January 25, 2020

Senate Ag Appropriations; Farm Bill; Ag Economy; ESA; Water Bill; CFTC; Immigration; and, Food Safety- Friday

Senate Ag Appropriations

David Rogers reported yesterday at Politico that, “Veterans, farm and food safety spending bills cleared the Senate Appropriations Committee Thursday even as Republicans charged Democrats with overstepping last December’s budget accord to fund domestic priorities.

“From white potatoes to Pacific salmon and even cigars, the nearly three-hour meeting had a bit of everything. And behind the scenes, first lady Michelle Obama pushed — with some success — for last-day compromises protecting nutrition standards for children.”

The Politico article noted that, “Both [Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D., Md.)] and her House counterpart, Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), are obliged under the December agreement to hold discretionary spending to $1.014 trillion for the new fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.

“But within this framework, she is taking more license to try to deal with emergency costs as well as a major $4.3 billion scoring dispute between the Congressional Budget Office and Office of Management and Budget.”

Mr. Rogers explained that, “In the case of the $20.6 billion budget for agriculture and food safety, most of the committee debate focused on nutrition standards — a major agenda plank for the first lady.

“As voted Thursday, white potatoes — not as chips or fries — would qualify for the first time as part of the WIC supplemental nutrition program geared to pregnant women and their young children. But the same amendment, engineered by Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), gives the administration the ability to pull potatoes back out if a mandated study recommends that they not be included.”

On this issue, AP writer Mary Clare Jalonick reported yesterday that, “Earlier this year, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Public Health Association and other groups said in a joint statement that ‘to change the WIC food package because of pressure from the potato industry’ could make the program less effective and that should be left to the Institute of Medicine, which advises the government on nutrition issues and made the recommendation not to include potatoes.

“Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, was a lone voice in the committee opposing the amendment, saying it was against congressional precedent to intervene in standards for the WIC program.”

Related audio from Sen. Harkin on this debate from yesterday’s markup can be heard here (MP3- 0:48).

And note that former Secretaries of Agriculture Dan Glickman and Ann M. Veneman penned a column yesterday at Roll Call Online titled, “Keep Nutrition Science in the WIC Program.”

In his Politico article yesterday, Mr. Rogers also pointed out that, “In a second skirmish, the committee also opted for compromise and gave Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack some flexibility in addressing complaints from school districts regarding the level of whole-grain foods they must include in lunch and breakfast meals.

Since July 2012, the rule has been that 50 percent of all grain products be ‘whole grain rich,’ but this standard is slated to go to 100 percent before classes resume next fall. Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) had proposed to freeze it at the current level, but a compromise engineered Thursday with Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) would instead give Vilsack six months to come back to Congress with a report ‘that assesses whether there is an acceptable range of whole grain products currently available’ to meet the 100 percent standard.

“The administration has already shown some flexibility this month in regard to whole-grain pasta. And school nutritionists have argued that in the case of tortillas, for example, finding whole-grain products that can be easily prepared and acceptable to students is difficult.”

Related audio on this issue from Sen. Harkin at yesterday’s markup can be heard here (MP3- 1:24).

An update on yesterday’s Senate Ag Appropriations markup by the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition noted in part that, “Fortunately, there were no attempts during Committee markup of the agriculture appropriations bill to roll back farmer protections under the Packers and Stockyards Act of 1921. The so-called ‘GIPSA rider’ was included in last year’s Senate bill, and unfortunately is included in this year’s House subcommittee bill.

The same issues were considered during this year’s debate over the farm bill and rejected by the Agriculture Committee leaders who have jurisdiction over this issue. The House subcommittee rider is anti-farmer and, substance aside, has no rightful place in an appropriations bill. NSAC will be urging members to oppose the House rider and fight to keep this provision out of the final 2015 agriculture funding bill.

The full House Appropriations Committee is scheduled to markup and approve their draft agriculture spending bill late next week…”

And a news release yesterday from Sen. Chris Coons (D., Del.) pointed out that, “[Sen. Coons] joined Appropriations Committee members Thursday to approve an FY15 agriculture appropriations bill that supports key programs for Delaware farmers, poultry growers, and the Port of Wilmington. The bill will now move to the Senate floor for consideration.”

With respect to food aid, the update noted that, “Includes $35 million in flexible funding for international food aid programs that will allow USAID and NGOs providing food aid to reach 200,000 more people a year. Senator Coons, a leading advocate for food aid reform, supported an amendment in Committee that restored this funding, which had been cut from the original FY15 appropriations bill.”

