- FarmPolicy - http://farmpolicy.com -

Appropriations; Farm Bill; WRDA; Ag Economy; Immigration; and, Biofuels

Agriculture Appropriations

David Rogers reported yesterday at Politico that, “House Republicans proposed a $20.9 billion budget for agriculture and food safety programs Monday, an 82-page bill that challenges the White House on nutrition rules and denies major new funding sought by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission to better regulate the rich derivatives market.

“The CFTC fares better than in the past in that the GOP allows for a modest $3 million increase for information technology investments. But the $218 million budget is still $62 million less than President Barack Obama’s request and continues a pattern that has frustrated the administration’s ability to implement Wall Street reforms called for under the Dodd-Frank law enacted in July 2010.

“In the case of nutrition programs, the House bill seeks to open the door for starchy, white potatoes to be added to the list of qualified vegetables under the WIC supplemental feeding program for pregnant women and their young children. The Agriculture Department would also be required to establish a waiver process for local school districts which have found it too costly to comply with tougher nutrition standards for school lunch and breakfast programs.”

Mr. Rogers explained that, “And in a surprising twist, the bill language specifies that only rural areas are to benefit in the future from funding requested by the administration this year to continue a modest summer demonstration program to help children from low-income households — both urban and rural — during those months when school meals are not available.

“Since 2010, the program has operated from an initial appropriation of $85 million, and the goal has been to test alternative approaches to distribute aid when schools are not in session. The White House asked for an additional $30 million to continue the effort, but the House bill provides $27 million for what’s described as an entirely new pilot program focused on rural areas only.”

The Politico article added that, “In the case of WIC and white potatoes, the provision follows on strong lobbying by the industry which is hoping to win similar language Thursday when the full Senate Appropriations Committee is slated to consider its own version of the same agriculture bill.”

“[T]he Farm Service Agency gets just a $27 million increase as it tries to implement the new five-year farm bill enacted in February,” yesterday’s article said; and pointed out that, “On the farm side, an estimated $9.07 billion is provided for the Commodity Credit Corp. and another $8.6 billion is allocated for crop insurance programs. The CCC number reflects promised savings from the new farm bill, but critics also argued that the bills raided conservation accounts, taking more than $500 million from mandatory accounts so as to claim savings to offset discretionary programs.

On the nutrition side, the bill assumes an estimated $20.5 billion for child nutrition and school meals and about $82.5 billion for food stamps, formally titled the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP.”

The House Appropriations Agriculture Subcommittee will meet this morning to mark up the measure.

AP writer Mary Clare Jalonick noted yesterday that, “A Senate subcommittee was also scheduled to mark up its version of the food and farm spending bill Tuesday but that panel has not yet released its language.”

Tom Hamburger and Kimberly Kindy reported in today’s Washington Post that, “Sounding a new aggressive tone, first lady Michelle Obama vowed in a private conference call Monday to fight industry efforts at rolling back healthy school-lunch standards, an issue that could come up for a vote on Capitol Hill this week.

“The remarks to health activists were made at the beginning of a week of intense lobbying around changes in the national school-lunch program, which sets standards for fat, sugar and sodium levels in food.”

The Post article indicated that, “In the conference call, Mrs. Obama urged health activists to fight agribusiness’s lobbying efforts to allow schools to opt out of the mandates to reduce sodium, increase whole grains, and increase servings of fresh fruits and vegetables in lunches.

“Also Monday, more than 100 national, state and local nutrition and child advocacy organizations — including the American Pediatric Society, Children’s Defense Fund and Healthy Schools Campaign — circulated a letter asking lawmakers to fight the waiver request.”

Erik Wasson reported yesterday at The Hill Online that, “The School Nutrition Association, which represents providers of school breakfasts and lunches, has been lobbying in favor of temporary waivers. It argues students don’t like the healthier food and are deciding not to pay for the school programs at all.

Since the standards went into effect, it said more than 1 million students have opted out of school lunch programs, causing financial strain on cafeterias.”

The Hill article added that, “The Senate Appropriations Committee is set to unveil its 2015 agriculture spending bill, authored by subcommittee chairman Sen. Mark Pryor (R-Ark.), on Tuesday. A Democratic aide said the school lunch rider will not be in the Senate draft version of the bill but could come up as an amendment during Thursday’s full committee markup.”

