November 12, 2019

Drought Issues Continue in California- LA Times Front Page

A pair of articles on the front page of Wednesday’s Los Angeles Times highlighted additional variables relating to ongoing drought concerns in the Golden State.

Bettina Boxall reported that, “Parts of the San Joaquin Valley are deflating like a tire with a slow leak as growers pull more and more water from the ground. The land subsidence is cracking irrigation canals, buckling roads and permanently depleting storage space in the vast aquifer that underlies California’s heartland.

“The overpumping has escalated during the past drought-plagued decade, driving groundwater levels to historic lows in some places. But in a large swath of the valley, growers have been sucking more water from its sands and clays than nature or man puts back for going on a century.

They are eroding their buffer against future droughts and hastening the day, experts warn, when they will be forced to let more than a million acres of cropland turn to dust because they have exhausted their supplies of readily available groundwater.”

The article noted that, “Until last year, California didn’t have a statewide groundwater law, making it an outlier in the West. The legislation, intended to end unsustainable groundwater use, won’t do that any time soon. Agricultural interests opposed the regulations, which call for the creation of local groundwater agencies that have more than two decades to fully comply.

“In the meantime, it’s easier for growers to keep pumping than rein in their use. ‘Telling people they have to stop irrigating is a huge economic thing,’ said Charles Burt, chairman of the Irrigation Training and Research Center at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. ‘Guys are going to get their guns out. If you were farming, you wouldn’t take that very lightly.’

When Burt compares the annual groundwater overdraft in the valley with crop water usage, he figures that 1 million to 1.5 million acres will go out of production in coming years. ‘There are just more straws in there than there is water,’ he said. ‘It’s been going on for a long time.'”

Wednesday’s article added that, “The greatest subsidence related to groundwater extraction ever recorded in the U.S. is on the valley’s west side, where the water table plunged 400 feet in the early and mid-20th century. The accompanying soil compaction caused an area southwest of Mendota to sink more than 28 feet. In a now famous 1977 photo, Poland stood by a telephone pole affixed with signs far above his head indicating where the ground had been in 1955 and 1925.

“The subsidence largely stopped and groundwater levels rebounded in many areas after the arrival of federal and state irrigation deliveries, which provided growers with cheaper, better water.

But even when the water table recovers, subsided basins can’t hold as much water as they did previously. Soil compaction can permanently reduce the pore space between clay particles, leaving less room for groundwater.”

Ms. Boxall explained that, “It is the economics of having to go deeper and deeper for groundwater that will ultimately force growers to retire land. It’s not that the Central Valley’s thick aquifer will run dry. Scientists estimate that it holds roughly 800 million acre-feet of water that seeped deep into the valley’s sands and clays over millenniums from streams and rivers swollen with runoff from the neighboring Sierra Nevada and coastal ranges.

Farmers will instead run out of water they can afford to pump.”

In a separate article on the front page of today’s LA Times, Ms. Boxall reported that, “With California heading into another parched year, state officials Tuesday beefed up emergency drought regulations, directing urban agencies to limit the number of days residents can water their yards.

“The move is expected to have little or no effect in most major Southern California cities, which already have watering restrictions. The statewide effects are difficult to gauge, as regulators don’t know how many local agencies lack limits.”

Wall Street Journal writer Jim Carlton also reported on this development and noted that, “State officials said they felt compelled to adopt the new rules, and extend others passed last summer, including a ban on allowing sprinkler runoff into streets, because of the growing severity of one of California’s worst droughts. Reservoirs in the state sit at less than 60% capacity following a fourth consecutive dry winter, which has left the state’s mountain snowpack at a record low of less than 20% of the historical average.

“Officials said that while Californians have largely heeded Gov. Jerry Brown’s calls to conserve more—saving enough since last June to meet the needs of a city of two million for a year—it hasn’t been enough. In part, the water managers are frustrated by statewide surveys that show a declining conservation rate recently after initial strong compliance.”

Meanwhile, Adam Nagourney reported in Wednesday’s New York Times that, “The rainy season drove into California in December with wet and windy promise: soaking rain, snow, dark gray skies and a flash of hope that the drought that has scorched this region had run its course. And then came January — with record high temperatures and record low rainfall.

And now, as the end of the official rainy season approaches — this state gets 90 percent of its water from December through April, most of it in December and January — California is facing a punishing fourth year of drought. Temperatures in Southern California soared to record-high levels over the weekend, approaching 100 degrees in some places. Reservoirs are low. Landscapes are parched and blighted with fields of dead or dormant orange trees. And the Sierra Nevada snowpack, which is counted on to provide 30 percent of the state’s water supply as it melts through early summer, is at its second-lowest level on record.”

The New York Times article also included a link to this video:


Wednesday Morning Update: Policy- Budget Issues, Ag Economy; and, Regulations

Budget- Policy Issues

Jonathan Weisman reported in today’s New York Times that, “House Republicans called it streamlining, empowering states or ‘achieving sustainability.’ They couched deep spending reductions in any number of gauzy euphemisms.

“What they would not do on Tuesday was call their budget plan, which slashes spending by $5.5 trillion over 10 years, a ‘cut.’

The 10-year blueprint for taxes and spending they formally unveiled would balance the federal budget, even promising a surplus by 2024, but only with the sort of sleights of hand that Republicans have so often derided.”

The Times article added that, “The House Budget Committee will formally draft the budget on Wednesday, as Senate Republicans unveil their counteroffer. Like the House version, the Senate’s will balance in 10 years, aides to Republicans senators said. Like the House, the Senate will include language to help lawmakers repeal or reshape the Affordable Care Act this year. How the two chambers resolve their differences could be a central drama in Washington throughout the spring.”


House Appropriations Agriculture Subcommittee Budget Hearing, Under Secretary Kevin Concannon- Food, Nutrition

Categories: Budget /Nutrition

On Tuesday, the House Appropriations Agriculture Subcommittee heard USDA budget related testimony from Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services, Kevin Concannon.

During his opening statement, Subcommittee Chairman Robert Aderholt (R., Ala.) indicated that, “USDA’s nutrition programs account for 75 percent of total resources in the Agriculture Appropriations Bill. Your request for fiscal year 2016 is approximately $112.4 billion, a $2.1 billion increase above the fiscal year 2015 enacted level. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is USDA’s largest program serving more than 46 million people per month with a requested program level of $83.7 billion. For Child Nutrition Programs the President’s budget projects that total funding needs will approach $21.6 billion in fiscal year 2016 – a $2.2 billion increase since fiscal year 2014. The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, or WIC, accounts for the single largest discretionary program in the bill. The budget proposes level funding for WIC at $6.6 billion to meet the estimated 8.5 million participants each month.”

