FarmPolicy

September 23, 2019

Policy Issues; Ag Economy; Biotech; and, Regulations

Policy Issues

Emma Dumain, Megan Scully, and Matt Fuller reported yesterday at Roll Call Online that, “After postponing consideration last week of a stop-gap spending measure to fund the government past Sept. 30, House GOP leaders are poised in the days ahead to bring that same piece of legislation to the floor.”

An update yesterday from the Rules Committee indicated that, “This continuing resolution [CR] provides funding for the federal government through December 11, 2014, at the current annual rate of $1.012 trillion;” and added that, “The rule and bill are expected to be debated on the floor: September 16 & 17, 2014.”

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R., Ky.) indicated yesterday at the Rules Committee meeting on the CR that, “My Committee sought to draft a bill that is responsible and restrained, is free of controversial riders, and does not seek to change existing federal policies.

“The underlying bill does make a few, very limited adjustments to prevent catastrophic or irreversible damage to government programs, or to address national or global crises that have arisen in recent months.”

The Majority Leader’s Daily Schedule for today noted that the House will: “Begin Consideration of H.J. Res. 124 – Continuing Appropriations Resolution, 2015 (Structured Rule).”

Yesterday’s Roll Call article explained that, “That [the CR] vote, however, will now likely be coupled with consideration of an amendment to the underlying bill that would authorize the Obama administration to train and arm Syrian rebels against the insurgent terrorist organization known as the Islamic State or ISIS.”

Ed O’Keefe and Anne Gearan reported in today’s Washington Post that, “President Obama’s plan to train and equip Syrian rebels in the fight against Islamic State militants appeared headed for quick passage on Capitol Hill this week, but congressional leaders have signaled that they will postpone a full debate on the use of military force until after the midterm elections…[T]he House is expected to grant Obama the short-term authority as part of an amendment to a larger measure funding federal agencies that is expected to pass after it is debated Tuesday and Wednesday, GOP leadership aides said. Once the House votes, the Senate would take up the issue by next week before adjourning for the elections.”

Meanwhile, an update yesterday from the Senate Ag Committee stated that, “[Chairwoman Senator Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.)], continued this weekend to raise concerns about Chinese acquisitions of American food companies and the implications that could have on national and economic security – as well as broader American interests. Stabenow’s comments came during a special PBS NewsHour investigation about the recent acquisition of Virginia-based Smithfield Foods by Chinese food company Shuanghui Intl. – the largest purchase of an American company by China to date. The report indicated Stabenow is drafting legislation to overhaul the American government’s review process for foreign acquisitions.

“‘Food security is national security,’ Stabenow said in the report, which can be seen here. ‘And I can’t imagine that the American people will feel comfortable if they wake up someday and find that half of our food processors are owned by China. And I think there are some very, very tough questions that need to be answered.’

“Stabenow convened a hearing last July examining the potential impact the Smithfield purchase could have on American food safety, economic and national security and broader American interests [See related New York Times article]. She said it’s crucial that the government’s review process for foreign acquisitions of American companies take into consideration the impact that the purchase could have on a broad array of national priorities and interests.”

And a news release yesterday from the U.S. Department of Agriculture stated that, “Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced today the award of $15.7 million in Conservation Innovation Grants (CIGs) to 47 organizations that will help develop and demonstrate cutting-edge ideas to accelerate innovation in private lands conservation. The Secretary made the announcement while visiting a farm in Illinois.”

More specifically, one of the grants outlined by USDA yesterday included: “Pinchot Institute for Conservation (OR) $125,000- Unsustainable forest management and outright loss to development are among the great conservation challenges facing the U.S. Approximately four acres of forest and open space are lost per minute, mostly from family woodland owners…[U]ntil now forest carbon projects have been mostly implemented by large landowners as a financial mechanism to support conservation and sustainable forest management on their own property. Carbon projects have remained inaccessible to family landowners with contract terms judged too restrictive and credit protocols misaligned with the economics of family ownership. This project will address these issues along with concerns over health related expenses, resulting in the first aggregated (multiple landowners) forest carbon credit transaction in the U.S. to involve family forest landowners in a meaningful way.”

In an article yesterday at Politico Online (“Senate committee chairmen in a GOP majority”), David Nather reported that, “The [Ag Committee] succession is less clear because [Pat Roberts (R., Kan.)] is the third-ranking Republican, but he’s the most likely chairman because top Republican Thad Cochran would take Appropriations and the No. 2 Republican, Mitch McConnell, would be busy running the Senate. If Roberts gets the chairmanship — assuming he survives an increasingly tough reelection bid — he’d be likely to support food stamp cuts: He tried unsuccessfully to cut the program by 4 percent last year, arguing that ‘we can and should restore integrity to [the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program] for those who rely on it while being more responsible to the taxpayer.’”

