February 25, 2020

Policy; Trade; Regulations; Biofuels; Labor; and, the Ag Economy

Policy Issues

DTN Political Correspondent Jerry Hagstrom reported yesterday that, “The chairmen of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees detailed some of their priorities Tuesday in speeches before the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture.

“House Agriculture Committee Chairman Michael Conaway, R-Texas, discussed a wide range of issues. Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., used most of his speech to explain where he thinks the nation stands politically.”

Mr. Hagstrom indicated that, “Conaway also said he hopes the House Budget Committee — should it undertake budget reconciliation — gives the Agriculture Committee a dollar figure to cut from the programs under the committee’s jurisdiction without any instructions on what to cut.

“Conaway declined to say whether he would take any cut entirely from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the biggest program at USDA, which accounts for about 70% of USDA spending.

“Conaway said President Barack Obama’s budget proposal, which includes a cut to the crop insurance program, has no chance of being approved by Congress, but did not rule out a cut to crop insurance in reconciliation.”

On this issue, note that a large number of agricultural organizations sent a letter yesterday to members of the Budget and Agriculture Committees in both the House and Senate expressing opposition to the president’s budget proposal and urging members to protect crop insurance.

The letter pointed out that, “[C]rop insurance has been contributing more than $1.2 billion a year towards reducing government spending since the 2008 Farm Bill.

“Therefore, we strongly oppose the President’s budget proposal to make crippling cuts to crop insurance. Attacking farmers’ most important risk management tool only weakens the farm safety net in the bipartisan farm bill that Congress carefully crafted after years of deliberation and more than 40 hearings.”

Yesterday’s DTN update noted that, “Conaway also talked about the potential of a 2018 farm bill. Agriculture interests need to form a new rural-urban coalition that is not dependent on votes for the SNAP before a new farm bill comes up for consideration.

“He explained his view that the coalition of urban interests supporting SNAP (commonly known as food stamps) and the farm community had worked in the past because SNAP spending was increased, but did not work for the 2014 farm bill because SNAP was cut slightly.

“‘Production agriculture drug that bill across the finish line almost single handedly,’ Conaway said. ‘We have to create an urban-rural alliance to pass the next farm bill that is not based on SNAP.’”

Mr. Hagstrom added that, “Roberts devoted most of his attention to two matters over which the Senate Agriculture Committee does not have direct jurisdiction: the Endangered Species Act, administered by the Interior Department, and the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule, a project of the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.”

A news release yesterday from the House Ag Committee indicated in part that, “Today, the House Committee on Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway (R-TX) and the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) issued the following statements after meeting to discuss ways they can work together to strengthen the agriculture economy and rural America in the 114th Congress.

“‘Senator Roberts is a friend and a strong conservative leader in the Senate,’ Conaway said. ‘I look forward to working together to promote strong farm policy, advocate for expanded trade opportunities, and eliminate burdensome regulations.’”

“‘I am looking forward to working with my friend Chairman Conaway,’ Chairman Roberts said…‘Together we will fight burdensome regulations, conduct strong oversight and protect the taxpayer and consumer.’”

A separate update yesterday from the House Ag Committee noted in part that, “Today, House Agriculture Committee Chairman K. Michael Conaway and members of the Agriculture Committee met with United States Trade Representative (USTR) Michael Froman in an Executive Briefing to discuss current trade negotiations and other trade-related issues and their impact on the agricultural sector.”

An update yesterday from Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R., Tex.) noted that, “I appreciate U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman coming in front of the House Agriculture Committee today to talk about international trade in agriculture. I brought up the lack of transparency in China’s cotton program and how the more than 50 million bales it’s estimated they hold in government-owned stockpiles is having a damaging effect on cotton prices and hurting producers in West Texas. It is important that the U.S. government exercise all available options to push back against countries whose policies break agreed upon trade rules and unfairly hurt cotton farmers in the 19th District.”

Meanwhile, a press release yesterday from Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D., Ore.) and Mike Fitzpatrick (R., Pa.) indicated that the two lawmakers “announced the relaunch of the Congressional Animal Protection Caucus (CAPC). Formed in 2009, the CAPC, through non-partisan forums and briefings, seeks to highlight important issues affecting animals. The CAPC also tracks the progress of relevant legislation, provides Members of Congress with credible information, and strives to build broad coalitions in support of common-sense, humane animal welfare laws and policies.”

