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Appropriations; Farm Bill; Ag Economy; Biofuels; Labels; Data; and, Regs

House Appropriations Committee Passes Ag Spending Measure

David Rogers reported yesterday at Politico that, “It was the first lady vs. the ‘lunch ladies’ at the House Appropriations Committee on Thursday morning as Republicans pushed ahead with their plan offering school districts a one-year waiver to opt out of improved nutrition standards promoted by Michelle Obama.

“The action came as the panel approved a $142.5 billion farm and food safety budget for the coming year, including $20.9 billion in new discretionary appropriations for the operations of the Agriculture Department and Food and Drug Administration.

“From vending machine junk food labels to the merits of fresh white potatoes in the diet of low-income mothers and their young children, nutrition items dominated the meeting. But the school meals fight drew the most attention, given the first lady’s prominence, and the key 29-22 committee vote followed a spirited debate that approached two hours.”

Mr. Rogers noted that, “Given the party breakdown, the outcome was never in doubt. But Democrats did win a pledge from Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.), the bill’s manager, that he doesn’t intend for the waiver to become permanent law and will consider revisions to make that clearer.

“‘It’s not permanent, we’re not changing the standards; I do think that Mrs. Obama is well-intentioned, and I don’t mean to be disrespectful to her program,’ Aderholt said. ‘I’m not sure she recognizes the fuller impact in greater America.’”

“‘I can only stress that it only applies to schools only if they need more time,’ Aderholt said ‘This does not roll back current law.’”

Related audio clips from Rep. Aderholt from yesterday’s markup can be heard here (MP3- 0:25) and here (MP3- 1:28).

The Politico article added that, “In response the committee action on school meals and white potatoes, White House press secretary Jay Carney said it was a mistake to make decisions based on ‘politicians instead of pediatricians.’”

Ron Nixon reported in today’s New York Times that, “But Representative Sam Farr of California, the ranking Democrat on the subcommittee, called the waiver a poison pill that would undermine congressional efforts to provide children with nutritious foods.

“Mr. Farr sponsored an amendment that would have removed the waiver from the budget bill, but it was defeated 29 to 22 after nearly two hours of debate.

“‘This waiver gives schools an out, saying you don’t have to do healthy school meals if it’s hard,’ Mr. Farr said.”

Related audio clips from Rep. Farr from yesterday’s markup can be heard here (MP3- 0:52) and here (MP3- 1:15).

The New York Times article added that, “The House will most likely take up the bill in the next few weeks.”

Tom Hamburger reported on the front page of today’s Washington Post that, “On Thursday, a House committee voted for a Republican-backed measure that would allow school districts to temporarily opt out of the nutrition standards, which were passed in 2010 with the support of the White House and set mandates to reduce sodium and increase whole grains and servings of fresh fruits and vegetables.

“The party-line vote served as a rebuke of sorts to the first lady, who has made curbing childhood obesity a priority and delivered a series of public pronouncements in recent days decrying the opt-out proposal as a full embrace of junk food.

The measure is expected to be considered later this summer when House and Senate members meet to negotiate spending bills.”

AP writer Mary Clare Jalonick reported yesterday that, “The Senate did not include the opt-out language in its version of the spending bill.”

And with respect to executive branch perspective on this debate, The Wall Street Journal editorial board indicated today that, “If the White House can politicize lunch, no wonder Washington can’t get anything done.”

Meanwhile, Erik Wasson reported yesterday at The Hill Online that, “The [House Appropriations] committee debated a host of other perennial farm policy disputes.

“It rejected an attempt to limit the U.S. sugar subsidy and quota system that critics say artificially inflates food prices and which supporters say is necessary to keep sugar farmers afloat.”

The Hill article noted that, “Also defeated was an attempt to forbid inspections of horse slaughter facilities, aimed at stopping the practice, and two attempts to permit the USDA to finalize regulations meant to stop anticompetitive practices by packers and slaughterhouses.

“The base bill continues to contain riders blocking some of the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration [GIPSA] regulations.”

Also yesterday, Bloomberg writers Leslie Patton and Megan Durisin reported that, “U.S. schools cut their use of lean, finely textured beef by more than 94 percent in the most recent fiscal year, resisting meat-industry efforts to win acceptance of the product that food activists have dubbed ‘pink slime.’”