He added that, “The President’s budget proposes cuts to the crop insurance program, and Secretary Vilsack said in an interview that this proposal was a way to help keep projected farm bill savings on track. But in case the Administration missed it, farm bill nutrition savings are not materializing as projected either, so where in this budget is a proposal to ensure the nutrition savings stay on track?”

Chairman Aderholt also noted that, “And finally, I cannot stress enough the importance of your role in making sure the final 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans are strictly focused on dietary and nutrient recommendations. The most current science must be used and the statutory directive must be followed – and this goes beyond just sustainability and statements on meat consumption. While I appreciate Secretary Vilsack’s comments that he understands his role and he knows he has to follow the law – and Commissioner Hamburg from the Food and Drug Administration made similar statements two weeks ago – that message needs to be clear throughout the entire Administration.”

At the hearing, Under Secretary Concannon indicated that the Department would grant a short-term 30 day comment period extension for the report of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee.

More detail in this issue was fleshed out during the discussion portion of yesterday’s hearing:


Senate Appropriations Ag Subcommittee Hearing with Sec. Vilsack

The Senate Appropriations Ag Subcommittee heard testimony on Tuesday from Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack about the FY16 USDA budget request.  During the discussion portion of hearing three key issues were discussed relating to Dietary Guidelines, Crop Insurance and Bird Flu.

Subcommittee Chairman Jerry Moran (R., Kan.) indicated in his opening statement yesterday that, “Agriculture remains one of the bright spots in our nation’s economy, supporting more than 16 million jobs nationwide and forming the backbone of our rural communities. American farmers and ranchers are the best at what they do when given the opportunity to compete on an even playing field.

“After a long, arduous process and a great deal of economic uncertainty, Congress enacted the Agricultural Act of 2014 one year ago. The Farm Bill authorized sweeping changes to commodity and crop insurance programs, consolidated and reinforced conservation efforts, and reauthorized vital research and rural development programs. Agriculture is Kansas’s #1 industry – directly responsible for 37% of the state’s economy. Enactment of a new Farm Bill was welcome news for producers, research institutions, and rural communities in my home state.”

Sec. Vilsack indicated that, “The Department has completed implementation of many new Farm Bill authorities. This includes major new safety net programs providing certainty to American agricultural producers going into the 2015 crop year. We have made available over $5 billion in critical assistance to producers across the country since sign-up for the disaster programs began on April 15, 2014. Significant new crop insurance protections were also made available. America’s new and beginning farmers and ranchers, veteran farmers and ranchers, and women and minority farmers and ranchers were given improved access to credit.”

Sec. Vislack pointed out that, “The Administration strongly supports the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and other critical programs that reduce hunger and help families meet their nutritional needs. SNAP is the cornerstone of the Nation’s nutrition assistance safety net, touching the lives of millions of low-income Americans, the majority of whom are children, the elderly, or people with disabilities. SNAP kept over 5 million people, including nearly 2.2 million children, out of poverty in 2013. Recent research has shown that SNAP not only helps families put food on the table, but it has a positive long-term impact on children’s health and education outcomes. We also support the ongoing implementation of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. Over 90 percent of schools report that they are successfully meeting the new nutrition standards, serving meals with more whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean protein and low-fat dairy, and less sodium and fat.”


Tuesday Morning Update: Policy- Budget Issues; Regulations; Trade; and, Bird Flu

Policy, Budget Issues

Seung Min Kim and Jake Sherman reported yesterday at Politico that, “As budget season kicks off in earnest this week, defense hawks are clashing with fiscal hard-liners over military spending, Republicans are scaling back their deficit reduction targets, and Democrats are waiting in the wings to hammer GOP lawmakers with politically tough votes on education, infrastructure and health care.

“In the House, Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California and Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana are stuck between the budget-cutting demands of conservatives and the desire of defense hawks to provide the military with more robust funding. In the Senate, Republicans are already getting hit by Democrats after indicating they’ll target Medicaid and food stamps.

The blueprints due out this week in each chamber will provide the first hard evidence of how aggressively the GOP intends to pursue its top stated priority of fiscal discipline. Though the budgets are partisan documents that won’t be signed into law, failing to marshal enough GOP support to pass one would be a debilitating setback for a party trying to prove it can govern after taking full control of Congress.”

The article noted that, “As some details of the Senate budget became clear last week, Democrats began their attack — pointing to savings that Republicans would like to extract from Medicaid and food stamps for the poor.

“‘Balancing the budget on the backs of working families who have borne the brunt of the recession makes no economic sense,’ said Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.).

If the two chambers ultimately can’t come together on a budget, Republicans won’t be able to wield a powerful budget maneuver known as reconciliation, which would allow them to enact policy changes with 51 rather than 60 votes.”


House Budget Committee Preview: A Balanced Budget for a Stronger America

Categories: Budget

The House Budget Committee released the following video on Monday as a preview of its budget plan, which will be released this week.


Sunday Night Update: Budget- Policy Issues; Trade, and, the Ag Economy

Budget, Policy Issues

The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture resumes hearings this week and will garner additional details regarding USDA budget requests from three Agency Under Secretaries.

On Tuesday the Subcommittee will hear from Kevin Concannon, Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services, and on Wednesday, Under Secretary for Rural Development Lisa Mensah will testify before the Subcommittee.

Michael T. Scuse, Under Secretary for Farm and Foreign Agriculture Service and Brandon Willis, the Administrator for the Risk Management Agency will be at the Subcommittee on Thursday.

Meanwhile, the Senate Appropriations Ag Subcommittee will hear perspective on USDA’s budget from Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack on Tuesday.

Recall that last month Sec. Vilsack presented testimony at the House Appropriations Ag Subcommittee (February 25) , as well as the House Ag Committee (February 11) and Senate Ag Committee (February 24).

In addition to the USDA budgetary hearings, the full House Ag Committee will hold a hearing Wednesday on the importance of trade to U.S. agriculture, while the House Ag Conservation and Forestry Subcommittee will hold a hearing on Tuesday, “To review the definition of ‘waters of the United States’ proposed rule and its impact on rural America.”

As these hearings regarding the USDA budget and ag policy issues are going on this week, the House and Senate Budget Committees will also be holding important meetings that have potential ramifications for the Farm Bill.

Recall that an update on Thursday at explored recent budget related developments that could potentially have significant implications for the Farm Bill– the update can be viewed here: “Budget Issues Move to the Front Burner- Potential Farm Bill Implications.”