Carla Hall indicated yesterday at the Los Angeles Times Online that, “California’s egg-laying hens—and their advocates–won one more round today in the long legal battle over a new state law outlawing confining and inhumane battery cages. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, again, upheld the constitutionality of Proposition 2, the ballot measure that won by a landslide vote of 63.5% in 2008. The measure requires that egg-laying hens, breeding pigs and veal calves have housing—whether it’s a cage or an open barn or farmland—that allows the animals to stand up, stretch their limbs, lie down or turn around.   There are few pig and veal factory farm operations in the state, so the law mostly affects farmers who raise the state’s 15 million egg-laying hens. And farmers have had six years to prepare. It only went into effect at the beginning of this year.”

The LA Times item stated that, “Today the 9th Circuit upheld a lower court’s dismissal of an egg farmer’s complaint that Prop. 2 did not specify the exact dimensions of new housing for hens, so it’s too vague to be implemented. Not so, said the appellate court in their short opinion:

“‘All Proposition 2 requires is that each chicken be able to extend its limbs fully and turn around freely… Because hens have a wing span and a turning radius that can be observed and measured, a person of reasonable intelligence can determine the dimensions of an appropriate confinement that will comply with Proposition 2.’”

Also yesterday, University of Illinois agricultural economists Scott Irwin and Darrel Good penned an update at the farmdoc daily blog titled, “Long-Term Corn, Soybeans, and Wheat Price Forecasts and the Farm Bill Program Choice.”



Vicki Needham reported yesterday at The Hill Online that, “A top Republican said Wednesday that he expects Congress to pass trade promotion authority (TPA) legislation this spring.

“House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) told reporters that, with President Obama’s help, the House and the Senate can pass a TPA measure with bipartisan support.”

Anna Vidot reported yesterday at ABC Rural Online (Australian Broadcasting Corp.) that, “Trade Minister Andrew Robb says he believes agreement on the Trans-Pacific Partnership could be just weeks away…[P]rogress has been slow, but Mr Robb believes a breakthrough is imminent, and a deal could be struck within weeks.

“‘Mid-February to mid-March: that’ll be, I think, the timeframe,’ he said.”

For more background on the TPP, see this recent CRS report, “The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Negotiations and Issues for Congress.”

With respect to Cuba trade issues, Lydia Wheeler reported yesterday at The Hill Online that, “Members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee said President Obama left members of Congress and most of his administration in the dark when negotiating the plan to normalize relations with Cuba, and they criticized the deal struck between the U.S. and Havana.

“‘Instead of dismantling a 50-year-old failed policy, as it claims, the administration may have given a 50-year-old failed regime a new lease on life to continue its repression at home and militant support for Marxist regimes abroad,’ committee chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) said during a committee hearing Wednesday.”



Todd Neeley reported yesterday at DTN that, “With the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency likely just months away from finalizing the proposed waters of the U.S. rule, federal lawmakers told EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy Wednesday many states and industries are still looking for clarification on the rule.

“EPA continues to read more than 800,000 public comments submitted on the rule, which includes some 34 states that have called on the agency to withdraw the rule. McCarthy returned to the Congressional hot seat to answer more questions on the rule Wednesday during a joint hearing held by the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works and the U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.

“McCarthy said the agency intends to finalize the rule by spring, noting she believes EPA has begun to address the myriad concerns about the rule. She said it was important to get the rule right and wasn’t necessarily holding to a fast deadline.”

Mr. Neeley noted that, “At one point during the hearing, McCarthy defended efforts made by U.S. farmers to cut nutrient runoff and to conserve soil, when Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., questioned why the proposed rule does not regulate return flows from irrigated agriculture. Such flows reportedly will remain exempt with the new rule.

“‘The agriculture community is taking great efforts to conserve the land where they can filter nutrients,’ McCarthy said, noting that ongoing agriculture exemptions from the Clean Water Act remain intact.

Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., said Nebraska state officials have repeatedly asked EPA for clarification on which waters would be jurisdictional, and have expressed concern about shallow groundwater connections to waters of the U.S. When they contact EPA officials for clarification, Fischer said, answers are few and far between. One concern she said she hears in Nebraska is that storm sewers will be regulated.”