Farm Bill

Jonathan Coppess and Todd Kuethe of the University of Illinois, indicated yesterday at the farmdoc daily blog (“The Regional Conservation Partnership Program in the Farm Bill”) that, “Standing near the shores of Michigan’s Saginaw Bay on Tuesday, May 27, 2014, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow announced a sign up for a new conservation program created in the 2014 Farm Bill.  Such a political show of force does not often accompany a USDA sign-up announcement and it indicates a high level of priority and attention for this new program.  This post takes a close look at the new program — the Regional Conservation Partnership program — as part of the ongoing farm bill series (all posts are available here) and building from the recent overview of the Title II Conservation programs (available here).”

Also yesterday, USDA indicated in a news release that, “Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced that the [USDA] is awarding $6 million to universities and cooperative state extension services to develop online decision tools and other materials and train experts to educate producers about several key farm bill programs. The new Web tools will help farmers and ranchers determine what participation in programs established by the 2014 Farm Bill will mean for their businesses.

“The University of Illinois (lead for the National Coalition for Producer Education [NCPE]), along with the Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute (FAPRI) at the University of Missouri and the Agricultural and Food Policy Center (AFPC) at Texas A&M (co-leads for the National Association of Agricultural and Food Policy [NAAFP]), will receive a total of $3 million to develop the new online tools and train state-based extension agents who can in turn help educate farmers.”

Meanwhile, an update yesterday at the Augusta Free Press (Va.) Online indicated that, “U.S. Rep. Eric Cantor, R-7th, told members of the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation board that an ‘unholy marriage between food stamps and farm policy’ complicated Congress’ ability to pass the 2014 Farm Bill sooner than it did.

“‘The most difficult challenge of that bill is that 83 percent of it is the (federal) nutrition program’ and the remaining 17 percent is related to production agriculture, Cantor noted at the board’s May 28 meeting.”


Agricultural Economy

Reuters news reported yesterday that, “Russia said on Thursday that it was suspending hog imports from the United States due to concerns about outbreaks of a virus killing baby piglets.

China and Japan also have restricted imports of live U.S. hogs over Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus (PEDv), a highly contagious disease that has wiped out 10 percent of the U.S. hog population since it was first identified in the country a year ago.”

Kelsey Gee reported yesterday at The Wall Street Journal Online that, “This week’s competing bids for Hillshire Brands Co. by the two biggest U.S. chicken companies shows how the poultry industry has roared back from a deep slump during the recession.

Six years ago, Tyson Foods Inc. and Pilgrim’s Pride Corp. were struggling mightily amid soaring grain prices and a jump in chicken production that depressed prices for the birds. Tyson shares fell 70% over the course of a year, bottoming at $4.40 in November 2008, while Pilgrim’s filed for bankruptcy-court protection the next month.

“Now the two companies have far-stronger balance sheets, giving them the heft to launch takeover bids for a company seen as one of the juiciest remaining targets in the highly consolidated U.S. meat industry. Tyson revealed a $6.1 billion bid for Hillshire on Thursday, topping Pilgrim’s bid of $5.5 billion unveiled Tuesday. Chicago-based Hillshire said it is reviewing the proposals.”

In other news, a recent update at the U.S. Drought Monitor stated that, “Locally heavy rain came to the Southern Plains during the Drought Monitor week. Areas from New Mexico and Texas up into western Nebraska benefitted. Texas experienced widespread improvements in Exceptional (D4), Extreme (D3), and Severe (D2) Drought largely throughout the central part of the state and the Panhandle. Moderate Drought (D1) and Abnormal Dryness (D0) also decreased, mainly in the eastern part of the state. Oklahoma likewise experienced an improvement mostly in Exceptional (D4) and Extreme (D3) Drought throughout the center of the state. Conversely, limited improvement in drought conditions in western Nebraska was more than offset by degradation of Extreme (D3), Severe (D2), and Moderate Drought (D1) and Abnormal Dryness (D0) in the central and eastern part of the state [related graph].”

And Emiko Terazono reported yesterday at The Financial Times Online that, “Continuing dry weather in the key wheat-growing regions of Russia and Kazakhstan is putting commodities traders on high alert about possible production declines.

“Thomson Reuters Lanworth, an agricultural forecaster, has warned of drought conditions across the countries’ wheat belts, with soil moisture reserves falling to near or below record lows.”

With respect to transportation issues, Bob Tita reported yesterday at The Wall Street Journal Online that, “A shortage of railcars bedeviling farmers, auto makers and oil drillers has become a windfall for some railcar manufacturers, lessors and finance companies.

