- FarmPolicy - http://farmpolicy.com -

Farm Bill; Appropriations; CFTC; Ag Economy; Regs; and, Biofuels

Farm Bill, Executive Branch Bee Initiative, Labeling Issue

Bradley Lubben and James Pease indicated recently at Choices Magazine Online (“Conservation and the Agricultural Act of 2014”) that, “While overall conservation spending is projected to decline from baseline levels under the new Act [The Agricultural Act of 2014 (the Act), or commonly the 2014 Farm Bill], the allocation of spending among conservation programs provides insights into the changing focus of conservation efforts. Analysis from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Economic Research Service illustrates the changing conservation priorities since the 1996 Farm Bill (USDA Economic Research Service, 2014). Figure 1 shows the share of conservation spending by 2014 Farm Bill major program area (and their predecessors). Reduced spending for the conservation title primarily comes from reductions in CRP funding resulting from a lower enrollment acreage cap. While the CRP has been the largest single component of conservation spending since its creation in 1985, working lands programs (EQIP and CSP) are projected to comprise the majority of spending over the fiscal and program years 2014-2018. Working lands program funding is projected to continue its growth throughout 2014-2018, but at slower rates than the pre-Act baseline. And ACEP easement programs are expected to receive less funding under the 2014 Farm Bill than their predecessor programs received under the 2008 Farm Bill.

“Reduced conservation program funding could reduce conservation efforts nationally, although the extension of conservation compliance requirements to crop insurance program participants should expand the requirements for maintaining at least minimal conservation practices on agricultural land across the country.”

The article added that, “With crop insurance programs as a foundational part of the federal farm income safety net and traditional commodity program payments forecast to shrink dramatically, the political impetus was to attach conservation provisions to crop insurance eligibility. New compliance provisions add highly erodible land conservation and wetlands protection as requirements to be eligible for crop insurance premium subsidy benefits. New Sodsaver provisions severely limit crop insurance benefits on native sod ground broken out for crop production.”

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and Ag Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.) noted on Saturday at the Lansing State Journal Online (“Starting a new era of conservation partnership”) that, “Last week, USDA launched the Regional Conservation Partnership Program, a new effort that will expand partnerships and boost investments in clean water, soil and wildlife conservation projects…[C]onservation has never been so critical, yet no single farmer, organization or government entity has the resources to take on these enormous challenges alone.

“Created in the 2014 Farm Bill, this program allows USDA to bridge the gap between those partners and leverage more support for conservation. It allows non-traditional conservation stakeholders, such as companies and other for-profit groups, to assist with funding and other support for conservation projects designed by local partners, like farmers, ranchers and foresters. The program puts local groups in the drivers’ seat, while allowing them to access more funding and technical support than they could on an individual basis.”

Also with respect to conservation, a news release from USDA on Friday stated that, “Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced a ground-breaking commitment from the [USDA] to accelerate and focus conservation efforts that will benefit ranchers and also the distinct population of greater sage-grouse population that lives along the border of Nevada and California. The bi-state population of sage-grouse is being considered for protection under the Endangered Species Act [ESA].”

(Note: For additional background on the sage-grouse and the ESA, see this FarmPolicy.com update from May 12.)

In addition, Maya Srikrishnan reported last week at the Los Angeles Times Online that, “Three environmental groups have filed a lawsuit in an attempt to force the federal government to more aggressively protect the lesser prairie chicken.

“The bird has been on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s threatened species list — a level below endangered — which means the species is likely to be in danger of extinction within the foreseeable future.”

The article noted that, “Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback criticized the lawsuit, saying it would hurt energy and agriculture production in his state.”

Meanwhile, an article on Friday from Inside U.S. Trade (“U.S. Willing To Pay Brazil To Settle Cotton Case, But Haggles Over Amount”) stated in part that, “The United States has signaled it is willing to pay Brazil additional financial compensation to finally settle a World Trade Organization dispute over subsidies to American cotton farmers and other agricultural exporters, but the two sides are still divided over the amount, according to sources familiar with the ongoing negotiations.

“Previously, it was unclear whether the U.S. would be willing to pay Brazil at all to settle the dispute. But sources said the U.S. has taken the opening position it will pay what Brazil feels it is owed under an interim settlement deal that expired in February. The administration claimed it no longer had authority to make the monthly payments to a Brazilian cotton fund as of October 2013, and Brazil says it is owed about $60 million.”

And Ellyn Ferguson reported on Friday at Roll Call Online that, “Agriculture officials will soon name a board of directors for the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research that Congress created in this year’s farm bill and launch a program they hope will draw more money into the kind of basic scientific study that made the United States an agriculture powerhouse.