Reuters writers Brian Grow, P.J. Huffstutter and Michael Erman reported yesterday (“Farmaceuticals: The drugs fed to farm animals and the risks posed to humans”) that, “Major U.S. poultry firms are administering antibiotics to their flocks far more pervasively than regulators realize, posing a potential risk to human health.

“Internal records examined by Reuters reveal that some of the nation’s largest poultry producers routinely feed chickens an array of antibiotics – not just when sickness strikes, but as a standard practice over most of the birds’ lives.”

The writers explained that, “Reuters reviewed more than 320 documents generated by six major poultry companies during the past two years. Called ‘feed tickets,’ the documents are issued to chicken growers by the mills that make feed to poultry companies’ specifications. They list the names and grams per ton of each ‘active drug ingredient’ in a batch of feed. They disclose the FDA-approved purpose of each medication. And they specify which stage in a chicken’s roughly six-week life the feed is meant for.”

Yesterday’s article noted that, “U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York, said the feed tickets substantiate what she long suspected: ‘that the overuse of antibiotics on many chicken farms is rampant.’

“Gillibrand has been pushing for regulators to more aggressively monitor low-level doses of antibiotics. Now, Gillibrand said, she hopes ‘the FDA will use the feed-ticket data obtained by Reuters as a wake-up call to re-evaluate their approach to the regulation of antibiotic use in food production.’

“So does Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Connecticut, a member of a House subcommittee overseeing food safety. Told of the information in the feed tickets, DeLauro called on the FDA to ‘implement tighter restrictions on antibiotic usage.’”

The Reuters article is the first of a series of investigations Reuters is doing into the antibiotic drugs fed to farm animals and the risks they pose to humans.

An update yesterday from the National Chicken Council (NCC) (“NCC Responds to Reuters Article about Antibiotic Use in Chicken Industry”) stated in part that, “[NCC] used today’s article by Reuters as an opportunity to reiterate the fact that the majority of antibiotics approved for use in raising chickens are not used in human medicine, and those that are will be phased out for growth promotion purposes by December, 2016.

“‘We understand the concern about the use of antibiotics in farm animals and recognize our responsibility to ensure they are properly used for the right reasons to protect the health of animals, humans and the food supply,’ said Ashley Peterson, Ph.D., NCC vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs, in response to a Reuters article today about antibiotic use in the poultry industry.

“‘All antibiotics used to prevent and treat disease in chickens are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The majority of these antibiotics are never used in human medicine and therefore represent no threat of creating resistance in humans,’ Peterson said.”

Yesterday’s update added that, “Only about 10 percent of the feed tickets reviewed by Reuters list antibiotics belonging to medically important drug classes – the exact ones that both the industry and FDA are currently phasing out for growth promotion purposes.”

Stephanie Strom reported in today’s New York Times that, “A new study of a small group of workers at industrial hog farms in North Carolina has found that they continued to carry antibiotic-resistant bacteria over several days, raising new questions for public health officials struggling to contain the spread of such pathogens.”

 

Agricultural Economy

Jesse Newman reported yesterday at The Wall Street Journal Online that, “U.S. corn and soybean crops remained in good condition last week thanks to favorable weather across much of the Midwest, the federal government said Monday…[A]bout 74% of U.S. corn was in good or excellent condition as of Sunday, unchanged from last week, according to the government. A year ago, only 53% of corn earned top ratings in the 18 surveyed states. Plant conditions in major corn producing states such as Iowa, Illinois and Minnesota barely changed during the week.

“Soybean ratings stayed steady at 72% good or excellent, also the same ratings as the previous week. Last year, only 50% of soybeans achieved the same scores.”

Reuters writer Christine Stebbins reported late last week that, “The U.S. northern Plains and far western Midwest crop regions saw their first freeze of the season but the cold temperatures were only in pockets of the belt, limiting damage to immature corn and soybeans, agricultural meteorologists said on Friday.”

Donnelle Eller reported yesterday at The Des Moines Register Online that, “Frost was reported across much of the state over the weekend, but it caused little damage, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said in a report today, looking at weekly crop conditions through Sunday.”

Illinois state climatologist Jim Angel pointed out yesterday that, “Temperatures for the first half of September are 3 to 4 degrees below average in Illinois [see related map that shows the temperature departures from average across the Midwest].”

And Bloomberg writer Jeff Wilson reported yesterday that, “Soybeans rose the most in a week on speculation that temperatures near freezing during the weekend damaged some crops in the northern U.S., the world’s biggest exporter.

“Temperatures as low as 31 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 0.6 Celsius) in parts of southern Minnesota and northern Iowa on Sept. 13 occurred about two weeks earlier than normal, MDA Information Systems LLC in Gaithersburg, Maryland, said in a report today.”

