January 23, 2020

Farm Bill; Ag Economy; Biotech; and, Immigration

Farm Bill- Policy Issues

Norimitsu Onishi and Coral Davenport reported in Saturday’s New York Times that, “President Obama arrived in the heart of California’s parched farmland on Friday afternoon to offer tens of millions of dollars in federal assistance to the state, where the lack of rain and snow this winter has led to the severest drought in its modern history.

Meeting with farmers and ranchers around Fresno — where electronic signs along highways flash entreatingly to drivers, ‘Serious drought. Help save water’ — Mr. Obama pledged $183 million from existing federal funds for drought relief programs in California. Though the announcement won cautious support in this region, Mr. Obama also pressed ahead with the more difficult task of enlisting rural America in his campaign on climate change by linking it to the drought.

“The president was accompanied on his tour by the state’s top Democrats, a show of solidarity that underscored the emerging partisan battle over the management of the drought in the nation’s most populous state and the source of half of the country’s fruits and vegetables.”

The article noted that, “Mr. Obama also spoke of climate change, drawing links to the drought as well as hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean. Mr. Obama announced that he would ask Congress for $1 billion in new funding  for a ‘climate resiliency’ program to help communities invest in research, development and new infrastructure to prepare for climate disasters.”

Water scarcity has forced cattle ranchers to sell portions of their herds. Farmers have left hundreds of thousands of acres of agricultural land go fallow,” Saturday’s article said.

DTN Political Correspondent Jerry Hagstrom reported on Saturday at the DTN Ag Policy Blog that, “Visiting the farm of the son of a California migrant farm worker near Los Banos Calif., on Friday, President Barack Obama promised drought aid to all parts of the state, but also called on Californians to unite to fight climate change. [A transcript of the President’s remarks can be found here, while a video replay is available at Online.]

“Also on Friday, a spokeswoman for Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack confirmed that local Farm Service Agency offices will begin accepting disaster applications from livestock producers on April 15. Vilsack noted Thursday that Obama had directed USDA to expedite the disaster programs by implementing them in 60 days rather the usual six to eight months it usually takes to write regulations.”

Several lawmakers issued news updates on Friday regarding the expedited process for the disaster programs including: Sens. Heidi Heitkamp (D., N.D.), John Thune (R., S.D.), Jerry Moran (R., Kans.), Mark Pryor (D., Ark.), Tim Johnson (D., S.D.),  Michael Bennet (D., Colo.), Barbara Boxer (D., Calif.) and Rep. Kristi Noem (R., S.D.).

The President also had a roundtable discussion on Friday during his trip to California.  A transcript of remarks from the President during the roundtable can be found here.

Meanwhile, McClatchy writer Michael Doyle reported on Friday that, “Abiding by Politics 101, President Barack Obama brought to the San Joaquin Valley on Friday what pros call ‘deliverables.’ He announced new aid, including conservation grants, livestock producer assistance and funds for water-short rural communities. He pledged flexibility in federal water management decisions to maximize deliveries to farmers. He put his prestige on the line, a definite signal to administration underlings.”

Mr. Doyle noted that, “The coming weeks and months will test the administration’s staying power on multiple California drought fronts. These include:

“- Legislation. The Republican-controlled House of Representatives passed a California water bill that authorizes new dams, lengthens irrigation contracts and repeals a San Joaquin River restoration program and replaces it with something less ambitious. California’s Democratic senators, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, have authored a competing bill. It’s unclear what role the administration will play in guiding a compromise.

“- Regulation. Obama’s demand that Interior Department water managers use flexibility in operating the vast Central Valley Project leaves unanswered what this means for water deliveries. Environmental activists fear the president’s commitment will pressure agency scientists and regulators to shortchange species and habitat protection. Farmers fear the promised flexibility will turn to mush.

“- Administration. The new Agriculture Department aid includes an estimated $100 million for livestock producers, with the money provided from a newly signed farm bill. Under the last farm bill, officials took more than a year to get livestock aid into the hands of needy ranchers. Officials insist they will now cut that time by 80 percent, an efficiency goal that will test agency managers.”

Also, Todd Woody reported in today’s New York Times that, “The giant solar receiver installed on a wheat field here in California’s agricultural heartland slowly rotates to track the sun and capture its energy. The 377-foot array, however, does not generate electricity but instead creates heat used to desalinate water.

“It is part of a project developed by a San Francisco area start-up called WaterFX that is tapping an abundant, if contaminated, resource in this parched region: the billions of gallons of water that lie just below the surface.”

Today’s article noted that, “Financed by the Panoche Water District with state funds, the $1 million solar thermal desalinization plant is removing impurities from drainage water at half the cost of traditional desalinization, according to Aaron Mandell, a founder of WaterFX.

“If the technology proves commercially viable — a larger plant is to be built this year — it could offer some relief to the West’s long-running water wars.”

In other developments, Ramsey Cox reported on Friday at The Hill’s Floor Action Blog that, “Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) called on Congress to stop the sugar industry’s ‘sweetheart deal’ by ending subsidies.”

The update added that, “The three senators have introduced the Sugar Reform Act, which would reform domestic supply restrictions, lowers price support levels and ensures adequate sugar supplies at reasonable prices.”

And Helena Bottemiller Evich reported on Friday at Politico that, “There is one significant problem with the effort to get states to go after a Big Tobacco-style lawsuit against the food industry, attorneys say:

There is no ‘smoking gun’ showing that food companies made their products addictive at the expense of public health.

“‘Food is not tobacco,’ attorney Bruce Silverglade says. ‘The case simply isn’t there.’”


Agricultural Economy

On Friday, USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) released its Crop Values 2013 Summary report;  a recap of corn information from the NASS report is available here, while an overview for soybeans can be found here.

