December 15, 2019

Ag Appropriations; EPA Water Hearing; Trade Hearing; Ag Economy

Agricultural Appropriations- House Action

Yesterday, the House took up the Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2015 (H.R. 4800). Although a final vote on the measure has yet to take place, several amendments to the spending bill were considered on the floor yesterday.

A chronological recap of yesterday’s House activity is available here, while a list of amendments that lawmakers considered can be found here.

More specifically, Cristina Marcos reported yesterday at The Hill Online that, “The House on Wednesday adopted a proposal from Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) to boost funding for school breakfast equipment grants.

Approved by voice vote, Lee’s amendment to the 2015 Agriculture appropriations bill would increase funding for the school breakfast grant program by $8.1 million by offsetting the same amount from the Agriculture secretary’s administrative accounts. The amendment would bring total funding for school breakfast equipment grants to $35 million, which aligns with the Obama administration budget request.”

The Hill update noted that, “The House is considering the 2015 Agriculture appropriations bill under an open rule, which allows members to offer an unlimited number of amendments. Passage is not expected until Thursday.”

In a separate Hill article, Cristina Marcos reported that, “The House on Wednesday adopted an amendment from Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) to allow veterans to apply for food stamps while their disability claims are pending with the Department of Veterans Affairs.

“Passed on a voice vote, Speier’s amendment to the 2015 Agriculture appropriations bill would increase funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps, by $1 million to handle claims from veterans.”

A news release yesterday from Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D., Conn.) indicated that, “Representatives Sam Farr (D-CA), [DeLauro] and George Miller (D-CA) were joined by Tom Colicchio, head judge on Top Chef and a founder of Food Policy Action, and parents with the FED UP campaign today to call attention to Republican efforts to weaken nutrition standards in the FY15 Agriculture Appropriations bill.”

The release added that, “The FY15 Agriculture Appropriations bill contains provisions that would roll back school nutrition standards. This would pave the way for fewer whole grains, fruits, and vegetables and more sodium, sugar, and overall fat, including saturated and trans fats, in school meals. The legislation would also circumvent the USDA/Institute of Medicine process for determining the appropriate foods to offer in the food package for the Supplemental Women, Infants and Children nutrition program.”

Rep. Farr, the ranking member of the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, tweeted yesterday that, “Debate has been postponed on the Ag Approps bill. So no vote tonight but the campaign to ‪#SaveSchoolLunch keeps going on.”

With respect to the Commodities Futures Trading Commission, Hill writer Cristina Marcos reported yesterday that, “The House on Wednesday defeated a proposal to allow the Commodity Futures Trading Commission to spend more money on regulatory efforts and less on information technology.

Rejected 194-227, Rep. Rosa DeLauro’s (D-Conn.) amendment to the 2015 Agriculture appropriations bill would reduce the funds set aside for the CFTC’s information technology account from $52.5 million to $35 million.”

On conservation issues, an update yesterday at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) blog indicated that, “On Wednesday, June 11, NSAC and 34 other national organizations delivered a letter to the House of Representatives in opposition to the $536 million in conservation cuts contained in the House FY 2015 Agriculture Appropriations Bill.”

Meanwhile, in Senate appropriations developments, Erik Wasson reported yesterday at The Hill Online that, “The full Senate will debate a spending ‘minibus’ package next week funding the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Justice, Transportation and Housing and Urban Development, the Senate Appropriations Committee announced Wednesday.

“The $120 billion package will be the first 2015 spending legislation to appear on the Senate floor this year and it contains some of the least controversial of the 12 annual measures that need to pass by Oct. 1 to keep the government open.”

Mr. Wasson noted that, “The House has already passed its versions of the Commerce and Justice, and Transportation and Housing funding bills and was on Wednesday debating its Agriculture measure.”

In other news regarding nutrition, Reuters news reported yesterday that, “An effort to combat obesity by placing an extra tax on sugary drinks was proposed by the California city of Berkeley on Tuesday, bringing a proposal similar to others that have failed in cities across the U.S. one step closer to the November ballot;” while a separate Reuters article pointed out that, “The number of American adults with diabetes has soared to 29 million with another 86 million at high risk of getting the chronic disease, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Tuesday.”

And the Senate Ag Committee holds a hearing this morning titled, “A National Priority: The Importance of Child Nutrition Programs to our Nation’s Health, Economy and National Security.”