More recently, Jordain Carney reported on Friday at The Hill Online that, “Senate committees are laying the groundwork for the budget next week.

“Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said this week that the Budget Committee will mark up a budget proposal on Wednesday and Thursday. Sanders, the ranking member of the committee, said Democrats will likely offer ‘very strong amendments’ during markups next week.”

And an update on Friday at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) Blog (“The Farm Bill Reloaded”) explained that, “The House Budget Committee is expected to markup the fiscal year 2016 budget resolution on Wednesday March 18. The Senate Budget Committee is expected to follow suit the next day. Assuming the measures pass out of committee they will be debated and voted on in the full House and Senate the following week.

“While the chairmen of the two Committees have kept details of their proposed budget bills very close to the vest, it is widely expected that they will include ‘budget reconciliation’ instructions to various committees of Congress, including the Agriculture Committees. Budget reconciliation is a congressional process used primarily as a means of reducing government spending for mandatory programs.

“It is still unclear exactly what the reconciliation instructions to the Senate and House Agriculture Committees will be, but it has become increasingly clear that there will be instructions to the Agriculture Committees.”

The NSAC update added that, “The rumor in D.C. is that the Committees will be instructed to cut $20 billion, over 10 years, from the 2014 Farm Bill. This amount would be eerily similar to the House’s original 2013 proposal for $20 billion in cuts to the food stamps or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

Whatever the dollar figure is, it doesn’t come with any dictates on what programs to cut. It will be up to the two Agriculture Committees to determine what parts of the farm bill to cut.”

Also on Friday, Kimberly Leonard reported at USNews Online that, “The days of mystery meat and soda-dispensing vending machines may be gone, but that doesn’t mean that the new era of school meals and snacks hasn’t come without its own challenges.

Nutrition guidelines for schools, which have gradually gone into effect since Congress passed the Michelle Obama-backed Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act in 2010, can be logistically and financially difficult for already strapped district budgets.”

The article noted that, “In response, earlier this month 1,000 members of the School Nutrition Association, which represents school cafeteria workers and companies that supply food and equipment to districts, lobbied Congress for more funding and flexibility when it comes to school meals.

Critics have called out the group for attempting to roll back quality nutrition standards, but the members maintain they are asking for a more realistic approach.”



William Mauldin reported on Sunday at The Wall Street Journal Online that, “Sweeping trade deals of the past—with Canada and Mexico in 1993, for instance, or China in 2000presented big upsides and big risks for a broad swath of U.S. companies.

By contrast, the trade bloc President Barack Obama is trying to hammer out with 11 Pacific countries shows how much smaller both the benefits and perils of trade liberalization have become.

“Complicating the pact’s path, meanwhile, are a host of accompanying fights over issues like environmental regulations and drug-pricing rules.”

The Journal article stated that, “Washington already has trade agreements with more than half the countries in the TPP, among them Singapore, Australia, Peru and Chile… Administration officials and business groups are saying the TPP would lower traditional barriers at the border but also open up U.S.-dominated services industries, boost intellectual-property protection for Hollywood movies and Silicon Valley software, and set rules on the international free flow of data, foreign investment and the environment. A successful deal would also lower regular agricultural and food barriers in Japan and other countries, raising profits for American farmers, an increasingly small but influential part of the electorate.”

Christopher Doering reported in Sunday’s Des Moines Register that, “Congress is wrestling with whether to grant President Barack Obama authority to negotiate potentially lucrative trade deals that could be a boon to an Iowa economy already dependent on trade to support thousands of jobs and pump millions of dollars into the state each year.

“Exports provide a major boost to Iowa’s economy, helping a host of industries ranging from agriculture and construction equipment manufacturers to bioscience and aerospace companies.

“The state shipped a record $15.1 billion in goods and services last year — up sharply from $6.4 billion a decade ago, according to the Commerce Department’s International Trade Administration. Trade now supports more than 80,000 jobs in the state.”

The article noted that, “Without trade, [Gov. Terry Branstad] said, the state’s unemployment rate of 4.1 percent in December would likely be higher, while agriculture, manufacturing and other industries in Iowa would be far less profitable.”

Sunday’s article added that, “Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said recently that agricultural exports have been among the biggest beneficiaries of trade, representing 9.2 percent of the record $1.64 trillion in U.S. goods exported in 2014, compared to 6.6 percent in 2000. Overall, exports are equal to about 30 percent of U.S. farm sales.

“‘Without exports, American agriculture would not be a particularly profitable venture,’ he said.”


Agricultural Economy

A update on Saturday looked more closely at the persistence of California’s ongoing drought; while an update on Sunday morning at contained recent news items regarding bird flu issues in the U.S.

Keith Good

Bird Flu Issues

Samantha Masunaga reported late last week at the Los Angeles Times Online that, “A ‘limited number’ of turkeys at Butterball contract farms in Missouri and Arkansas have been diagnosed with H5N2 avian influenza, a Butterball spokeswoman said.”

Reuters writer Tom Polansek reported on Saturday that, “The U.S. Department of Agriculture has identified the first infection of a virulent strain of avian flu in poultry in Kansas, confirming the virus has spread into a migratory bird route that runs through the center of the country.

“The discovery of the H5N2 flu strain in a backyard chicken and duck flock in a county just outside Kansas City, Kan., is certain to lead to expanded restrictions on U.S. poultry exports from top trading partners like Mexico and Canada.

“The infection, confirmed on Friday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, was the first case in an established migratory bird route, known as the central flyway, that stretches roughly north-south from Montana to Texas.”

The article noted that, “Major buyers of U.S. poultry have already restricted imports from other states that have recently been infected with the same flu strain.”

AP writer Steve Karnowski reported on Saturday that, “Animal health experts and poultry growers are scrambling to determine how a dangerous new strain of bird flu infected poultry flocks in four states — and to stop it from spreading.

“Avian influenza is common in wild migratory waterfowl but doesn’t usually harm them. But the H5N2 strain is deadly when it spreads to commercial poultry. It can wipe out a flock of tens of thousands of birds in a few days, as it did at a farm last month in Minnesota, the nation’s top turkey-producing state. The same strain soon turned up on two farms in Missouri and one in Arkansas.

The vast majority of turkeys and chickens in the U.S. spend their lives confined indoors to protect against disease. Yet, as the infections show, viruses can still reach them — tracked in by humans or rodents; carried on trucks, equipment, crates and egg flats; passed from waterfowl to shore birds that find their way into a barn.”

