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Policy Issues; Immigration; GMO Labels; Regs; and, the Ag Economy

Policy Issues

A news release yesterday from the House Ag Committee stated that, “Rep. Austin Scott, Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee’s Subcommittee on Horticulture, Research, Biotechnology and Foreign Agriculture, today held a public hearing to review current research and application of management strategies to control pests and diseases of pollinators.

“Approximately a third of global food production is dependent on animal pollination for reproduction, and managed honey bees are the most important pollinators of those crops. Some regions of the world have increasingly lost their managed honey bee colonies in recent years. Reports of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) surfaced in the United States in 2006. Colony losses are not unusual, but the increase in losses reported in the U.S., some European countries, the Middle East, and Japan are particularly alarming because of the honey bees’ role in pollination and the absence of an easily identifiable cause.”

The release explained that, “The global picture identifies the honey bee parasitic mite, Varroa destructor, as the major factor in colony loss. Regions that have established mite populations have suffered consistently higher colony losses than those without. The role of the Varroa mite in colony losses is supported by a wealth of data. The mite itself contributes to weakening colony health and modifying bee behavior, but it also spreads secondary infections within and between colonies. A general consensus is emerging that this mite, in association with a range of honey bee viruses, is a significant factor in the losses of managed honey bee colonies seen globally.”

Dr. Jeff Pettis, Research Leader at USDA’s Agricultural Research Service, noted that bee keeping in the U.S. used to be about honey production, but has evolved to focus more on pollination. In a conversation at yesterday’s hearing with Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R., Mo.), Dr. Pettis indicated that a diverse range of plants, including flowering plants, on Conservation Reserve Program acreage would assist in bee colony health- related audio (MP3- 0:42).

Rep. Jeff Denham (R., Calif.) asked Dr. Pettis how the ongoing drought in California has impacted bee colony healthrelated audio (MP3- 1:00); while, Subcommittee Ranking Member Kurt Schrader (D., Ore.) discussed the use of genetics and bee health with Dr. Pettis- related audio (MP3- 0:28).

Also at yesterday’s hearing, Subcommittee Chairman Scott queried Dr. Pettis more specifically about the Varroa mite issuerelated audio (MP3- 1:10).

In other policy related news, University of Illinois agricultural economists Gary Schnitkey and Bruce Sherrick indicated yesterday at the farmdoc daily blog (“Coverage Levels on Crop Insurance and the SCO Alternative”) that, “Over time, crop insurance coverage levels chosen by farmers have increased, and there are regional patterns in coverage elections.  Coverage level choices tend to be highest for corn and soybeans in the heart of the Corn Belt.  These regional distributions will impact the economic attractiveness of the Supplemental Coverage Option (SCO), a new crop insurance product specified in the 2014 Farm Bill (see here).  Because SCO will be more attractive where lower coverage levels predominate, SCO use likely will be more attractive outside of the Corn Belt.”

A news release yesterday from USDA stated that, “Today, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack announced additional support and resources for America’s small and midsized farmers and ranchers. Today’s announcement includes $7 million in university research awards in support of small and midsized producers; $8.8 million in technical assistance for small, socially-disadvantaged producers and Rural Cooperative Centers; and a marketing certification program for small and very small grass-fed beef producers.”

And Marina Koren reported yesterday at National Journal Online that, “In the last five years, the number of farmers markets across the country has nearly doubled, from 4,685 in 2008 to 8,144 in 2013, according to the Agriculture Department. In 1994, there were only about 1,755 farmers markets in the United States.”

Also, with respect to biofuels, a news release yesterday from Rep. Tim Walz (D., Minn.) stated that, “Today, Representatives [Walz], Cheri Bustos (D-IL), and Rick Nolan (D-MN) met with senior officials at the White House to discuss the importance of the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). The Members shared their strong concerns about the EPA’s proposed rule on the RFS. They also stated their belief that the RFS plays a critical role as an alternative to foreign oil, while benefiting local economies across the country and creating jobs in rural communities.”

 

Immigration

Kristina Peterson reported in today’s Wall Street Journal that, “On Tuesday [House Speaker John Boehner] worked to make amends with his House GOP ranks after mocking some lawmakers’ reluctance to overhaul immigration laws at an event in his Ohio district last week.”

The Journal article stated that, “On Tuesday, Mr. Boehner sought to clarify in a closed-door meeting with House Republicans that his portrayal of them had been lighthearted.

“‘You tease the ones you love, but some people misunderstood what I had to say, and I wanted to make sure the members understood that the biggest impediment we have to moving immigration reform is that the American people don’t trust the president to enforce or implement the law…’ Mr. Boehner told reporters after the meeting. ‘Our members know me, all right? But sometimes I can rib people just a little too much—wouldn’t be the first time.’