House Transportation Hearing on EPA Proposed Water Rule

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment held a hearing yesterday on the “Potential Impacts of Proposed Changes to the Clean Water Act Jurisdictional Rule.”

Todd Neeley reported yesterday at DTN (link requires subscription) that, “EPA on Wednesday touted the exemption of several agricultural and conservation practices from a proposed change to the Clean Water Act rule. The president of the American Farm Bureau Federation argued, however, that the 56 practices are not all-inclusive and that U.S. farmers will face new cost and regulatory burdens if the rule goes into effect.

“Most notably, AFBF President Bob Stallman testified before the House Subcommittee on Water Resources and the Environment that young farmers could be hit particularly hard. That’s because many of their operations don’t necessarily meet the definition of ‘ongoing’ required to qualify for exemptions.”

Mr. Neeley noted that, “EPA Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe and Jo-Ellen Darcy, assistant secretary of the Army for civil works, said in testimony before the committee that the proposed rule would not expand federal jurisdiction on more waters of the U.S.

“Darcy said the law still would cover 5% fewer waters than prior to U.S. Supreme Court decisions in the past decade. Still, the proposed rule would expand the number of waters covered by the act by 3%, she said. In addition, she said the law will ‘bring additional clarity’ and reduce the number of lawsuits filed.”

Benjamin Goad reported yesterday at The Hill Online that, “But some Democrats on the House Transportation Committee expressed strong reservations about the plan, and Republicans decried it as a blatant power grab.

“‘It will dramatically expand the reach of the federal government,’ warned Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Penn.), the panel’s chairman.”

The Hill article added that, “Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.V.), the panel’s top Democrat, also came out swinging against the rule, saying the EPA’s contention that it is simply clarifying existing regulations finds ‘a high level of distrust’ in Congress.”

A separate Hill article on yesterday’s hearing pointed out that, “The hearing featured a succession of GOP rants against the proposed rule. The loudest came from Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), who angrily demanded that Perciasepe name a single state that supports the proposal.

“‘Give me one state! You have not one state!’ Young shouted at the witness table.”

Jacqui Fatka reported yesterday at Feedstuffs Online that, “The discussion was dominated by opposition of the rule as members and stakeholders stressed their concerns on the presumed expansion of jurisdiction under the proposed rules. Another common thread among those questioning the administrative officials were representatives who were farmers themselves or expressed the concerns voiced by the agricultural community about how the rule could require additional permitting, limit farmers’ ability to voluntary take measures to improve the environment and the rights of private landowners.”

The article noted that, “Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R., Okla.), a farmer on the committee, asked if existing permits would stay with the land or holder of the permit. Darcy said the permits, of which most agricultural practices are exempt, would stay with the land if the owner passed away or sold the land [related audio clip (MP3- 1:12)].

Also at yesterday’s Transportation Committee hearing, Agriculture Committee members Rick Crawford (R., Ark.) and Jeff Denham (R., Calif.) focused on some of the ag implications of the EPA’s proposed rule.

A portion Rep. Crawford’s exchange with the witnesses on issues associated with the definition of a “ditch” and “flooding” can be heard here (MP3- 2:39); while a portion of Rep. Denham’s colloquy with the panel on pesticide application issues can be heard here (MP3- 1:27).

These issues will likely get additional attention as the House Ag Subcommittee on Conservation, Energy, and Forestry is scheduled to hold a hearing next Thursday (June 19) titled, “A review of the Interpretive Rule regarding the applicability of Clean Water Act agricultural exemptions.”


Ways and Means Agricultural Trade Hearing

The House Ways and Means Trade Subcommittee held a hearing yesterday titled, “Benefits of Expanding U.S. Agriculture Trade and Eliminating Barriers to U.S. Exports.”

Vicki Needham reported yesterday at The Hill Online that, “Agriculture groups argued Wednesday that Japan must remain part of negotiations on a massive Asia-Pacific trade agreement even though they are resisting tariff reductions.

“Beef and dairy industry leaders said negotiators on the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) must continue working with Tokyo to not only eliminate tariffs but to craft a broader model for global trade.

“Rep. Devin Nunes, chairman of the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Trade, said in his opening remarks at the hearing that Japan and Canada should be left on the sidelines of the TPP until they are willing to agree to zeroing out tariffs.”

The Hill article noted that, “Bob McCan, head of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, told lawmakers on Wednesday that Japan needs to follow the same rules as all the other TPP nations and that the beef industry is certainly doing its part to ‘put pressure on Japan for the tariff elimination.’”