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack indicated yesterday that, “The House bill would undermine the effort to provide kids with more nutritious food and would be a major step backwards for the health of American children, just at the time childhood obesity rates are finally starting to level off. School nutrition standards are developed by independent experts, over 90% of schools report that they are successfully implementing them, and studies show they are working to help kids be healthier. USDA has continued to show flexibility in implementing these new standards, and Congress should focus on partnering with USDA, states, schools, and parents to help our kids have access to more healthy food, not less.”

A news release yesterday from the National Farmers Union stated that, “Today, farm, rural, consumer, labor and environmental groups from across the United States delivered two separate letters to the Senate and House Appropriations Committees urging them to reject any efforts in their upcoming 2015 Appropriations Bill to insert policy riders that would harm family farmers, ranchers and consumers.

“The first letter, signed by 179 groups, urged the committee to reject any attempts to undermine Country-of-Origin Labeling (COOL) law and regulations…[T]he second letter, signed by 168 groups, urges the committees to reject any policy riders that would limit the Secretary of Agriculture’s authority to finalize key protections for farmers under the Packers and Stockyards Act of 1921 (P&S Act).”


Farm Bill- Policy Issues

A news release yesterday from Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D., N.D.) stated that, “[Sen. Heitkamp] today called on the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to delay the final crop insurance planting deadline for corn growers in North Dakota. Additionally, Heitkamp requested that USDA consider moving back final planting dates for early spring crops in 2015 and subsequent crop years.

“Many farmers will be unable to get their crop in the ground by the May 25th deadline because of a very wet spring. If the deadline is not extended, farmers will then have to decide whether to plant with limited or reduced crop insurance, or to participate in the prevented plant program.”

Meanwhile, a National Farmers Union news release yesterday noted in part that, “This morning, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit heard argument en banc in AMI v. USDA. While a three-judge panel had affirmed the district court’s denial of a preliminary injunction on the implementation of the revised Country-of-Origin Labeling (COOL) regulations, the panel had noted that one issue might warrant rehearing en banc. The Court scheduled today’s hearing as a result.”

Reuters writer Julia Edwards reported yesterday that, “The Obama administration’s argument for keeping its labeling requirements in place for meat vendors is too broad and would give regulators too much power over how goods are labeled, judges in a U.S. appeals court said on Monday.

“The D.C. Circuit Court heard argument from the Obama administration and lawyers representing North American meat vendors about the 2013 U.S. Department of Agriculture regulation that requires North American vendors to list where the animals they sell as meat are born, raised and slaughtered.”

The article noted that, “Several judges asked the attorney arguing for the administration, Daniel Tenny, to suggest a test that could be used to establish when government agencies can require companies to use certain labels on their products.

“Tenny said the government would always be justified in requiring labels so long as they are providing consumers with information they want or need to make informed decisions.

To the courtroom audience’s amusement, several judges posed hypothetical situations to Tenny to exemplify how the law could be applied too broadly under his argument.”

Also yesterday, Cristina Marcos reported at The Hill Online that, “Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) on Monday urged McDonald’s to primarily source the beef used in its hamburgers from cows raised without antibiotics.

“In a letter to McDonald’s director of sustainability Michele Banik-Rake, Slaughter praised the company’s decision to buy hamburger beef from sustainably raised cows starting in 2016, but said the initiative could go further.”

Ron Nixon reported in today’s New York Times that, “An Obama administration program set up to reduce chronic hunger and poverty has contributed to rising incomes for farmers around the world and has helped save millions of people from starvation, according to a report released Monday by the United States Agency for International Development.

“The program, Feed the Future, was started by the agency four years ago after a rapid rise in global food prices. It has helped more than seven million small farmers increase crop production and has provided nutritious foods to 12.5 million children in countries hit hard by drought, war or poor development, the report said.”

On a separate issue, Juliet Eilperin reported in today’s Washington Post that, “President Obama will create the largest national monument of his tenure on Wednesday, making nearly 500,000 acres of southern New Mexico off limits to development…[B]ut some in the area near Las Cruces, including cattle ranchers and Republican lawmakers, oppose a presidential designation, saying it is too far-reaching and will not provide enough safeguards for border officers.”


WRDA- Water Resources Reform and Development Act

The House is scheduled to consider the Conference Report to H.R. 3080- the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRDA) today.

Keith Laing reported yesterday at The Hill Online that, “The National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) is urging lawmakers to approve a conference report on an $8.2 billion bill to boost U.S. ports and waterways.

“The association issued a ‘key vote advisory’ on Monday for the water infrastructure measure, known as the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA).”