The AP article noted that, “Minnesota confirmed its outbreak March 4, the first H5N2 found in the Mississippi flyway, a major bird migration route. The Missouri and Arkansas cases were confirmed this week. The only known commonality among those states is the flyway. Meanwhile, samples from a Kansas backyard flock of chickens and ducks tested positive for the strain late this week; the affected flock is in a county just west of the Mississippi flyway.

Why it showed up at these locations simultaneously is a mystery, though [Dr. Carol Cardona, an avian influenza specialist at the University of Minnesota] and other experts suspect waterfowl or other wild birds. Meanwhile, officials are keeping an eye on the workers who had contact with the infected flocks, and producers are tightening their standard biosecurity measures, which include putting on sanitary clothing and showering on their way in and out of barns.”

Saturday’s AP article also pointed out that, “Some countries also use those bans to protect their markets from cheaper foreign products, according to Dr. Donna Carver, extension veterinarian at North Carolina State University. ‘There’s not always a scientific reason,’ she said.”

A news release on Friday from the National Chicken Council stated that, “In light of the recent detections of avian influenza (AI) in the United States, the U.S. poultry industry would like to assure the public that detailed response plans are in place for controlling the spread of the virus and for eliminating the virus entirely. The U.S. government and poultry industries have sophisticated systems and techniques to detect the introduction of the virus into a commercial poultry flock and have proven methods to quickly eliminate the virus. The U.S. poultry industry has a strong avian influenza testing and detection program administered by the federal National Poultry Improvement Plan, in addition to each state’s individual response plan. Poultry farmers also maintain strict biosecurity measures year-round, keep their flocks protected from wild birds and routinely test flocks for avian influenza.”


California Drought- Problems Persist

Discouraging news regarding the ongoing California drought continues to persist.

Jay Famiglietti, a senior water scientist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory/Caltech, and a professor of Earth system science at UC Irvine, penned a sobering column this week on California water issues in the Los Angeles Times.

Dr. Famiglietti indicated that, “As our ‘wet’ season draws to a close, it is clear that the paltry rain and snowfall have done almost nothing to alleviate epic drought conditions. January was the driest in California since record-keeping began in 1895. Groundwater and snowpack levels are at all-time lows. We’re not just up a creek without a paddle in California, we’re losing the creek too.”

Statewide, we’ve been dropping more than 12 million acre-feet of total water yearly since 2011. Roughly two-thirds of these losses are attributable to groundwater pumping for agricultural irrigation in the Central Valley. Farmers have little choice but to pump more groundwater during droughts, especially when their surface water allocations have been slashed 80% to 100%. But these pumping rates are excessive and unsustainable. Wells are running dry. In some areas of the Central Valley, the land is sinking by one foot or more per year.

As difficult as it may be to face, the simple fact is that California is running out of water — and the problem started before our current drought. NASA data reveal that total water storage in California has been in steady decline since at least 2002, when satellite-based monitoring began, although groundwater depletion has been going on since the early 20th century,” Dr. Famiglietti said.

The LA Times column stated that, “Right now the state has only about one year of water supply left in its reservoirs, and our strategic backup supply, groundwater, is rapidly disappearing. California has no contingency plan for a persistent drought like this one (let alone a 20-plus-year mega-drought), except, apparently, staying in emergency mode and praying for rain.

In short, we have no paddle to navigate this crisis.”

The column went on to outline potential policies that could be implemented to deal with the current situation.

To view a brief Weather Channel video on the California winter snow pack, just click here.

And drought is also having an impact on Washington state.

Maria L. La Ganga reported in Saturday’s Los Angeles Times that, “‘What we’re experiencing is essentially a snowpack drought,’ Maia Bellon, director of the state Department of Ecology, told reporters Friday. ‘As of this very moment, the projected snowpack is 4% of normal in the Olympic Mountains.’

“In the Central Cascades, snowpack is 8% to 45% of normal, and in the Walla Walla area, it’s 67% of normal. The long-range forecast calls for drier, warmer weather, Bellon said, and ‘conditions are expected to get worse.’

“A statewide drought has not been declared in Washington since 2005, but the perilous snow levels mean other parts of the state are being monitored in case the emergency declaration must be broadened.”

The article pointed out that, “To get ready for a long, hot summer, officials have requested $9 million in drought relief funds from the state Legislature and are prepared to make temporary changes to water rights so that crops and fish have an adequate water supply.”

And the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recently indicated that, “The continued availability of irrigation for crops and landscaping is also vulnerable to climate change, particularly in the Southwest where irrigation accounts for the highest volume of water used. Projected increases in temperature and potential evapotranspiration, accompanied by decreases in soil moisture, will challenge this already-dry area with increased demand for water. Demand for water will also grow with population, as people migrate to Sun Belt states for better weather.”


Friday Morning Update: Budget; Appropriations Hearing; Animal Production Issues; and, Trade


An update on Thursday evening at explored recent budget related developments that could potentially have significant implications for the Farm Bill– the update can be viewed here: “Budget Issues Move to the Front Burner- Potential Farm Bill Implications.”


Appropriations Hearing

On Thursday, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture heard testimony from FDA Commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg.

During the discussion portion of the hearing, a couple of Senators sought more detail and perspective about the FDA’s role as it relates to the recent Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee Report– additional details on the hearing and the Dietary Guidelines report have been posted here, at


Animal Production Issues

In other news, Lisa Baertlein and P.J. Huffstutter reported yesterday that, “KFC, the world’s largest chain of fried chicken restaurants, may face pressure from consumer and environmental groups to change how its poultry are raised after McDonald’s Corp said it would switch to chicken raised without human antibiotics.

“McDonald’s will phase out chicken raised with antibiotics that are important to human health over two years to allay concern that use of the drugs in meat production has exacerbated the rise of deadly ‘superbugs’ that resist treatment, Reuters reported last week. Within days, retailer Costco Wholesale Corp told Reuters it aims to eliminate the sale of chicken and meat raised with human antibiotics.

KFC is owned by Louisville, Kentucky-based Yum Brands Inc, which has no publicly stated policy on antibiotic use in the production of meat it buys. Chick-fil-A, another chicken restaurant chain that competes with KFC, says about 20 percent of the chicken it serves is raised without any antibiotics, and that its entire supply chain will be converted by 2019.”

Also, a news release this week from Cargill indicated that, “Dr. Stephanie Cottee joins Cargill animal welfare team with global responsibility for poultry.

“She will be based in Guelph, Ontario, Canada and report to Dr. Mike Siemens, PhD, Cargill’s head of animal welfare based in Wichita, Kan. Dr. Cottee’s appointment is effective immediately.”