The comments intensified questions among lawmakers and advocates about whether the House would consider immigration legislation this year. Mr. Boehner has made clear that he thinks the issue needs to be dealt with, but reiterated Tuesday that the House wouldn’t pass a bill that could be subsumed by the broader Senate version passed last year.”

Wesley Lowery reported in today’s Washington Post that, “House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) reiterated Tuesday that he believes that the major impediment to moving forward with comprehensive immigration reform is a distrust of President Obama, and not an unwillingness of the members of his caucus to take up the legislation.”

Russell Berman reported yesterday at The Hill Online that, “Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Tuesday told a private Republican Party meeting that there is no ‘secret conspiracy’ to jam through an immigration overhaul, according to one member in the room.”

Earlier this week, David Eldridge pointed out at Roll Call Online (“Immigration Overhaul Shows Signs of Life in GOP”) that, “It began with a tiny leak earlier this month — sources telling the Wall Street Journal that Speaker John A. Boehner, behind closed doors, said he’s ‘hell bent’ on tackling immigration this year.

Now, an issue that had been pronounced legislatively dead just weeks ago is one of the hottest topics facing lawmakers in both parties returning to Washington after a two-week recess.”

The signs of life for a revitalized push for an immigration overhaul are suddenly popping up everywhere.”

The Roll Call update then proceeded to document several recent instances of GOP lawmakers brining up the immigration issue.

 

GMO Labels

Yesterday on the Kansas Ag Network, Greg Akagi discussed GMO labeling issues with Rep. Mike Pompeo (R., Kan.) who has introduced the “Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2014.”

Yesterday’s update noted that the bill “would establish a federal labeling standard for foods with genetically modified ingredients, giving sole authority to the Food and Drug Administration to require mandatory labeling on such foods if the are ever found to be unsafe or materially different from foods produced without GM ingredients.”

A clip from yesterday’s interview is available here (MP3- 1:43), while the entire discussion can be heard at the Kansas Ag Network Online.

Meanwhile, Niraj Chokshi reported yesterday at the GovBeat Blog (Washington Post) that, “Expect two things to happen now that Vermont’s legislature has passed H.112.

“Any day now, Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) is expected to make history by signing that bill into law as he has suggested, making his the first state to require genetically modified food to be labeled as such. Then, maybe not too long after that, expect the state to be sued over it.”

The update added that, “Industry groups argue that such laws are costly and bad for consumers. But even some academics have questioned the reasons for implementing a labeling requirement. That Monday report — authored by professors from the universities of California, Illinois and Missouri — found no science-based reason for singling out genetically engineered foods. They also suggested that such requirements could have possible trade implications — many of the labeling requirements in other countries violate World Trade Organization agreements, they write — and that food costs could potentially rise if companies decide to use non-modified ingredients instead of simply slapping a genetically modified organism (GMO) label on products. (If they opt to comply with labeling requirements instead, costs could be minimal.)”

 

Regulations

Ted Booker reported recently at the Watertown Daily Times (N.Y.) Online that, “Farmers were told during a webinar Friday that random, unannounced inspections will be started in July by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration at dairy farms across upstate New York.

“Farmers, who will be fined for hazards found by inspectors, asked lots of questions about OSHA’s newly hatched ‘Local Emphasis Program’ for dairy farms during the webinar led by Ronald L. Williams, compliance assistance specialist at OSHA’s Syracuse office. The office serves a 24-county Central New York region that includes the north country.

Farmers have a good reason to be concerned about the program launched by OSHA, which in 2012 started a similar inspection program in Wisconsin for dairy farms. The most current OSHA statistics from 2012 show that 1,346 fines were issued in Central New York to businesses across the region, including farms. Fines averaged about $2,500, with the highest about $7,000.”

On the issue of EPA’s recently proposed waters of the U.S. rule, an update from the National Farmers Union included an EPA list of “myths and facts” regarding the proposal, which began by stating: “The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposed rule will not add to or expand the scope of waters historically protected under the Clean Water Act (CWA).”

Also, the American Farm Bureau Federation has generated a webpage titled, “Ditch the Rule,” which was created “to help you answer questions about the ‘waters of the U.S.’ proposed rule and to provide resources to make it easier for the public to engage in the campaign to fight the rule as currently proposed.”

AP writer Hope Yen reported yesterday that, “Maryland is joining three other jurisdictions in supporting the Obama administration’s plan to clean up the Chesapeake Bay watershed, seeking to counter an election-year legal challenge by farmers and 21 attorneys general that could shape future U.S. environmental policy.

“The case before the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia asks whether the Environmental Protection Agency went too far in negotiating a 2010 agreement that sets pollution limits in the nation’s largest estuary.