And Erik Wasson reported yesterday at The Hill Online that, “The conservative group Heritage Action announced Monday that it will punish lawmakers on its annual scorecard if they vote in favor of an $8.2 billion water infrastructure bill coming to the House floor this week.”

The Wall Street Journal editorial board noted today that, “Consider the Water Resources Reform and Development Act, which is scheduled for a House vote Tuesday. Water spending bills in the recent past were earmarking extravaganzas. The Army Corps of Engineers would recommend the most pressing water needs. Congress would ignore those and focus spending on hundreds of Member projects…[R]emarkable to behold, something like priority-setting has happened in the current water bill, the first to go through Congress since the 2011 earmark ban.”

The Journal stated that, “Anything Congress does involves political trade-offs and no doubt there was some deal-making here. But Speaker John Boehner says the House won’t return to earmark ‘nonsense,’ and that’s encouraging. Rather than follow Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s call to return to the pork-addled past, Congress ought to make this water bill a standard for future spending.”


Agricultural Economy

Cheri Zagurski reported yesterday at DTN (link requires subscription) that, “Corn planting edged close to three-quarters of the way complete nationwide in the week ended May 18, according to USDA’s weekly Crop Progress report. At 73%, progress is only three percentage points behind the five-year average.”

Soybean planting reached 33%, compared to 20% last week and a 38% five-year average. Emergence was reported at 9%, compared to an 11% five-year average,” the DTN article said.

Bloomberg writer Phoebe Sedgman reported today that, “About 44 percent of the U.S. winter crop was in poor or very poor condition as of May 18, up from 42 percent a week earlier, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said yesterday.”

David Peirson reported yesterday at the Los Angeles Times Online that, “California’s leading agricultural region, the Central Valley, could lose $1.7 billion and 14,500 jobs because of the state’s severe drought, according to preliminary results of a study released Monday by the UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences.

“Researchers estimate irrigated farms in the valley, which stretches from Kern County to Shasta County, will receive only one-third of their normal river water deliveries this year.”

Meanwhile, Ross Courtney reported earlier this week at the Yakima Herald-Republic (Wash.) Online that, “Nationwide, low fat milk averaged $3.93 per gallon in late March, up 6.7 percent over a year ago, according to Data Marketing, a San Jose, Calif., statistics firm that gathers data directly from retail cash registers. Cheese prices were up 3.9 percent, while yogurt prices were up 4.4 percent. Even milk alternatives, such as soy and almond drinks, showed price hikes.

“On Yakima Valley store shelves, prices for low fat milk have climbed anywhere from 25 cents to $1 per gallon over the past year.”

The National Agricultural Statistics Service (USDA) indicated yesterday in its monthly Milk Production report that, “Milk production in the 23 major States during April totaled 16.3 billion pounds, up 1.2 percent from April 2013 [related graph].”

Also yesterday, Meghan Grebner reported at Brownfield that, “The number of cases of Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus continues to rise.”

And in news regarding trade, USDA issued a news update yesterday titled, “Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack Highlights Recent Trade Breakthroughs with Mexico.”



Russell Berman reported yesterday at The Hill Online that, “Republican and Democratic advocates see one final, long-shot chance to pass immigration reform this summer, and its fate rests with a Speaker [John Boehner] stuck between his party’s resistance and his search for a career-defining legacy.

“House lawmakers writing immigration proposals say Republican leaders haven’t told them if they plan to hold a vote on immigration legislation before the August recess, which both sides see as the deadline for action in this Congress.

“Boehner clearly wants to overhaul the immigration system, but to revive the issue, he will have to untangle knots he tied during the past year.”

Seung Min Kim reported yesterday at Politico that, “Bucking his own leadership, Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.) is pushing for a vote on a scaled-back immigration measure that would give legal status to young undocumented immigrants who serve in the military.

“Denham announced Monday that he has formally filed his measure, called the Enlist Act, as an amendment to a must-pass defense policy bill that the House will take up this week.”



AP writer David Pitt reported yesterday that, “Just as ethanol producers have been seeing the industry’s most profitable months ever, the federal government is considering whether to lower the amount of the corn-based fuel that must be blended into gasoline…[E]PA officials say fewer gallons of ethanol are necessary because the fuel efficiency of cars improved more quickly than expected, helping lower fuel demand. The U.S. consumed about 134 billion gallons of gasoline last year, about 6 percent less than the record high of about 142 billion gallons consumed in 2007, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

“The EPA, which has received more than 343,000 comments on its proposal, plans to reach a final decision in late June.”

Keith Good