And Reuters writers Tom Polansek and P.J. Huffstutter reported yesterday that, “A case of bird flu confirmed Wednesday in the heart of America’s poultry region, is certain to mean more export restrictions, increasing U.S. supply and likely forcing the world’s biggest poultry companies to trim prices.”

The article noted that, “The USA Poultry & Egg Export Council said it expects 30 to 40 additional countries to impose new trade restrictions on U.S. poultry and eggs in the $5.7 billion export market. Additional limits could come from Mexico, the top U.S. chicken importer, which already is blocking poultry imports from Minnesota, Missouri and California due to bird flu, the trade group said.

“Previous cases of avian flu in other states triggered China and South Korea to recently impose bans, still in effect, on U.S. poultry imports. Last year, they accounted for about $428.5 million in export sales of poultry meat and products, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data.

“Other countries have banned exports from only states or counties with positive cases of avian flu.”

See also this update yesterday from Kansas State University Extension, “Poultry bans by overseas buyers could weigh on pork and beef, as well as poultry prices.”



Chris Kirkham reported yesterday at the Los Angeles Times Online that, “The short-term economic impact of the recent labor standoff at West Coast ports will be small, according to a new economic forecast, but the ports face a long-term struggle to remain competitive in the rapidly changing realm of global trade.

Many businesses in California, particularly those tied to agriculture, suffered from missed orders and produce spoiling on docks. But many other shipments were simply delayed rather than lost entirely, according to the quarterly UCLA Anderson Forecast.”

And Ann M. Veneman and Dan Glickman, who respectively served as Agriculture Secretary for George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, indicated in a column this week at The Hill Online that, “As former secretaries of Agriculture, we know firsthand the importance of international trade to America’s farm and ranch families, to our nation’s rural communities, and to the U.S. economy as a whole. There’s no other sector of the U.S. economy where the link between trade and prosperity is clearer than in agriculture.”

The column noted that, “Key to our ability to negotiate and implement market-opening agreements has been enactment of trade negotiating authority. This authority, now called trade promotion authority (TPA), ensures U.S. credibility to conclude the best deal possible at the negotiating table. TPA also ensures common negotiating objectives between the president and Congress, and a continuous consultation process prior to final Congressional approval or disapproval of a trade agreement.

That’s why we, together with all living former secretaries of Agriculture, recently signed an open letter urging Congress to reinstate Trade Promotion Authority to allow the president to effectively negotiate job-supporting trade agreements as other presidents have done.

“With TPA, the United States will be able to pursue trade agreements that support high-paying U.S. jobs while helping America’s farmers and ranchers increase U.S. exports and compete in a highly aggressive globalized economy. TPA will signal to our TPP partners that Congress and the administration stand together on the high standards our negotiators are seeking.”

Keith Good

Senate Appropriations Ag Subcommittee Hearing, Dietary Guidelines

Categories: Budget /Nutrition

On Thursday, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture heard testimony from FDA Commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg.

In his opening statement, Subcommittee Chairman Jerry Moran (R., Kan.) noted that, “Over the past four years, FDA has been given significant new responsibilities through the Food Safety Modernization Act, menu labeling legislation, and drug compounding legislation.

When implementing these laws, FDA must avoid the trappings of ‘one-size-fits-all’ solutions. Small businesses suffer under this practice all too frequently because they have limited capital to respond to significant new requirements and little time to implement these changes.”

Chairman Moran added that, “The agency’s final rule on menu labeling is overly broad and inflexible and lacks a great deal of business practicality. I was disappointed to see the inclusion of grocery stores, convenience stores, and other entities that do not sell restaurant style food as their primary business.

“Under the Food Safety Modernization Act, FDA is tasked with implementing the most sweeping changes to food safety laws in over 70 years. I was pleased that the Agency took many of the concerns within the agricultural community into account by re-proposing significant portions of the rules because they were unworkable for farmers. With the court-mandated deadlines for finalization approaching, I encourage FDA to consider deliberate and thoughtful implementation of the law.”

A news release on Thursday from Sen. Jon Tester (D., Mont.) indicated that, “During a Senate Agriculture Appropriations hearing Tester called on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to better identify the ingredients that are in food. With the commitment that the FDA would improve food safety without burdening small producers, Tester voiced his support for the $300 million increase for food safety included in the Administration’s budget request.

“‘Folks deserve to know what ingredients are in their food-which ingredients are good for them and which are going to kill them,’ Tester told FDA Commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg. ‘I want to support your efforts to keep our food safe, but we need to do it in a way that meets the needs of producers and consumers.’”

During the discussion portion of yesterday’s hearing, Chairman Moran had the following exchange with Dr. Hamburg about the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee Report:  “In regard to dietary guidelines, what role will FDA have in advising the Department of Health & Human Services?”

Dr. Margaret Hamburg: “Well, the dietary guidelines, at least as I understand it, it is a process that ultimately involves decision-making that is coordinated between the Secretary of Health & Human Services and the Secretary of the Department of Agriculture of USDA. FDA does play a role in reviewing reports and information that goes into the final determinations, and we of course bring our science-based approaches to our recommendations in terms of nutrition science and health.”

Sen. Moran: “What’s the status of that process now at the Department of Health & Human Services and your role?”

Dr. Hamburg: “I believe that there’s a report that is currently under review that was developed by a group of outside scientific experts, and we, like other components of HHS, have been asked to review that report and make comments for the Secretary.”

And Montana GOP Sen. Steve Daines had the following exchange with Dr. Hamburg on the Dietary Guidelines issue: “As you know, Montana is a large producer in ag. It’s our number one industry, $5 billion a year, and maintaining a high quality food supply is of paramount importance for our producers. And Montana agriculture plays an important role in the diets of Montanans, for Americans across the country, and even around the world.

And a question I had really relates to some of the dietary guidelines. And specifically, in the FY15 omnibus, there was a congressional directive that expressed concern that the Advisory Committee was, quote, ‘showing an interest in incorporating environmental factors into their criteria,’ and directed the Secretary to include, and I quote, ‘only nutrition and dietary information, not extraneous factors in the final guidelines.’

“Well, as you know, the scientific report of the 2015 dietary guidelines advisory committees was just released last month. It included, and I quote, ‘environmental approaches are needed to complement individual based efforts to improve diet and reduce obesity and other diet related diseases.’ So the question I have is, do you think the advisory committee report is compliant with the congressional directive?”

Dr. Hamburg: “Well, as I think you probably know, our role in this is not a direct one, but it’s advisory to the Secretary of Health & Human Services in terms of reviewing materials, including the report you mentioned, that then become the basis for decision-making by the Secretary of HHS and the Secretary of the Department of Agriculture. Our role is really to provide feedback in terms of the science of nutrition and health.