Note that related audio on this issue from Sen. Mike Johanns (R., Neb.) at yesterday’s markup can be heard here (MP3- 1:24).

Meanwhile, in additional reporting on school lunch nutrition issues, Valerie Strauss reported yesterday at the Answer Sheet Blog (Washington Post) that, “Federally funded school lunches have been in the news because Republicans in the U.S. House just voted to allow some schools to get a waiver from a law that requires lunches served to students to meet new health standards.”

The Post update stated that, “Implementation of the law, which has been ongoing in stages for a few years, has been more difficult than you might imagine. A January 2014 report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, explains as early as the title: ‘SCHOOL LUNCH: Implementing Nutrition Changes Was Challenging and Clarification of Oversight Requirements Is Needed.’

So how much clarification was needed? How many memos on implements did the Agriculture Department send out to schools about these regulations? About 90, the report says.”


Farm Bill

Ohio State University agriculture economist Carl Zulauf indicated yesterday at the farmdoc daily blog (“2014 Farm Bill: the Big Picture As Seen Through Spending”) that, “This post takes a broad view of the 2014 farm bill and more specifically the farm safety net as seen through the lens of projected spending levels.   In essence, the post examines the who-won/who-lost question and what it tells us about the state of the farm bill debate in the U.S.  Primary sources of information are the (1) U.S. Congress, Congressional Budget Office (CBO) January 28, 2014 letter to the Honorable Frank D. Lucas, Chair, House of Representatives Committee on Agriculture, available here; and (2) Agricultural Act of 2014, available here [see a related graph from yesterday’s update here].”

Tom Meersman reported yesterday at the Food Market Blog (Minneapolis Star Tribune) that, “The late spring is causing headaches for northern Minnesota corn farmers, and U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson has asked federal officials to give them some slack.

“Federal crop insurance won’t fully cover corn crops planted after May 25 and May 31 for grain and silage, but Peterson sent a letter on May 20 asking USDA Risk Management Administrator Brandon Willis to change those deadlines and move the dates farther ahead.

“‘In many parts of my district, wet weather has prevented farmers from even getting fields ready for planting, much less actual planting,’ Peterson wrote. ‘My growers would rather produce a corn crop than collect a prevented planting [insurance] claim.’”

AP writer Blake Nicholson reported yesterday that, “The federal government says regulations prevent it from even considering a request by U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp to extend a corn planting deadline to ease farmers’ insurance concerns in North Dakota.

“The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Risk Management Agency said in a statement Wednesday that it is prohibited from changing the May 25 deadline set for most counties in the state.”

Emily Unglesbee reported yesterday at DTN (link requires subscription) that, “In states like Ohio, Indiana, Minnesota, Michigan, North Dakota and Wisconsin, rain-soaked soils have stalled planting and left farmers with a host of agronomic worries.”


Agricultural Economy

Tony C. Dreibus reported in today’s Wall Street Journal that, “Jim Walter’s tractor steered itself as he sat in the cab, scanning a computer screen showing corn seeds pumping into his soil. By the time his 16-hour work day was over, he’d planted 310 acres—the rough equivalent of 250 football fields.

“Such planting feats weren’t possible even a decade ago, let alone when the 66-year-old began farming in 1970. Today they are being repeated across the Midwest, as growers invest in more-sophisticated machinery to rapidly sow crops in narrow windows of favorable weather [related graph].”

Meanwhile, a recent update at the U.S. Drought Monitor indicated that, “Mounting deficits saw degradation of drought conditions in western and central Texas…Areas of Exceptional (D4), Extreme (D3), Severe (D2), and Moderate Drought (D1) and Abnormal Dryness (D0) expanded eastward this week in Oklahoma [related graph].”

In news regarding transportation, AP writer James MacPherson reported today that, “BNSF Railway Co. has fulfilled its promise to haul sufficient fertilizer in the Dakotas, Minnesota and Montana to meet the needs of spring planting, the railroad said Thursday.”

And Russell Gold and Betsy Morris reported yesterday at The Wall Street Journal Online that, “Emergency responders in Cincinnati know that trains full of crude oil have been rumbling through their city; they can see mile-long chains of black tank cars clacking across bridges over the Ohio River.

