FarmPolicy

June 24, 2017

Rep. Peterson Highlights CRP

Categories: Conservation /Farm Bill

In his Email newsletter on Friday, House Ag Committee ranking member Collin Peterson (D., Minn.) highlighted issues associated with the Conservation Reserve Program and the Farm Bill.

Specfically, Rep. Peterson stated that: “This week I had a chance to sit down with Pheasants Forever’s Dave Nomsen to talk about the future of the Conservation Reserve Program, known as CRP, in the next farm bill. I remain concerned that we are losing too many of the large tracts that provide excellent habitat for wildlife. Although the budget restraints in the farm bill remain a challenge when it comes to making significant changes to the program, there are a number of things we can do to make this program more farmer friendly — like increasing the flexibility around the haying and grazing rules. I look forward to working with Pheasants Forever and other conservation and agriculture organizations as we take a careful look at how this program is working and what changes we would like to see in the next farm bill.”

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Hearing: House Ag Subcommittee on Conservation

Categories: Conservation /Farm Bill

Yesterday afternoon, the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Conservation and Forestry held a hearing titled on land conservation issues.

Subcommittee Chairman Glenn ‘GT’ Thompson (R., Pa.) indicated at yesterday’s hearing that, “The Earth’s population is projected to grow to roughly 9 billion people by the year 2050. Given the growing demands on farm land everywhere, we must invest in the necessary resources and best practices to be certain that producers can continue to meet this growing need. To that end, I am particularly proud of this committee’s work on conservation programs during the deliberation of the most recent farm bill. The 2014 Farm Bill contained creative, outside-the-box approaches to funding and delivering conservation programs.

“One of the biggest successes of this creative approach has been the Regional Conservation Partnership Program, known as RCPP. RCPP is an innovative approach to target conservation initiatives. It uses NRCS programs that produce known conservation improvements, and leverages that federal funding with matching funding from partners in the private sector. It has brought together broad coalitions consisting of commodity organizations, conservation groups, sportsmen, and others to unite around a common goal.

“In the first two years, RCPP has awarded funding to 199 projects across all 50 states and Puerto Rico and matched over $500 million in program funding with $900 million from partner contributions. These efforts that bring all perspectives to the table are the ones that are actually working. It takes everyone coming together.”

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service Chief, Jason Weller, noted yesterday that, “Science-based solutions and innovative tools are also supporting the locally led approach. NRCS is advancing innovative partner-driven conservation through the [RCPP]. Created by the 2014 Farm Bill, RCPP is a locally led conservation approach that is already showing results. Now in its second year, RCPP has demonstrated high demand, with over 2,000 partners leading nearly 200 projects nationwide. All told, in the first two years of the program, NRCS will have invested about $500 million while another $900 million is being brought in by partners to address locally defined, nationally significant natural resource issues. For the next round of RCPP funding, NRCS will challenge partners to consider environmental markets and conservation finance systems with agricultural opportunities.”

Frank Price, a rancher from Texas, explained at yesterday’s hearing that, “U.S. cattlemen own and manage considerably more land than any other segment of agriculture— or any other industry for that matter. Cattlemen graze cattle on approximately 666.4 million acres of the approximately 2 billion acres of the U.S. land mass. In addition, the acreage used to grow hay, feed grains, and food grains add millions more acres of land under cattlemen’s stewardship and private ownership. Some of the biggest challenges and threats to our industry come from the loss of our natural resources. The livestock industry is threatened daily by urban encroachment, natural disasters, and government overreach. Since our livelihood is made on the land, through the utilization of our natural resources, being good stewards of the land not only makes good environmental sense; it is fundamental for our industry to remain strong.”

Mr. Price noted that, “The Environmental Quality Incentive Program, or EQIP, is a cost-share program that rewards and provides incentives to producers for implementing conservation practices. When wildfire came through our ranch in 2011, we had to rebuild miles of fencing. EQIP helped us do it. One of the reasons EQIP has become popular among ranchers is because it is a working-lands program. Conservation programs that keep land in production and do not limit its use are best for both the ranchers and conserving our resources.

“Another working lands program is the Conservation Stewardship Program. CSP rewards those of us that have been conservationists and have spent the time and money in the improving of our land, water, and wildlife habitats. CSP offers cattlemen the opportunity to earn payments for actively managing, maintaining, and expanding conservation activities like cover crops, rotational grazing, ecologically-based pest management, and buffer strips.”