“And the broader issues that you were referring to I think were reflected in a report that was done by an outside group of scientists, but in terms of what we’ll be commenting on to the Secretary of Health & Human Services will be on nutrition science and health. And I think that, you know, my understanding is that, you know, at the end of the day the decisions that are made will really focus on the dietary guidelines that are science [based]—”

Sen. Daines:Doctor, do you believe the environmental issues are within the purview of developing those dietary guidelines?”

Dr. Hamburg:Well, you know, from the FDA perspective, as I said, that is not something that we are looking at. And my understanding is that the Secretary of Agriculture and the Secretary of Health & Human Services understand their role in terms of establishing the dietary guidelines.”

Sen. Daines: “Okay.”

Also on Thursday, a news release from Chairman Moran noted that, “Today, [Sen. Moran] and 29 of his Senate colleagues called on U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Sylvia Burwell to stay within statutory guidelines, consider the most relevant nutrition scientific literature, and reject the committee’s inconsistent conclusions and recommendations regarding the role of lean red meat in a healthy diet.

In a letter led by U.S. Senator John Thune (R-S.D.), they request an extension of the 45-day comment period to ensure stakeholders have enough time to review and comment on the lengthy report.”

Lydia Wheeler reported on Thursday at The Hill Online that, “The North American Meat Institute has a message for the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee – ‘Get your hands off my hot dog.’

“The meat and poultry trade association is calling all hot dog, sausage, bacon and salami lovers to sign a petition on, which asks the Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services to include meat as part of a healthy diet in the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.”

Note that Dr. Hamburg was also asked about the Dietary Guidelines at House Appropriations Ag Subcommittee hearing earlier this month- details on that hearing can be found here.


Budget Issues Move to the Front Burner- Potential Farm Bill Implications

Categories: Budget /Farm Bill

Kristina Peterson reported on Thursday evening at The Wall Street Journal Online that, “The Senate Republican budget slated for release next week is expected to generate savings by turning more responsibility for Medicaid and food-stamp programs over to states, GOP lawmakers and aides said Thursday.

“While details of the document aren’t final, Republicans would propose turning funding for those programs into something similar to a block grant, said Senate Budget Committee Member Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.). That approach would call for the federal government to pay states a lump sum, instead of a percentage of the program’s costs. States would have more control over the program and would be responsible for footing the rest of the bill.”

Ms. Peterson explained that, “To get a sense of potential savings, under last year’s House GOP budget, converting the food-stamp programs into a block grant starting in 2019 would have saved $125 billion over 10 years.”

The Journal article added that, “Not all Republicans support the idea of turning food stamps into a block grant-type program.

“‘The governors would love the money, but they don’t want to be in charge of food stamps,’ said Sen. Pat Roberts (R., Kansas), the Agriculture Committee chairman.”

Recall that President Obama released the executive branch budget outline in February.  With respect to SNAP, Alan Bjerga reported at the time that, “The biggest spending item in the USDA budget, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which distributes food stamps, would decline 0.1 percent to $78.7 billion.”

In other areas of the President’s budget, DTN writers Chris Clayton and Todd Neeley explained back in February that, “‘The White House budget proposal for 2016 seeks to cut crop insurance under the argument that such cuts are needed to offset higher projected direct farm-program subsidies.”

The DTN article explained that, “The crop-insurance cut is smaller than in earlier budget proposals, but it would take an average of $1.6 billion a year out of crop insurance, or $16 billion over the next decade. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a discussion Monday [Feb. 2] with reporters that the crop-insurance proposal was a way to help keep projected farm-bill savings on track.

“Vilsack said one of the challenges of passing the farm bill was how to create sufficient savings. Lower commodity prices indicate higher spending for the new commodity programs — Agricultural Risk Coverage and Price Loss Coverage.” [Note that projected commodity program spending has risen since February].

On Thursday, the Congressional Budget Office released its estimate of the executive branch agricultural related budget proposals.

And earlier this week, an update at the National Sustainable Agriculture (NSAC) Blog (“Budget Time on Capitol Hill- Farm Bill to be Re-Opened?”) indicated that, “With the new CBO projections as backdrop, the House and Senate Budget Committees plan to markup their respective version of the congressional budget resolution for fiscal year 2016 next week. The budget resolutions will then go to the House and Senate floor, and if passed, will be negotiated into a final budget resolution to guide spending decisions for fiscal year 2016.

“In addition to setting the overall size of the spending pie for annual appropriations bills which dictate government discretionary spending, the budget resolution is occasionally also used to send budget reconciliation instructions to House and Senate authorizing committees with jurisdiction over mandatory spending. Those instructions are in essence directives to cut spending in mandatory-spending programs under a committee’s control by a specific dollar amount. Budget reconciliation is most often used as a procedure for deficit reduction.

According to the Capitol Hill rumor mill, there is a strong possibility that the draft budget resolutions to be introduced by the Budget Committee chairmen next week will include reconciliation instructions and that those instructions may include a directive to the Agriculture Committees to cut farm bill spending by a designated amount. Should that happen, a farm bill that took three years to create and that was signed into law just over a year ago for what was presumed to be a five-year period will be open for debate all over again.”

The NSAC Blog update pointed out that, “A broad coalition of farm, anti-hunger, conservation, and rural groups with a stake in the farm bill, including NSAC, wrote to both budget committees several weeks ago urging them not to re-open the farm bill through the budget reconciliation process. That farm bill coalition will very likely mobilize in opposition to any moves by the Budget Committees to re-open the farm bill.

Whether such moves are forthcoming remain to be seen, though the situation should become clear one way or the other in the coming week. NSAC will work against farm bill reconciliation instructions.”

And earlier this week, a Texas newspaper reported that, “[House Ag Committee Chairman Mike Conaway (R., Tex.)] said Monday that [House Ag Committee] review [of the SNAP program] is underway and that he does not want his fellow legislators to make cuts to the program before he is finished.

“‘I’m trying to maintain this idea that we don’t have any preconceived reforms in mind right this second, and we want to let those percolate out of the review itself,’ Conaway said. ‘One of the fights I’m having with the budget is to make sure they don’t do things there that would taint the water.’”


Thursday Morning Update: Crop Insurance; Policy; Regulations; Ag Economy; and, Biotech

Crop Insurance- GAO Report

On Wednesday, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report on crop insurance titled, “In Areas with Higher Crop Production Risks, Costs Are Greater, and Premiums May Not Cover Expected Losses.”

A summary and highlights of the report have been posted here, at

Agri-Pulse reporter Philip Brasher, in an article from yesterday, provided a brief and thorough look at the GAO report.