“The last of the legal briefs in the case were submitted late Monday. Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler argues that the cleanup is making progress and shouldn’t be derailed by outside states with no interest in the Chesapeake Bay and its watershed. Signing onto his brief are Delaware and the District of Columbia; Virginia earlier had submitted a separate brief in support. That means four of the seven bay jurisdictions who consented to the EPA cleanup in 2010 are now defending the plan in court.”

 

Agricultural Economy

The Associated Press reported yesterday that, “Wet weather and planting delays for this year’s crop are sending corn futures higher.

“Corn for July delivery rose 8 cents to $5.22 a bushel Tuesday. Corn has been rising steadily since the beginning of the year and is up 24 percent so far.

“Wheat and soybean futures also rose. The July wheat contract rose 8 cents to $7.17 a bushel and soybeans for delivery in the same month rose 17 cents to $15.17 a bushel.”

Meanwhile, David Cleavinger, who farms near Amarillo TX, tweeted this photo yesterday, with the comment: “Another day 60 MPH wind. Sad day. Freeze predicted tonight, 95 degrees Monday #wheat gone #drought14 #climatechange”

An AP article posted yesterday at the Tulsa World Online reported that, “The president of the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts is urging farmers to think twice before plowing their fields this spring and consider alternatives to cultivating the soil.

“Ongoing drought in Oklahoma and Southern Plains creates the risk of dust storms and wind erosion that could be worsened by plowing, association president Kim Farber said.”

Meanwhile, Bloomberg news reported earlier this week that, “China, which lost its self-sufficiency in corn about five years ago, is on a dietary shift that will make it the world’s largest import market by 2021, overtaking Japan, South Korea and Mexico [related chart].

Until 2009, China was able to harvest more corn than it needed except for a few periods of severe drought. This year, the country is expected to import about 2 percent of its consumption, with that proportion rising to 7.2 percent by 2024, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. China’s emergence as a top corn buyer is good news for producers in the U.S., Brazil and Ukraine, which face a demand squeeze amid aging populations elsewhere in Northeast Asia.”

Xinhua news reported yesterday that, “China has returned over one million tonnes of maize imported from the United States that contained an unapproved transgenic component, the country’s leading quality watchdog announced on Tuesday.

“As of April 21, 1.124 million tonnes of corn and maize-based products contaminated with MIR162, a transgenic component yet to be approved by Chinese authorities, had been returned to the U.S., said Chen Xitong, spokesman of the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine.”

And a recent New York Times editorial pointed out that, “China’s environmental degradation poses a health hazard that should be classified as a human rights violation. A report issued by the Ministry of Environmental Protection and the Ministry of Land and Resources last week was another reminder of just how bad things are: One-fifth of China’s farmland is polluted. And the area of polluted soil is increasing sharply.”

In other news regarding China, Neil Gough reported yesterday at The New York Times Online that, “The WH Group of China, the world’s biggest pork producer, decided on Tuesday to cancel its $1.9 billion initial public offering of stock in Hong Kong because of lackluster demand.

“Despite the efforts of an unprecedented 29 underwriters, the offering, which once sought to raise as much as $5.3 billion, failed to generate enough enthusiasm from investors.”

The New York Times article also included this graph depicting economic variables related to pork and China.

In trade related news, Richard Smith reported yesterday at DTN (link requires subscription) on trade issues between the U.S. and Japan regarding the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Mr. Smith indicated that, “While the official statement between the two countries lacked details as much as it was long on mutual platitudes, Japanese media has begun to report on specifics. Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan’s largest-circulation newspaper, reported early this week that Japan has agreed to substantially lower tariffs on beef and pork. Beef would go down to the level of ‘9% or more’ from the current 38.5% over the course of about 20 years, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported.

“The paper reported that Japan continues to plan to protect its pork farmers by maintaining its gate price system. Under the system, at prices of 524 yen ($5.07) or more per kilogram, averaged on the cost insurance and freight (CIF) invoice, a shipment is hit with a 4.3% tariff. If the CIF price falls below 524 yen, the shipment is also assessed a charge based on the difference between 546.5 yen (525 yen times 1.043, or $5.29) and the CIF price.

“But Japan would drastically lower its standard domestic pork price in exchange for maintaining the gate price system. On dairy products, the country would lower tariffs first and then set up a new special quota for U.S. dairy products, which will be imported at low tariffs, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported.”

And at The Wall Street Journal Online yesterday, a brief video interview was posted with the following text: “Were the recent trade talks between President Obama and Shinzo Abe a wasted opportunity? Japanese economist Heizo Takenaka shares his thoughts with WSJ’s John Bussey.”

Keith Good