Subcommittee Ranking Member Michelle Lujan Grisham (D., N.M.) added at yesterday’s hearing that: “I’ve often mentioned the inadequate rainfall and drought conditions in New Mexico and the Southwest. Fortunately, there are conservation tools available to help Southwestern producers cope with these situations. I’ve heard from several New Mexican producers that the Conservation Stewardship Program, which pays producers to adopt conservation activities to improve working lands, helped in keeping many farmers and ranchers on their lands and in business during the past drought, which lasted about 5 years.”

Keith Good

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.”

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Tuesday Morning Update: Baseline Updates- Policy Issues; Animal Research; Trade; Iowa Ag Summit; and, the Ag Economy

Baseline Updates- Policy Issues

On Monday, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released its updated baseline Budget Projections for 2015 to 2025.

A brief overview of CBO’s January baseline projections can be found here.

Also on Monday, the Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute (FAPRI) released its latest baseline-briefing book.

Both baseline updates showed a change in farm program spending projections from previous baseline reports.

Politico writer David Rogers, and Philip Brasher of Agri-Pulse, separately examined the numbers in greater detail on Monday- details of their reporting can be found at this FarmPolicy.com update from yesterday.

More broadly, yesterday’s FAPRI update stated that, “Lower prices have resulted in a large decline in crop producer income and could result in significant federal spending under new programs established by the 2014 farm bill. After reaching record levels in 2014, most livestock sector prices are also expected to decline in 2015. As a result, net farm income is projected to fall sharply.”

Average projected corn prices recover to $3.89 per bushel for the 2015/16 marketing year in response to reduced U.S. production. Wheat and soybean prices both fall in 2015/16, to $5.17 per bushel and $9.29 per bushel, respectively, given continued large global supplies,” FAPRI said.

In addition, CBO’s outlook for the SNAP program is available here, while the CBO’s outlook for child nutrition programs can be found here.

Meanwhile, Marcia Zarley Taylor reported yesterday at DTN (link requires subscription) that, “U.S. crop farmers have just weeks left to make their five-year farm program decision. For most, the March 31 choice will be narrowed between ARC-County and Production Loss Coverage (PLC). Many corn-soybean growers in the northern Corn Belt see good reason to go with what they call the ‘surer thing’ of ARC payments, DTN interviews have found.

“Even in counties that experienced bumper yields in 2014, growers may face little or no ARC payments in 2014 but still are banking that ARC will outpay PLC for 2015 and beyond. For example, McLean County, Illinois, averaged an amazing 217 bpa corn yield in 2014, so stands to collect no ARC payments, the University of Illinois estimates. However, with a return to average or below average yields in 2015, ARC-County payments could jump to $78/base acre in 2015.”

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Highlights: House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture- Budget Hearing, NRCS Chief

On Friday, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture held a budget hearing and heard testimony from USDA- Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Chief Jason Weller.

In his opening statement at Friday’s hearing, Subcommittee Chairman Robert Aderholt (R., Ala.) indicated that, “We convene today to review NRCS’s fiscal year 2016 budget request. NRCS requests a total of $1.031 billion in discretionary funding for its salaries, expenses, programs, and activities. In addition, about $3.2 billion will be available through the farm bill’s mandatory conservation programs to farmers, ranchers, and private forest landowners to help them preserve, protect, and enhance their land.”

During the discussion portion of the hearing, Rep. Sanford Bishop (D., Ga.) brought up the issue of NRCS using drones in its remote sensing work– here is the exchange with Chief Well on this issue.

Rep. Sanford Bishop: Can you tell us if you have any plans to utilize drones to assist in the collection of information, because you do a lot of photography, put a lot of contracts out to take pictures, and there’s a tremendous amount of interest in the use of drones in agriculture, particularly in assisting the optimal design and layout of fields for water assessments and other related issues.

“Have you looked at this issue? Are there any current interagency discussions with FAA or other agencies concerning the growth in the use of drones? Obviously there are some security issues involved, but there’s also a great deal of interest for commercializing that practice and using it in agriculture.”

Mr. Jason Weller: “Absolutely. It’s a new technology, but we also have to be careful because folks do have privacy concerns. The FAA also had safety concerns. So in part NRCS, we sort of said full stop, let’s wait for FAA to actually come out with a rule.

Now that the rule has been issued, we’re trying to figure out how the NRCS can work within that to do remote sensing, but in a way that protects privacy, assure landowners who are not there there’s a regulatory component, because I know folks have some concerns when the federal government starts flying drones over their property. So we just need to make sure NRCS is doing this technology in a way that’s appropriate, that’s sensitive to landowners’ concerns, but also then helps us do a better job of managing resources.”

Also at the hearing, Rep. David Young (R., Iowa) wanted more information about NRCS wetland determinations and the farmer’s ability to appeal these decisions.