Also on Friday, USDA’s Economic Research Service indicated in its Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Outlook  that, “Producers have good incentives to increase the national cow herd, and expansion, which has been stymied by drought the last several years, may now be underway. Evidence supportive of herd expansion was observed in the increased year-over-year retention of replacement heifers for addition to the breeding-herd in NASS’ Cattle report released on January 31, 2014. Additional evidence appeared earlier with the lowest heifer share of total steers and heifers on feed since 2006 observed in NASS’ Cattle On Feed report released January 24, 2014. Weather continues to work against increases in cattle inventories in some areas, like California and the Southwestern United States, where drought continues to adversely affect inventory management. Further, while cow-calf producers have recently enjoyed some of the highest cow and calf prices ever observed, costs have increased as well. As a result, profit margins, while positive, have not increased to the extent that recent feeder cattle prices might imply.”

The ERS report also noted that, “Over the past several weeks there has been considerable anecdotal evidence to suggest that the rate of PEDv outbreaks in the United States has accelerated. The figure below appears on the website of the American Association of Swine Veterinarians (AASV) and shows the weekly number of new cases reported in the United States. In the latest week reported, 265 new cases were added, bringing the total of cases reported since April 2013 to 2,957. The data indicates that reported PEDv cases jumped in January. While the average weekly number of new cases in December was 141.2, the average number in January—through January 26—was 220.5.”

And in news regarding trade, Doug Palmer reported on Friday at Politico that, “Vice President Joe Biden acknowledged Friday that a bill to advance the U.S. trade agenda was not going to pass for a while, prompting Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to pounce on the comments as evidence of weak leadership from the White House on the economy.

“‘I know it’s not coming up now,’ Biden said at a House Democratic retreat in Cambridge, Md., according to a Democratic aide in the room. But a Biden spokesperson denounced initial press accounts of the meeting as ‘inaccurate’ and expressed frustration that they did not mention Biden pressing the need for trade legislation to boost U.S. security and economic interests in the fast-growing Asia-Pacific region.

“‘While the vice president said he understands where some members of the House and Senate are coming from, he made a clear case for the administration’s trade priorities, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations, which he stated are very much in the economic and strategic interest of the U.S.,’ the spokesperson said.”

Michael R. Crittenden and William Mauldin reported on Friday at The Wall Street Journal Online that, “Vice President Joe Biden on Friday acknowledged congressional Democrats’ opposition to the Obama administration’s trade agenda, but he defended a proposed Pacific pact as an important counterweight to China.

“At a retreat of Democratic lawmakers, Mr. Biden said trade negotiations among 12 Pacific countries would bring economic and strategic value, according to attendees. This comes as the White House tries to rebuild the case for trade agreements with Congress and the public and is hoping lawmakers will grant the administration ‘fast track’ authority, in which Congress approves trade deals on an up-or-down vote without amending them.

“The authority would apply most immediately to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a pending trade pact that would include the U.S., Japan, Canada, Mexico and eight other countries.”

Vicki Needham reported yesterday at The Hill’s On the Money Blog that, “President Obama needs to personally engage with lawmakers if he is to move his trade agenda through Congress, according to a former top administration official.

Francisco Sanchez, the former head of the International Trade Administration, told The Hill that the president needs to go up to Capitol Hill and talk to lawmakers one by one to ensure passage of trade promotion authority (TPA) and, eventually, massive Asia-Pacific and European trade agreements.”

And Mark Landler and Jonathan Weisman reported in Saturday’s New York Times that, “Trade has long divided Democrats, pitting their business-friendly moderate wing against key allies in organized labor. And in the midterm elections, when key Democratic voting blocs tend to stay home, the party badly needs the unions to get out the vote in November.”



Reuters writer Tom Polansek reported on Friday that, “Cargill Inc, the top exporter of U.S. grain and oilseeds, on Friday said it will reject crops containing a new genetically modified Syngenta AG corn trait that are delivered to its grain elevators for export contracts.

“Corn seeds containing Syngenta’s Agrisure Duracade trait are available for planting in the United States for the first time this year after U.S. authorities cleared the trait in 2013. The trait has not been approved for import by China or the European Union, both major buyers of U.S. crops.”

The article added that, “‘For export contracts, we will not accept delivery of any commodity containing the Duracade trait,’ Cargill told Reuters in an e-mail.”



Justin Sink reported on Friday at The Hill’s Briefing Room Blog that, “President Obama predicted that Congress would pass an immigration reform bill before the end of his presidency in a Univision Radio interview airing Friday.

“‘I believe it will get done before my presidency is over,’ Obama president said. ‘I’d like to get it done this year.’”

The Hill update noted that, “Republican leaders began 2014 by outlining a series of principles that indicated they were open to pursuing immigration reform, but that momentum stalled when Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Obama had not demonstrated to Republican lawmakers ‘that he can be trusted to enforce the law as it was written.’”

Jonathan House reported yesterday at the Washington Wire Blog (Wall Street Journal) that, “Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.) Sunday rejected the notion that an overhaul of immigration laws is off the table this year.

“‘I won’t give up,’ said Mr. McCain, who has long supported overhauling the nation’s immigration system.  ‘We have the broadest coalition of support of any legislation I’ve ever been involved in: big business, small business, evangelicals, the Catholic Church,’ Mr. McCain said on CNN’s ‘State of the Union.’”

Mr. House indicated that, “The Arizona Republican repeated his view that his party will have difficulties winning a national election if it further alienates the nation’s burgeoning Hispanic population by continuing to resist immigration legislation.  He noted that demographics are changing ‘throughout the whole Southwest, and many other parts of the country.’”

Keith Good

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