“The bill authorized $200 million in mandatory spending to attract matching amounts from the private sector to finance research. It is modeled after foundations established to help the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Congress laid out seven areas of potential research, including plant and animal health, food safety, nutrition, and health and renewable energy.”

With respect to nutrition issues, an update on Friday from USDA’s Economic Research Service (“Prevalence of U.S. Food Insecurity Is Related to Changes in Unemployment, Inflation, and the Price of Food”) stated that, “Food security has remained essentially unchanged since the 2007-09 recession. Falling unemployment from early post-recession (2009-10) to 2012, absent any other changes, would suggest a modest decline in the prevalence of food insecurity. However, this report finds that potential improvement was almost exactly offset by the effects of higher inflation and the higher relative price of food in 2012.”

In other policy news, Reuters news reported on Friday that, “The White House on Friday announced a federal strategy to reverse a rapid decline in the number of honey bees and other pollinators in the United States that threatens the development of billions of dollars in crops.

“As part of the plan, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced $8 million in funding for farmers and ranchers in five states who establish new habitats for honey bee populations.”

And a news release on Friday from Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D., Conn.) stated that, “Congresswoman [DeLauro] today led 18 of her colleagues in calling for the US Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) to clarify labeling for organic meat, poultry and egg products produced without Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). The representatives asked Acting Under Secretary for Food Safety Brian Ronholm to reconsider proposed language that would be confusing to consumers.”


Appropriations Issues

Ed O’Keefe reported in yesterday’s Washington Post that, “A fresh fight between Democrats and Republicans over rules regarding amendments broke out in the Senate last week, possibly upending carefully orchestrated plans to approve a new spending agreement and avoid another government shutdown this fall.”

The Post article explained that, “But Senate Democrats last week postponed plans to move ahead with a $180 billion proposal to fund the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Justice, Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development amid a fresh dispute with Republicans seeking to amend the bill.

“Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) planned to require amendments to pass with a supermajority of 60 votes, saying that the approach ‘will not come as a surprise to anyone in this chamber’ because Republicans have insisted on such thresholds to advance other legislation in the past.

“But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) objected, saying that the rules would make it impossible for Republicans to seek changes to the spending bills.”

The House Ag Appropriations measure was not listed on the Leader’s Weekly Schedule; however, Janet Adamy reported late last week at the Washington Wire Blog (Wall Street Journal) that, “In recent weeks, the first lady has launched an offensive to protect the school nutrition law she helped pass in 2010. The Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act increased the amount of fruits, vegetables and whole grains served in schools while also cutting sugary snacks from vending machines and limiting companies’ ability to market junk food inside schools.”

Ms. Adamy added that, “First Lady Michelle Obama sees another potential path to healthier eating: teaching school students cooking skills once again.”


CFTC- Commodity Futures Trading Commission

The House Majority Leader’s Weekly Schedule did include a measure to reauthorize the Commodity Futures Trading Commission: “H.R. 4413 -­‐ Customer Protection and End User Relief Act, Rules Committee Print (Structured Rule, One Hour of Debate) (Sponsored by Rep. Frank Lucas / Agriculture Committee).”


Agricultural Economy

Reuters news reported on Thursday that, “Heavy rains across the northern U.S. Midwest this week flooded corn and soybean fields, damaging crops, and raised river levels which could slow some grain shipments by barge for the next two weeks.

“Parts of Iowa, Minnesota, South Dakota and Nebraska that received 5 to 10 inches of rain in the past week-the equivalent of about two months’ of rainfall-are expected to benefit from drier weather next week, said Josh Senechal, agricultural meteorologist for Freese-Notis Weather.”

The article explained that, “Water has been slow to recede from fields in northwest Iowa, killing corn and soybeans in affected fields, said Joel DeJong, a field agronomist at Iowa State University. Farmers have time to replant soybeans, but corn fields destroyed by the flooding will likely lie fallow this summer, he said.”

Tom Meersman reported on Thursday at the Minneapolis Star-Tribune Online that, “The intense rain has flooded hundreds of farm fields across southern Minnesota, and growers were calling their insurance agents, checking their crops and watching the skies Thursday as rain continued to drench much of the area.”

Krissa Welshans reported on Friday at Feedstuffs Online that, “Severe storms have been wreaking havoc in the northern part of the Midwest, leaving both livestock and crop operations in disastrous conditions.”

On Friday, the Los Angeles Times contained this picture of flooding from Iowa.

Tim Krohn reported on Saturday at the Mankato (Minn.) Free Press Online that, “Last week’s field flooding was unusual for its breadth.