Rep. David Young: “Last year the NRCS proposed updating the way it conducts wetlands determinations in the prairie pothole states, you know, Minnesota, Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota. How will the wetland determination proposal affect producers, and when there is a review, will there be an ability for folks to have a second request for review and a second opinion if they disagree with the determination you make?”

Mr. Weller: “Yes. So first starting with what a producer hopefully will experience with us. What we’re proposing is bringing a modern, up-to-date, scientifically driven approach to doing what we’re calling off site determinations. This is a practice we’ve had at NRCS for decades. But what we didn’t have in the prairie pothole region is a consistent approach across all four states. So depending on where your property was, you had a different approach that we needed to update.

“So what this means, though, is actually, at the end of the day, when we implement this—because we were just seeking comments on this approach so far—is better service for a producer. So right now, as you know, there’s been a backlog, particularly in North and South Dakota, but Iowa as well. And in a lot of cases it’s because it’s on site determinations. It takes staff time. When you do an off site determination, you’re using remote sensing technology, you know, photography, LIDAR coverage, other techniques to really do equivalent, if not a more accurate determination approach.

The bottom line is time savings. So the average number of times it takes to do an off site determination is six hours. The average number of hours it takes to do on site is at least 14 hours. Many of them are 40 hours. And that doesn’t count all the driving time. When you break that down in dollars and cents, if you just say, take—you assume 30 bucks an hour for like a field technician to go out and do it, that equates to about 170 bucks to do an off site determination. When you do on site it’s like over $400 a determination, on average.

But when you multiply that over like South Dakota, where they have 2,500 determinations in the backlog, that’s the difference between $300,000 over a million dollars. And when it comes down to that kind of expenditure, when you add that up across four states, you’re talking real money. And that’s money I’d rather employ back in the field to provide, you know, technical assistance to producers as opposed to investing it in a way that we can be more efficient.

“So to your question about what happens for the producer, the first approach would be the off site determinations, which will be much more efficient. They’ll get determinations made quicker. It’s a preliminary determination. If they don’t like the determination, they can then appeal it and they can then request an on site determination.

“If they don’t like the on site determination from the field staff, they can then appeal that to the state office. If they don’t like the state office determination, they can then appeal that to the national appeals division. So there’s absolutely all these protections for a producer. We’re not changing any of that, how that works. We’re actually just trying to streamline it and get the determinations made faster and cheaper.”

And a third key issue discussed at Friday’s Appropriations Committee hearing was on the Regional Conservation Partnership Program.

Chief Weller noted that, “It’s the Regional Conservation Partnership Program, which is a new authority in the 2014 Farm Bill. The basic idea here is you actually invite local partners to devise their own projects. You ask them what do they want to do. So what we’re finding is that more often than not you go into places like the Salinas Valley or the [Pajaro] Valley, in your district, for example, and there’s a lot of people doing a lot of really good things, but more often than not we’re not coordinated. We’re putting a lot of money in the ground, but in a way we’re like ships passing in the night.

“So what we did at the Regional Conservation Partnership Program, it’s sort of like pulling a sock inside out. Instead of the federal government saying this is what we’re going to do in your community, instead we asked the community what do you want to do, and then we’re here to support you. So we opened it up to competition, and we got applications, 600 applications from every state in the country, from all over the country, and folks were really excited about this.

“And what it does is it catalyzes that locally led approach where you get like the Santa Cruz RCD. They then talk to Driscoll’s Berries, they talk to the Pajaro Valley Water Management Agency, they talk to Santa Cruz extension, they talk to the marine sanctuary, and they leverage the resources upfront, and then they come to us and they say NRCS, this is what we would like to do with the EQIP program in the Pajaro Valley to save water, but also to increase ground water recharge.

“And so one of the projects we funded then in the Pajaro Valley this year through our first round was $800,000 of NRCS money matched by $900,000 of the partners, so a total project over one and a half million dollars that they estimate is going to save over 400 acre feet of withdrawal from the aquifer, but also add additional recharge aquifer of 600 acre feet. That is a lot of water savings in a water scarce area.

“But you’re getting industry involved, Driscoll’s Berries; you’re getting extension to provide really good outreach and education; you’re engaging RCD, so it’s a locally led approach; and the federal government then is just a co-investor, we’re a true partner in this. So this is one example. Nationally we have 115 of these projects that they’re just showing this is an approach we really absolutely have to pursue.”

Keith Good

Trade; Ag Economy; Policy Issues; and, Political Notes

Trade Issues

DTN Ag Policy Editor Chris Clayton reported yesterday that, “Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack sees trade negotiations taking up a bigger chunk of his time in 2015, particularly now that the farm bill is deep into implementation by USDA staff.

