On Friday, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture held a budget hearing and heard testimony from USDA Inspector General Phyllis Fong.
During the hearing, Subcommittee Chairman Robert Aderholt (R., Ala.), Subcommittee ranking member Sam Farr (D., Calif.) and Rep. Chellie Pingree (D., Maine) all referenced a recent New York Times article that focused on animal production research procedures and operations at a federal facility in Nebraska. The lawmakers expressed support for the IG to investigate some of the issues raised in the Times article in more detail.
Rep. Sanford Bishop (D., Ga.) raised the issue of fraud and error payments in the SNAP, WIC and farm programs, and Rep. David Young (R., Iowa) brought up antibiotic issues and livestock production during his conversation with IG Fong.
Complete FarmPolicy.com highlights from Friday’s hearing have been posted here.
A news update Friday from the Senate Ag Committee indicated that, “[Chairman Pat Roberts (R., Kan.)] today announced the Committee will hold its first hearing of the 114th Congress on the Agricultural Act of 2014 implementation after one year and Farm Credit Administration nominations,” the meeting is schedule for Tuesday morning, February 24.
Bloomberg writers Cheyenne Hopkins and Alan Bjerga reported on Friday that, “[Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R., Tex.)], who also serves as vice chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, said he doesn’t think farm-subsidy programs passed in last year’s agriculture bill should be re-examined as part of any effort to enact budget cuts this year.
“Food stamps, the law’s biggest spending item, should be looked at by lawmakers as part of a broader reconsideration of U.S. poverty programs, he said.”
Meanwhile, Peter Sullivan reported on Friday at The Hill Online that, “Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas) has introduced a bill to keep the ‘federal food police’ out of schools, taking aim at Obama administration nutrition standards applied to bake sales.
“Poe’s bill, H.R. 881, would prevent federal nutrition standards developed by the Department of Agriculture under a 2010 law championed by first lady Michelle Obama from being applied to school fundraisers.”
In other Farm Bill developments, a news release late last week from Sen. Mark Kirk (R., Il.) stated that, “[Sen. Kirk], Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) today reintroduced the Sugar Reform Act, legislation that would save taxpayers and consumers money by ending the U.S. Sugar Program, which artificially creates high prices for sugar producers at the expense of consumers and Illinois-based candy manufacturers. The program has already cost consumers more than $14 billion since 2008, and since 1997 more than 125,000 jobs in sugar-using industries have been lost.”
A news release Friday from Sen. Chris Coons (D., Del.) stated that, “[Sen. Coons] and Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), both members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, have reintroduced bipartisan legislation (S.525) to reform U.S. global food assistance programs that will free up as much as $440 million annually through greater efficiencies in delivering aid, allowing the U.S. to reach an estimated eight to twelve million more people in a shorter time period.”
Trade, Transportation Developments
On Saturday, the White House indicated that President Barack Obama would be sending Labor Secretary Tom Perez to meet in California with parties involved in a labor dispute that is negatively impacting the efficient function of some West Coast Ports; details on this issue, including the impact the port slow downs are having on agriculture, were posted on Saturday and Sunday at FarmPolicy.com
Also, Ian Austen reported Sunday at The New York Times Online that, “About 3,000 locomotive engineers and conductors at the Canadian Pacific Railway walked off the job Sunday morning in a dispute over wages and benefits.
“Although the company said it would try to maintain some service by using managers, the strike is likely to disrupt major industries throughout North America, including automakers, oil companies, paper businesses, lumber suppliers and agriculture and mining companies.”
“House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and seven colleagues departed Washington for a weeklong trip to Japan, Malaysia and Singapore, all countries participating in 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) talks.”
Following reports on Thursday from the Federal Reserve Banks of Chicago and St. Louis on farmland values, on Friday, the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City also released updated farmland value information- details at FarmPolicy.com.
In addition, recent highlights from some of USDA’s Economic Research Service reports regarding the U.S. agricultural economy last week have been posted here.
In other news, on Friday, Canada confirmed a case of mad cow disease.
And Kate Galbraith reported in Sunday’s New York Times that, “The tiny fish, known as the delta smelt, has helped touch off some of the most cataclysmic battles in California’s unending water wars. The delta that it inhabits lies in Northern California, at the confluence of mighty snow- and rain-fed rivers that drain into San Francisco Bay before their water heads out to the ocean. The rivers supply water through the delta for about two-thirds of Californians as well as vast tracts of rich farmland. But drought and the pumping of water to users as far away as Los Angeles have depleted the smelts and the delicate ecosystem they inhabit, prompting limits on the amount of water sent to farmers and cities — and sparking political warfare among farmers, cities, environmentalists and fishermen.”
The Times article pointed out that, “Amid the [ongoing California drought] crisis, the smelt has become a potent symbol of the tensions in the delta, as well as the national debate over how to manage endangered species. The federal government has listed the smelt as threatened, entitling it to protections under the decades-old Endangered Species Act and sparking frantic efforts to revive it. These measures include occasionally shutting down the pumps that send water from the delta to farmers and cities via hundreds of miles of canals and pipes. Some chinook salmon also have gained federal protection that sometimes lead to a reduction in pumping. Pumping can also be reduced for other reasons, like generally dry conditions and low reservoir storage.
“Some farmers, furious at having less water to grow their crops, have focused some of their anger on the delta smelt.”
Gregory Meyer reported late last week at The Financial Times Online that, “The emergence of ‘financial players’ from China has distorted the soyabean trade in the world’s biggest importer of the oilseed, helping depress results at trading house Bunge, the company said.
“The comment underlines the extent to which the rise of a Chinese shadow banking business that uses bulk material to back loans has upended commodities markets.”
The FT article added that, “Bunge said China-based ‘financial players’ had obtained financing at favourable rates to buy soyabeans because they were seen as ‘strategic commodities,’ then cashed in the stocks and re-lent at higher rates to retail borrowers.
“‘The way they act in markets is not always logical,’ Soren Schroder, chief executive, said in an interview. ‘They’re in it for the financial arbitrage and not for the fundamental reason’ of processing a commodity.”
The New York Times and Wall Street Journal reported on Saturday that the government has okayed the planting of a GMO apple that turns brown at a slower rate than a normal apple- details and time-lapse video available here.
Robert Holly reported on Friday at The Des Moines Register Online that, “To counter a ‘super weed’ epidemic plaguing farmers, agribusiness giant Monsanto is steadily moving forward on the introduction of its next major wave of genetically engineered crops.”
The article noted that, “Similar to viruses that have adapted to frequently used antibiotics over time, super weeds have gained immunity to herbicides. Weed scientists estimate there are more than 400 different herbicide-resistant weeds around the world. Resistant weeds hurt crops by competing for sunlight and nutrients.
“St. Louis-based Monsanto’s biotechnology team has been working on two new soybean and cotton varieties designed to withstand dicamba — an infrequently used herbicide that weeds have not caught up with yet — for nearly a decade.
“‘These new technologies will help farmers achieve better harvests, which will help meet the demand to nourish the growing population,’ said Miriam Paris, Monsanto’s Xtend system launch manager.”