Mr. Brasher reported that, “Farmers in drought-prone areas of the Plains and other high-risk regions often aren’t being charged enough for crop insurance, according to congressional auditors.”


Highlights: GAO Report on Crop Insurance

On Wednesday, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report on crop insurance titled, “In Areas with Higher Crop Production Risks, Costs Are Greater, and Premiums May Not Cover Expected Losses.”

GAO indicated (full report here) that, “The federal government’s crop insurance costs are substantially higher in areas with higher crop production risks (e.g., drought risk) than in other areas. In the higher risk areas, government costs per dollar of crop value for 2005 through 2013 were over two and a half times the costs in other areas. The figure below shows the costs during this period. However, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Risk Management Agency (RMA)—the agency that administers the crop insurance program—does not monitor and report on the government’s crop insurance costs in the higher risk areas.”

The report added that, “RMA implemented changes to premium rates in 2014, decreasing some rates and increasing others, but GAO’s analysis of RMA data shows that, for some crops, RMA’s higher risk premium rates may not cover expected losses. RMA made changes to premium rates from 2013 to 2014, but its plans to phase in changes to premium rates over time could have implications for improving actuarial soundness. USDA is required by statute to limit annual increases in premium rates to 20 percent of what the farmer paid for the same coverage in the previous year. However, GAO found that, for higher risk premium rates that required an increase of at least 20 percent to cover expected losses, RMA did not raise these premium rates as high as the law allows to make the rates more actuarially sound. Without sufficient increases to premium rates, where applicable, RMA may not fully cover expected losses and make the rates more actuarially sound. Furthermore, in analyzing data on premium dollars for 2013, GAO found that had RMA’s higher risk premium rates been more actuarially sound, the federal government could have potentially collected tens of millions of dollars in additional premiums.”

The GAO report noted that, “As shown in table 1, the federal government’s crop insurance costs generally increased for fiscal years 2003 through 2013. A widespread drought and crop losses in crop year 2012 contributed to the spike in government costs to $14.1 billion in fiscal year 2012. In crop year 2013, weather conditions were more favorable, so government costs were lower than in fiscal year 2012. According to an April 2014 CBO estimate, for fiscal years 2014 through 2023, program costs are expected to average $8.9 billion annually.”

(Click here for a larger image of Table 1).

The GAO report also noted that, “Figure 1 shows counties organized in groups of 20 percent based on average county target premium rates, with the darker areas representing counties with higher average county target premium rates. The color-shaded counties represent all 2,554 counties that had county target premium rates for at least one of the five major crops.”

(Click here for a larger image of Figure 1).

In addition, GAO noted that, “Figure 2 shows the riskiest 20 percent of counties (510) in terms of average county target premium rates. These 510 higher risk counties are color-shaded on the basis of their 2013 premium dollars to show which counties purchased the most crop insurance. The Great Plains, which has areas with relatively high drought risk, had a large portion of the higher risk counties’ premium dollars.”

(Click here for a larger image of Figure 2).

And, GAO added that, “Figure 3 compares the estimated government crop insurance costs per dollar of expected crop value for the five major crops in the 510 higher risk counties with the costs in the 2,044 other U.S. counties from 2005 through 2013. Total government crop insurance costs vary from year to year depending on weather-caused crop losses, crop prices, and farmers’ decisions about how much insurance coverage to purchase. To control for variations in crop prices and farmers’ purchase decisions, and to normalize the costs for higher risk counties and lower risk counties while still reflecting weather-caused crop losses, we expressed the estimated government costs in relation to expected crop value. As shown in figure 3, the costs in higher risk counties were substantially greater. Over the 9-year time frame, government costs averaged 14 cents per dollar of expected crop value in the higher risk counties and 5 cents per dollar in the other counties. For example, if two farms each had an expected crop value of $1 million, the higher risk farm would have had an average annual government cost of $140,000, and the lower risk farm would have had an average annual government cost of $50,000. In 2013, the higher risk counties had a government cost of 17 cents per $1 of expected crop value, 3 cents higher than the average during the time frame, and the other counties had a government cost of 5 cents per $1 of expected crop value, the same as the time frame average.”

(Click here for a larger image of Fig 3).

The report stated that, “Premium subsidies provided on behalf of farmers are a large component of government crop insurance costs. Figure 4 compares premium subsidies provided on behalf of farmers per dollar of expected crop value in the 510 higher risk counties with the premium subsidies in the 2,044 other counties from 1994 through 2013. Similar to the pattern shown in figure 3, figure 4 shows that premium subsidies in higher risk counties were substantially more than in the other counties. An important distinction between figure 3 and figure 4 is that figure 3 is indicative of differences in weather-related loss claim payments, which vary from year to year, while the measures of premium subsidies in figure 4 do not vary with weather-related loss claim payments and are related to the program design.”

(Click here for a larger image of Fig 4).

In addiiton, the report explained that, “Figures 5 and 6 show, for 1994 through 2013, respectively, farmers’ net gains per dollar of expected crop value and net gains per dollar of premium paid by farmers. If a farmer’s net gain per dollar of premium paid is more than zero, it means the farmer received more in loss claim payments than he or she paid in premiums. As shown in these two figures, farmers’ net gains fluctuated from year to year…During the 20-year time frame, farmers’ net gains from crop insurance averaged 9 cents per $1 of expected crop value in the higher risk counties and 2 cents per $1 of expected crop value in the lower risk counties. In addition, farmers in higher risk counties averaged $1.97 in net gains per $1 of premiums paid compared with net gains averaging $0.87 per $1 of premiums paid for farmers in the lower risk counties over the 20-year time frame.”

(Click here for a larger image of Fig 5).

(Click here for a larger image of Fig 6).

Bringing these figures together, the GAO report indicated that, “Figures 3, 4, 5, and 6 illustrate the extent to which higher risk areas have higher relative government costs, and farmers in those areas receive higher relative benefits. Furthermore, the difference between higher risk counties and lower risk counties in premium subsidies provided on behalf of farmers per dollar of expected crop value in 2013—11 cents per $1 versus 4 cents per $1, respectively, on average—indicates that the government’s crop insurance costs might be reduced for farmers in higher risk counties without denying them sufficient risk protection. Specifically, if farmers in the other counties have sufficient risk protection while receiving premium subsidies of 4 cents per $1 of expected crop value, farmers in the higher risk counties might have sufficient risk protection with premium subsidies of less than 11 cents per $1 of expected crop value.”