“‘There’s strong demand for a broad base of car types and there’s not enough inventory,’ said David Nahass, senior vice president at Railroad Financial Corp., a Chicago-based investment adviser. ‘As an operator or lessor in this environment, this is what you pray for.’

“Monthly rates for tank cars, which transport liquids such as crude oil, have increased to $1,500 to $2,000 a car from about $500 in early 2011, before hydraulic fracturing ramped up in North Dakota’s Bakken Shale oil field.”

In trade news, an update yesterday from USDA (“Outlook for U.S. Agricultural Trade”) stated that, “The fiscal year 2014 forecast for agricultural exports is revised up from the February estimate by $6.9 billion to a record $149.5 billion. The forecast for grain and feed exports is boosted $4.5 billion to $35.8 billion due to higher prices for wheat and greater volumes and prices for corn and feeds and fodders. The corn export forecast is raised $2.1 billion to $10.7 billion on strong foreign demand and diminished competition, especially from Argentina. Oilseeds and product exports are forecast at a record $33.8 billion, up $2.4 billion, driven by larger volume and higher prices for soybean and soybean meal exports. The soybean export forecast is raised $1.8 billion to $23.5 billion based on record sales to China. The export forecast for livestock, poultry, and dairy is raised by $600 million to a record $32.2 billion, with increases in dairy and beef more than offsetting declines in pork and poultry.”

Vicki Needham reported yesterday at The Hill Online that, “A majority of House Democrats on Thursday urged the nation’s top trade official to ensure workers are protected worldwide in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations.

“Led by Reps. George Miller (Calif.), Mark Pocan (Wis.), Loretta Sanchez (Calif.) and Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), 153 Democrats sent a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman asking for the TPP to include an enhanced framework for protecting international human and labor rights.”

Meanwhile, a news release yesterday from USDA indicated that, “The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) today released new 2012 Census of Agriculture profiles for all 50 states, Puerto Rico, and more than 3,000 counties in the nation. The Census, which is conducted only once every 5 years, is the only time that NASS gathers and makes available agriculture data down to the county level for all U.S. counties.”



Timothy Cama reported yesterday at The Hill Online that, “The National Biodiesel Board (NBB) and 117 companies wrote a letter to President Obama Thursday asking him to increase the biodiesel blending mandate for this year from what the Environmental Protection Agency proposed.

“The NBB has asked the Obama administration to mandate that diesel refiners blend 1.7 billion gallons of biodiesel into their products in 2014 under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), compared with the 1.28 billion gallons the EPA proposed last year. That was the same as the 2013 mandate, but the NBB said the industry produced nearly 1.8 billion gallons last year.”

A news release yesterday from Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R., Va.) indicated that, “As the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is set to finalize 2014 Renewable Volume Obligations (RVOs) to meet the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), Reps. [Goodlatte], Jim Costa (D-Calif.), Steve Womack (R-Ark.), and Peter Welch (D-Vt.) announced today that 218 Members of the House of Representatives have expressed concerns regarding the current ethanol mandate:

“‘There is one thing a bipartisan majority of Members of the House can agree upon – there is a serious problem with the RFS. It is telling that 218 members from both sides of the aisle, representing communities across the nation, have spoken out against the current RFS and called for reform…’”



Patrick McGreevy reported yesterday at the Los Angeles Times Online that, “A bill that would have required labeling on food that contains genetically modified organisms fell short of the votes needed to stay alive in the [California] state Senate on Thursday.”



Jacob Bunge and Tony C. Dreibus reported yesterday at The Wall Street Journal Online that, “Monsanto Co. confirmed Thursday that a security breach in one of the seed company’s servers left exposed some customer credit-card information and Monsanto employee data.

The breach occurred in late March, affecting about 1,300 farmers who are customers of Monsanto’s Precision Planting division, which makes specialized seed-planting equipment, according to a spokeswoman. One or more external parties hacked into the server, she said, adding that a company investigation suggests they weren’t seeking to take customer data.”



Tim Devaney reported yesterday at The Hill Online that, “House Small Business Committee Chairman Sam Graves is warning that the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposal to regulate smaller bodies of water like streams and ponds would ‘drown’ small businesses in new rules.

“‘This rule threatens to drown small businesses in unnecessary regulatory requirements,’ Graves said during a hearing Thursday. ‘For that reason, I hope the EPA and (Army Corps of Engineers) will withdraw the rule.’

“The House Small Business Committee held the first hearing to examine the EPA’s proposed ‘Waters of the United States’ rule on Thursday.”

Keith Good