Timothy Cama reported yesterday at The Hill Online that, “While the GOP sounded alarm bells over the impact on farmers and developers if they have to apply for EPA permits for digging ditches or using pesticides, Democrats maintained that their colleagues were misrepresenting the EPA’s proposal and arguing over a ‘mythical’ rule.”

Rep. Bob Gibbs (R., Ohio) noted yesterday that, “Farmers, manufacturers, home owners and small businesses will face increased burdensome permitting requirements and costly regulations as federal control under this rule increases.”

Meanwhile, Cristina Marcos reported yesterday at The Hill Online that, “The House on Wednesday passed legislation to require federal agencies to evaluate the full economic effects of regulations.

Passed 250-173, the measure would further require agencies to consult with private sector entities impacted by the proposed rules.”



Reuters writer Chris Prentice reported yesterday that, “A group of Republican and Democratic lawmakers will begin their second attempt on Wednesday to introduce a bill that would reform the Renewable Fuel Standards (RFS) program in the United States, targeting an end to ethanol fuel-blending mandates.

The lawmakers said the bill would eliminate requirements for corn-based ethanol blending and cap blending levels for other biofuels at actual production levels. They hope the latest move will garner support now after months of disputes over how much biofuel should be blended with oil-based fuels and growing concerns that the program drives up agriculture and food costs.

The RFS Reform Act is the latest bid in recent years by Republican Representatives Bob Goodlatte of Virginia and Steve Womack of Arkansas and Democrats Peter Welch of Vermont and Jim Costa of California to change a government program that Welch described as a ‘well-intended flop’ in an interview this week.”



A news release yesterday from the Agriculture Workforce Coalition (AWC) indicated that, “[AWC] called on Congress today to enact legislation that would address the labor crisis faced by American agriculture before implementing a mandatory E- Verify system.

“The call came via the testimony of Chuck Conner, president and CEO of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives (NCFC), a member of the AWC, during a hearing of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security. Subcommittee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) called the hearing to examine The Legal Workforce Act (H.R. 1772), legislation introduced during the previous Congress. The measure would mandate the use of the E-Verify system by employers to confirm the legal status of prospective employees.

“‘Mandatory E-Verify without addressing agriculture’s broader labor crisis would be devastating. As an industry, we recognize interior enforcement is needed; it just cannot be decoupled from addressing agriculture’s workforce concerns,’ Conner testified. ‘Let me be very clear: the agricultural industry would be forced to oppose any E-Verify legislation that does not also address the agricultural workforce crisis.’”


Agricultural Economy

Ron Nixon reported in today’s New York Times that, “On a recent winter morning, Randy Holt piloted the boat Bill Berry as it pushed a group of barges nearly as long as two football fields steadily down the Tennessee River to the Kentucky Lock and Dam here. But then Mr. Holt had to wait several hours at what has become a major choke point as boats moved one at a time through the narrow, cracked, 70-year-old lock.

“‘Sometimes, we get here in the mornings and won’t leave until late into the night,’ Mr. Holt said.

Locks are intended to make it easy for the Bill Berry and barges, with their cargoes of grain, coal and oil, to navigate the uneven waters of the Mississippi, Kentucky and Ohio Rivers.”

Mr. Nixon noted that, “But largely out of sight of most Americans, the locks are crumbling. There are 192 locks on 12,000 miles of river across the country; most were built in the 1930s, even earlier than Kentucky Lock and Dam, and have long outlived their life expectancy.

A result is that barges are often delayed for hours because decrepit locks have to be shut down for maintenance and repairs.”

In an article on the front page of the California Section in yesterday’s Los Angeles Times, Emily Foxhall reported (“How Orange County’s namesake was squeezed out—and is being squeezed in”) that, “Where tens of thousands of Valencia trees once spread across the land and perfumed the air, the county’s namesake citrus has been reduced to a collection of dwindling private groves, haphazard leftover trees and commemorative historic sites [related graphics]”

Lastly today, an update yesterday at The Iowa Republican webpage stated that, “Former Govs. Jeb Bush, Mike Huckabee and Rick Perry, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, New York businessman Donald Trump and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker are the first prospective 2016 presidential candidates to confirm their participation in the first-ever Iowa Agriculture Summit on March 7.”

Keith Good

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