The GAO report included two recommendations:

“GAO recommends that RMA (1) monitor and report on crop insurance costs in areas that have higher crop production risks and (2), as appropriate, increase its adjustments of premium rates in these areas by as much as the full 20 percent annually that is allowed by law.

“RMA disagreed with GAO’s first recommendation and agreed with the second. GAO continues to believe that RMA can and should do more to monitor and report on crop insurance costs in higher risk areas, where government costs were found to be substantially higher.”

Philip Brasher reported on Wednesday at Agri-Pulse that, “Farmers in drought-prone areas of the Plains and other high-risk regions often aren’t being charged enough for crop insurance, according to congressional auditors.”

Mr. Brasher explained that, “From 2005 through 2013, government costs averaged 14 cents per dollar of expected crop value in higher-risk counties versus 5 cents per dollar in lower-risk ones, according to GAO. Those differences mean that for two farms, each with an expected crop value of $1 million, it cost the government on average $140,000 to insure a grower in a higher-risk county versus $50,000 in the lower-risk one.

In 2013, the cost gap between higher risk and lower counties was 17 cents versus 5 cents per dollar of crop value.

“RMA challenged some aspects of GAO’s analysis as well as the recommendations. In a letter published as part of the report, RMA Administrator Brandon Willis said that the agency already provided enough cost information and said that the agency had to be cautious about raising rates.”

The Agri-Pulse article noted that, “The American Association of Crop Insurers, which represents companies that provide the coverage, applauded the GAO for what the group called its ‘constructive approach.’

“‘It is important to recall that program costs and rates aren’t necessarily the same thing. That being said, we do have concerns about the level of rates in parts of the program,’ the group said in a statement.

“‘We know that any increases in program costs will only make the crop insurance program a bigger target for its critics.'”


Des Moines Register- Water Runoff Issues, Conservation- Clean Water Act

Categories: Conservation /Farm Bill

A pair of articles on the front page of Wednesday’s Des Moines Register highlighted water runoff issues and conservation practices taking place in the Hawkeye State. The variables noted in the articles have broader connections in the debate over farm conservation policy development beyond Iowa and also could potentially impact how the Clean Water Act is viewed.

Timothy Meinch reported that, “Des Moines Water Works will file a federal suit against three rural counties in northwest Iowa, an action that could trigger far-reaching effects on how states approach water quality regulation.

“The action follows a 60-day warning that sparked little promise for solving water quality concerns at Water Works, according to utility trustees. The board voted unanimously during a special meeting Tuesday to file a lawsuit against drainage districts in Buena Vista, Calhoun and Sac counties.”

The article explained that, “Water Works officials and a crowd of supportive residents criticized the state’s voluntary nutrient-reduction strategy for farmers. They said it is insufficient for protecting Iowa waterways…[The legal suit] claims drainage districts act as a conduit, channeling fertilizer and manure between farm fields and waterways. Water Works officials said these districts should be regulated with special permits under the Clean Water Act.”

Mr. Meinch added that, “Water Works officials say rising nitrate levels in the Raccoon and Des Moines rivers will soon require a new nitrate removal facility in Des Moines that could cost $80 million to $100 million.”

Also on the front page of today’s paper, Donnelle Eller reported that, “With decades of conservation farming under his belt, Dwight Dial has a hard time understanding why Des Moines Water Works is so intent on suing three northwest Iowa counties for contributing to high nitrates in the Raccoon River, a source of drinking water for roughly 500,000 residents in central Iowa.

“‘We’re not deliberately dumping our nitrogen into the Raccoon or Des Moines river systems,’ said Dial, who raises corn, soybeans and pigs near Lake City in Calhoun County, a target of the Des Moines lawsuit along with Sac and Buena Vista counties.

“‘We’re doing everything we can to retain nutrients in the field for our plants. … But we can’t control Mother Nature.'”

Ms. Eller noted that, “Rural residents say they are unsure what the Des Moines utility sees as the remedy to its high nitrate levels — or why it is suing a few sparsely populated counties that have little power to influence farming operations.

“‘I’ve never heard what Des Moines Water Works thinks the fix is,’ said Tom Smith, who feeds about 3,000 to 4,000 cattle annually and raises 1,300 acres of continuous corn with two brothers southeast of Storm Lake.

“‘If they think we need to use less nitrogen, the (board of) supervisors have no power over that,’ Smith said. ‘They’re going after the wrong people.'”

Today’s Register article stated that, “Des Moines utility leaders have said they hope the lawsuit will lead to new federal regulations on farmers in Iowa, and potentially across the nation.”

Agricultural runoff is now exempt from the federal Clean Water Act. But the utility wants to force farmers to be treated the same as wastewater treatment plants or factories, which must request permits outlining the runoff that leaves their facilities,” Ms. Eller reported.

Today’s article pointed out that, “Farmers say extreme weather, such as recent droughts and flooding, is influencing nitrate loading — something they can’t control.

Still, farmers invested $13 million last year, on top of $9.5 million by the state, on conservation practices such as buffer strips, terraces and cover crops to keep nutrients from getting into Iowa rivers and streams.”


Wednesday Morning Update: Policy Issues-Ag Economy; Regulations; and, Trade

Policy Issues, Budget Baselines, USDA Reports

Corey Paul reported on Monday at the The Odessa (Tex.) American Online that, “[House Ag Committee Chairman Mike Conaway (R., Tex.)] said when he was appointed chairman in January that his chief priority was launching a review of the country’s Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, or food stamps, criticizing a lack of oversight for the $80 billion annual program.

“Conaway said Monday that review is underway and that he does not want his fellow legislators to make cuts to the program before he is finished.

“‘I’m trying to maintain this idea that we don’t have any preconceived reforms in mind right this second, and we want to let those percolate out of the review itself,’ Conaway said. ‘One of the fights I’m having with the budget is to make sure they don’t do things there that would taint the water.’”

Meanwhile, with respect to the commodity title of the Farm Bill, Reuters news reported yesterday that, “Government support for U.S. grain farmers under the new five-year farm bill will peak with the coming 2015 crop, the Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute said in a new report.”

The article noted that, “‘Payments under 2014 farm bill programs increase when crop prices fall,’ FAPRI said in its 2015 U.S. Baseline Briefing Book. The think tank estimated that $3.9 billion in ARC and PLC payments for last year’s 2014 crop would be made after fiscal 2016 begins on Oct. 1.

“‘ARC spending is greatest in 2015/16 but declines in later years as the moving averages that determine benchmark revenues adjust,’ FAPRI said. ‘Projected average ARC and PLC payments peak with the 2015 crop at about $6.5 billion but decline to $3.4 billion for the 2018 crop.’”


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