University of Illinois agricultural economist Darrel Good indicated yesterday at the farmdoc daily blog (“Update on Corn and Soybean Acreage”) that, “The USDA’s Crop Production report to be released by the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) on October 10 may contain revised estimates of planted and harvested acreage of corn and soybeans. Revisions would be based on information revealed in the October Agricultural and Objective Yield surveys as well as other administrative data. Other administrative data consist primarily of certified acreage estimates received by the Farm Service Agency (FSA). The Farm Service Agency requires that producers participating in several federal commodity programs submit an annual report regarding all cropland use on their farms. Acreage is reported in three categories: planted, prevented planted, and failed.”

Meanwhile, Reuters writer James B. Kelleher reported yesterday that, “Farm equipment makers insist the sales slump they face this year because of lower crop prices and farm incomes will be short-lived. Yet there are signs the downturn may last longer than tractor and harvester makers, including Deere & Co, are letting on and the pain could persist long after corn, soybean and wheat prices rebound.”

The article pointed out that, “Farmers like Pat Solon, who grows corn and soybeans on a 1,500-acre Illinois farm, however, sound far less upbeat.

Solon says corn would need to rise to at least $4.25 a bushel from below $3.50 now for growers to feel confident enough to start buying new equipment again.”

Bob Meyer reported yesterday at Brownfield that, “Rabobank releasing their third-quarter fertilizer report predicting prices will move a little higher but not much. The analysis says seasonal demand from China, India and the U.S. is ‘unlikely to cause any prolonged rise in prices.’ Rabobank says the bearish commodity prices will have limited impact on input use in the short-term but in the mid-term we may see farmers reduce fertilizer applications.”

With respect to transportation issues, Mary Kennedy reported yesterday at DTN (link requires subscription) that, “Uncertainty surrounding rail car deliveries to grain elevators in the upper Midwest could turn the fall harvest into a ‘disaster,’ according to one South Dakota elevator manager.

“In a letter written by Tim Luken, manager of Oahe Grain in Onida, S.D., and presented at the Surface Transportation Board’s recent rail hearing, Luken stated, ‘I have sold very little small grain into the market due to not knowing when I will be receiving cars to ship out in a timely manner. The farmers are full, the grain elevators are full and this fall harvest will be a complete disaster.’”

An update yesterday from Sen. John Thune (R., S.D.) stated that, “Following last week’s rail service hearing before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, [Sen. Thune] reiterated the committee’s plan to formally pass his legislation to reform the Surface Transportation Board (STB) on Wednesday, September 17, 2014. Thune’s bill (S. 27777), which he introduced along with Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-West Virginia) would change the internal process and increase timeliness of STB decisions to improve rail service.”

More specifically with respect to trade issues, Doug Palmer reported yesterday at Politico that, “There’s a silver lining for Barack Obama if Republicans take over the Senate: His ambitious global trade agenda could actually take off. But there’s also a risk it could run into a brick wall if he ignores a big red flag raised by Republicans.

“Democrats who have stymied Obama’s push for ‘fast track’ trade authority would be in the minority in both chambers, and Obama would find trade-friendly Republicans running the key committees that deal with trade policy.

“Quick approval of that legislation, also known as trade promotion authority, would give a big boost to talks on two proposed free trade agreements in the Asia-Pacific and with the European Union. But in recent months, Republicans have warned Obama not to assume he has their unconditional support for the legislation.”

 

Biotechnology

DTN Ag Policy Editor Chris Clayton reported yesterday (link requires subscription) that, “Some of the most vocal critics of genetically engineered crops will get a spotlight shined on them this week in Washington, D.C., as the National Research Council holds two days of hearings as part of the group’s latest review of crop biotechnology.

“It’s an unusual open-door venue for the National Research Council, the operating arm of the National Academy of Sciences. The NRC prides itself as a prestigious science institution set up to provide expert studies to the nation’s policymakers. Currently, NRC is taking another look at biotech crops in a report expected out in 2016. NRC stated the purpose of the biotech-crops study is to ‘conduct a broad review of available information on genetically-engineered (GE) crops in the context of the contemporary global food and agricultural system.’”

 

Regulations

Timothy Cama reported yesterday at The Hill Online that, “Two Republican Senators [John Thune (S.D.), Mike Johanns (Neb.)] introduced legislation Monday to stop the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from garnishing peoples’ wages.

“The bill would stop the EPA from moving forward on a proposal to collect environmental fines and other debts directly from individuals’ wages without courts’ approval.”

And Tim Devaney reported yesterday at The Hill Online that, “The Environmental Protection Agency is delaying plans to update decades-old emissions standards for grain elevators that farmers use to scoop up grain and drop it inside a silo.

“The EPA proposed new air quality standards for grain elevators in July, which have not been updated since 1984, but said Monday it is extending the comment period through Nov. 6. “

Keith Good

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