But they don’t know enough to feel prepared for the kinds of fiery accidents that have occurred over the last 10 months after oil-train derailmentsAn emergency order from the U.S. Transportation Department in June will start requiring railroads to alert states about oil trains originating in North Dakota. But the rules, which follow accidents involving oil from North Dakota’s Bakken Shale in such unlikely locations as Lynchburg, Va., and Aliceville, Ala., already are coming under criticism. Some critics say the new rules are inadequate, while others worry that any disclosures will increase the likelihood of sabotage [related graph].”

In other news, Reuters reported yesterday that, “Mexico reported outbreaks of a deadly pig virus in 17 states out of 19 tested, the World Animal Health Organization (OIE) said on Thursday.

“Following reports of unusually high mortality, mainly in piglets, in the central-western part of the country, Mexican veterinary officials tested 2,309 samples between August 2013 and May 2014 in farms and slaughterhouses, the Mexican agriculture ministry told the OIE.

These showed that 30 percent were positive for the deadly Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus (PEDv), suggesting that there may be some other causative agent involved in this event, the ministry said.”


ESA- Endangered Species Act

A news release yesterday from the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) indicated that, “The [AFBF] has endorsed a bill to prohibit the federal government from listing the sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act as long as states prepare and carry out plans to protect the species within their borders.

The Sage Grouse Protection and Conservation Act, introduced today by Rep. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) would empower states to protect the bird with habitat that covers 186 million acres and 11 states. It is expected that Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) will soon be introducing companion legislation in the Senate.”

For additional background on the sage grouse and ESA, see this brief video.


Senate Passes Water Bill

Reuters news reported yesterday that, “The U.S. Senate on Thursday overwhelmingly approved legislation that authorizes spending on inland waterways and port infrastructure, and tackles flood protection and measures to limit damage from storms.

“The Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA) passed by 91 to 7 after being approved by the House of Representatives on Tuesday in a lopsided vote of 412 to 4.

“It now goes to President Barack Obama, who is expected to sign it into law.”


CFTC- Commodity Futures Trading Commission

Peter Schroeder reported yesterday at The Hill Online that, “Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) is accusing a nominee to join the Commodity Futures Trading Commission of refusing to answer his questions.

“In a letter sent Wednesday, Vitter demanded to know why Sharon Bowen has failed to answer questions he asked her back in March. At the time, Bowen’s staff said she would respond ‘as soon as practicable.’

“‘Is two months not practicable?’ Vitter asked in his latest letter.”

The Hill update added that, “Bowen is currently pending before the full Senate, along with fellow CFTC nominees Christopher Giancarlo and Timothy Massad, a former Treasury Department official Obama nominated to lead the agency.”

Reuters news reported yesterday that, “The U.S. Senate aims to vote to confirm three candidates to the Commodity Futures Trading Commission in early June, a senior Democratic aide said on Thursday, to fill a leadership gap at the futures and swaps regulator.”



AP writer Erica Werner reported earlier this week that, “Immigration advocates angry that legislation has stalled in Congress are increasingly focusing their ire at one person: Eric Cantor, the House majority leader.

“More so than House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, Cantor is seen as responsible for the House’s election-year failure to act on immigration 11 months after the Senate passed a wide-ranging bill with billions for border security and a path to citizenship for the 11.5 million immigrants in the country illegally. The issue is a top priority for President Barack Obama.”

Bridget Bowman and Daniel Newhauser reported yesterday at Roll Call Online that, “Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid offered to make 2017 the effective date for an immigration overhaul Thursday so Republicans no longer can use President Barack Obama as an excuse not to pass a bill — and set an August deadline for the House to act.”


Food Safety

Christopher Doering reported yesterday at The Des Moines Register Online that, “Charges filed Wednesday against two executives and their Iowa company, Quality Egg LLC, are the latest to rock the food industry, which has come under increasing scrutiny because of concerns about food safety.

The charges against Austin ‘Jack’ DeCoster and his son Peter DeCoster, along with their company, come on the heels of criminal charges by federal regulators against two Colorado cantaloupe farmers tied to a listeria outbreak in 2011 and officials and the owner of a peanut processing plant in Georgia that was linked to a deadly salmonella outbreak four years ago.”

And Tim Devaney reported yesterday at The Hill Online that, “The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is delaying an estimated $150 million food safety rule intended to prevent contamination during transit.

“The rule would establish new sanitary requirements for truck drivers, shippers and trains that transport human and animal food around the country. They would be required to refrigerate the food and clean their vehicles between loads, among other things, the FDA said Thursday.

“It is part of a larger effort by the Obama administration to overhaul the nation’s food safety laws.”

Keith Good

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