law rollout are expanding the map of competitive Senate races this year, giving Republicans new hope of capturing seats in states that the president carried in 2012.

“The GOP already had a strong opportunity to pick up a net six seats to win a Senate majority. Democrats have to defend many more seats than Republicans, including in seven states that Mr. Obama lost in 2012. Now, polls show tighter-than-expected races for Democratic-held seats in Colorado, Iowa and Michigan, while a formidable Republican is challenging the Democratic incumbent in Virginia and another is weighing a bid in New Hampshire. In 2012, Mr. Obama won all five of those states.”

Keith Good