Dermot Hayes, professor in agribusiness at Iowa State University, said failure to obtain a TPP agreement could cause economic stagnation and put the U.S. well behind other countries that are pushing forward in their talks with Japan.”

Professor Hayes also remarked yesterday on the impacts of trading bulk commodities (corn, soybeans) versus value added end use products (pork, beef, milk) with other countries, including China- related audio (MP3- 0:40).

And Prof. Hays also discussed biotech and “equivalence” issues with China and the EU at yesterday’s hearing- related audio (MP3- 1:33).

A news release yesterday from the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) indicated that, “In written testimony submitted today to the House Ways and Means Trade Subcommittee, the [NPPC] reiterated the importance to U.S. pork producers for countries, including those in the current Trans-Pacific Partnership trade negotiations, to eliminate tariff and non-tariff barriers to U.S. pork.”

And Chris Clayton reported yesterday at the DTN Ag Policy Blog that, “A trade hearing held by the House Ways & Means Subcommittee on trade broke no new ground, but Congress needs to have a constant conversation on trade if Trade Promotion Authority is going to get approved in this Congress.

“Losses such as Eric Cantor’s and the possible loss by Sen. Thad Cochran in a couple of weeks risk pulling Congress farther away from a legislative body that would adopt TPA in 2015 or 2016.”

Mr. Clayton added that, “Dermot Hayes, an agricultural economics professor from Iowa State University, was excited about the prospects that could from Trans Pacific Partnership talks. The export gains for U.S. food ‘have the ability to fundamentally transform U.S. agriculture.’

Hayes said the Asian trade deal offered an opportunity to create significant jobs in areas such as livestock and dariy products in rural America.

“‘Unfortunately, Japan has recently hijacked the negotiations,’ Hayes said. He added, ‘You can’t protect a sector under free trade.’”


Agricultural Economy- WASDE Report, Iowa Farmland Values

Tony C. Dreibus reported yesterday at The Wall Street Journal Online that, “Corn futures slumped to a nearly four-month low Wednesday after federal forecasters reiterated expectations for a record U.S. crop this autumn and projected higher-than-expected global stockpiles.

“In a closely watched monthly crop report, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said favorable weather to begin this year’s growing season prompted it to leave unchanged its forecast last month for corn output of 13.935 billion bushels. That would top last year’s record crop of 13.925 billion bushels.”

(Note that a summary of U.S. corn supply and demand variables from yesterday’s report is available here).

The Journal article noted that, “Corn for July delivery dropped 4 1/2 cents, or 1%, to $4.41 a bushel at the Chicago Board of Trade, the lowest settlement price for a front-month contract since Feb. 13.”

Mr. Dreibus also explained that, “U.S. soybean futures fell to the lowest in more than two months on Wednesday, weighed down by the government’s forecast for higher-than-expected global supplies of the oilseeds…[S]oybean futures for July delivery dropped 17 cents, or 1.2%, to $14.45 1/2 a bushel, the lowest settlement price since March 28.”

(Note that a summary of U.S. soybean supply and demand variables from yesterday’s report is available here).

Yesterday’s Journal article also pointed out that, “Wheat prices fell to a fresh three-month low after the government raised its outlook for U.S. inventories at the end of the 2014-15 season that started on June 1. The USDA cut its estimate for wheat exports from the U.S., and projected lower usage of the grain in livestock feed.”

AP writer David Pitt reported yesterday that, “Agency reports show farmers producing 1.38 billion bushels of winter wheat, down 2 percent from a month ago and 10 percent from last year. Hard red winter wheat, the type often used to make bread, is down 3 percent from last month’s estimate to 720 million bushels.

“‘Severe drought conditions in the Southern Plains had a dramatic impact on the winter wheat crop, with poor fields in Oklahoma and Texas being baled for hay or otherwise abandoned,’ the USDA said in its crop production report. ‘Late-month precipitation was beneficial to this area but likely too late to revive drought-stricken wheat.’”

Meanwhile, an update yesterday at The Des Moines Register Online reported that, “The average price of high-quality farmland in Iowa declined 2 percent to $12,250 an acre in June compared with a year earlier, according to a report Tuesday from Farmers National Co., an Omaha-based farm and ranch real estate company.”

And, later this month the House Ag Subcommittee on Livestock, Rural Development, and Credit will hold a hearing titled, “A review of credit availability in rural America.”

Keith Good

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