“‘The entire region got an excessive amount of rain. I don’t think there’s any areas that were spared. Some had 4-6 inches in one shot so they obviously have a more serious situation,’ said Kent Thiesse, a farm analyst and vice president at MinnStar Bank.

Getting a handle on how much crop loss there is will unfold in the coming weeks, depending on how fast water recedes, whether more rain falls and after more detailed surveys can be done.”

Andrea Gallo reported in today’s Wall Street Journal that, “Parts of the Midwest are expected to get a reprieve early this week from storms that pelted the region during the weekend, but thunderstorms could return midweek, which may trigger more flooding, meteorologists said.

“Drier weather is predicted for Monday and Tuesday, but thunderstorms could return midweek, which may trigger more flooding.

“Weekend storms dumped 7 inches of rain on Omaha, Neb., leaving one person dead, according to officials.”

On the other end of the weather spectrum, an update late last week from the Climate Prediction Center (National Weather Service) stated that, “The seasonal drought outlook [related map] valid from June 17 to September 30, 2014, is based primarily on initial conditions, short-, medium-, and long-range forecasts, and climatology. Persistence is extremely likely along the West Coast and in the Intermountain West (but especially in California) where summer and early fall is a normally dry and warm time of year, and both surface and subsoil moisture nearly always decline. Persistence is also forecast, though with less confidence, from southern Oklahoma southward into southern Texas. Drought is forecast to expand eastward into eastern Texas and western Louisiana by the end of September.”

Philip Bump reported yesterday at The Washington Post Online that, “California’s drought just hit a new milestone: As of this week, 32.98 percent of the state is experiencing ‘exceptional’ drought, making it the worst drought in the 14 years that the Department of Agriculture’s Drought Monitor has tracked data [related graph].”

On a separate production related issue, Donnelle Eller reported on the front page of yesterday’s Des Moines Register that, “Arkansas farmer Tommy Young says Southern growers have lived through nearly a decade of torment, fighting a destructive, fast-growing weed that can carry a million seeds, grow as tall as an NBA player and is unfazed by several herbicides.

“Now that weed — Palmer amaranth — is in five Iowa counties on the state’s border, and agronomists are working to determine whether it is herbicide resistant.

It has the power to choke the state’s economy and environment — and increase prices for consumers.”

In more specific news regarding livestock, on Friday, USDA’s monthly Cattle on Feed report stated that, “Cattle and calves on feed for slaughter market in the United States for feedlots with capacity of 1,000 or more head totaled 10.6 million head on June 1, 2014. The inventory was 2 percent below June 1, 2013 [related graph].”

Isabella Steger and Kelsey Gee reported on Friday at The Wall Street Journal Online that, “Swine-disease outbreaks in the U.S. and Europe are starting to reshape global trade, enabling Brazil and other big pork producers to grab market share.

The shift may help tamp down U.S. hog prices, which have soared 50% so far this year and are among the best-performing commodities.

“U.S. hog supplies have tightened as porcine epidemic diarrhea virus, or PEDv, has spread to hog farms in 30 states and killed millions of piglets since it was first identified in the country in April 2013. In Europe, meanwhile, cases of African swine fever have led Russia to halt pork imports from the European Union [related graph].”

In trade news, Reuters reported on Friday that, “Pacific trading partners hope to have a free trade agreement ready to present to the public and stakeholders in November, U.S. President Barack Obama said on Friday.

“He said the aim was to have a document to discuss with other leaders of Trans-Pacific Partnership nations when he travels to Asia in November, a trip that will include the Group of 20 leaders meeting in Australia on November 15-16. Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders also meet that month.”



Timothy Cama reported on Saturday at The Hill Online that, “Lawmakers are up in arms over an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposal that they fear could give federal officials expansive new powers over private property and farmland…[T]he rule is facing a groundswell of opposition from lawmakers, who fear the EPA is engaged in a ‘land grab’ that could stop farmers and others from building fences, digging ditches or draining ponds.”

The Hill article noted that, “The House Appropriations Committee passed a bill on June 18 that funds the Energy Department and the Army Corps, and included a provision that would prohibit the Army Corps from working on the water rule.

“Both the Appropriations Committee and Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.), chairman of the subcommittee that oversees funding for the EPA and the Interior Department, declined to discuss whether they would seek to block the rule as well.”



Myke Feinman reported on Friday at DTN that, “The Environmental Protection Agency missed its own deadline Friday to finalize 2014 renewable fuel blending requirements under the Renewable Fuels Standard.

“The American Petroleum Institute, which has pushed for reduced blending requirements, has criticized the delay in setting the 2014 Renewable Volume Obligation (RVO), while biofuel trade groups continue to push for a higher blending mandate from what the EPA proposed in November 2013.”

Keith Good