“In a year-end interview with DTN, the agriculture secretary said he believes he and other Obama administration officials will be working to complete the 12-country Asian trade deal called the Trans Pacific Partnership. The secretary seemed confident a deal could soon be struck.

“‘The hope is the Trans Pacific Partnership negotiations conclude soon in the new year so that we can go about the business of articulating the need for Trade Promotion Authority for the president,’ Vilsack said.”

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Ag Economy- Trade; Budget; Tax Extenders; Policy Issues; and, CFTC

Agricultural Economy- Trade Issues

Yesterday, the Federal Reserve Board released its Summary of Commentary on Current Economic Conditions. Commonly referred to as the “Beige Book,” the report included several observations with respect to the U.S. agricultural economy.

The Fifth District (Richmond) noted that, “Some growers planned fewer equipment purchases relative to a year ago;” while the Tenth District (Kansas City) indicated that, “Farm income expectations fell sharply since the last survey period as above- average corn and soybean yields were not expected to fully offset low crop prices. District contacts reported current levels of farm income that were significantly lower than last year despite some support from crop insurance and strong profits in the livestock sector. Although reduced income for crop producers had contributed to a rise in the need for short-term loans to the farm sector, agricultural bankers reported that sufficient funds were available for qualified borrowers. Following several years of very strong growth, District cropland values declined slightly in recent months and were holding just above year-ago levels.”

And the Ninth District (Minneapolis) pointed out that, “Farm incomes continued to be affected by lower crop prices; in contrast, livestock and dairy producers benefited from lower feed costs and high output prices.”

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Regulations; Farm Bill; Ag Economy; Biofuels; and, Climate

Regulatory Issues

A news release yesterday from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D., N.Y.) indicated that, “United States Senators [Gillibrand], Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) sent a letter today to Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Margaret Hamburg requesting information about the FDA’s efforts to curb the overuse of antibiotics in food animal production.

“‘The use of antibiotics in food-producing animals must be reduced as part of the effort to preserve the efficacy of antibiotics,’ the senators wrote. ‘Research has shown that antibiotic resistant bacteria are most likely to develop when antibiotics are used continuously at low doses – the type of regimen used frequently in food animal production.’

“In their letter, the senators noted steps the FDA has taken to begin addressing this issue, including issuing guidance on inappropriate antibiotic use for growth promotion, calling for pharmaceutical companies to voluntarily remove these uses from product labels, and requiring more veterinary oversight of antibiotic use in food animals. The senators explained, ‘While these new policies are important first steps, we remain concerned that they may not be sufficient to effectively curtail the routine use of dangerously low doses of antibiotics for the duration of an animal’s life. . . . The benefits of this change will be negligible . . . if the same animals can continue receiving the same antibiotics at the same doses.’”

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Farm Bill- Policy Issues; Ag Economy; CFTC; and, Political Notes

Farm Bill- Policy Issues

Justin Sink reported yesterday at The Hill Online that, “First lady Michelle Obama on Monday blasted back at critics of her school lunch program, arguing parents should ensure their children eat healthy meals.

“Obama said parents and school leaders can’t let children make the call to eat pizza and burgers for lunch every day.

“‘If I let my kids dictate what we have for dinner every day, it would be French fries, chips and candy, but we don’t run our households like that, and we can’t run our schools like that,’ the first lady said in an interview with MSN.”

Yesterday’s update noted that, “House Republicans are expected to hold a floor vote this week on a bill that would waive tougher nutritional standards on school lunches if the school shows it has operated at a net loss over six months.”

The White House has backed a compromise agreement adopted by the Senate Appropriations Committee. Under that deal, tougher requirements on sodium levels would not be implemented, although requirements for schools to offer fruits and vegetables would be kept,” the Hill article said.

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Appropriations; Biofuels; Biotech; Immigration; CFTC; Tax Extenders; Data; and, the Ag Economy

Appropriations- Nutrition, and Conservation

Tom Hamburger reported in today’s Washington Post that, “First lady Michelle Obama is set to take an unusual, high-profile step Tuesday into the center of a legislative battle by delivering White House remarks taking issue with makers of frozen pizzas and french fries and other companies seeking to scale back school lunch standards.

“Obama is scheduled to speak out against a House measure, backed by Republicans and pushed by the food industry and some school officials, that would allow some districts to opt out of federal mandates passed in 2010 to reduce sodium and increase whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables in school lunches. White House aides say she will announce the launch of a campaign-style push to fight the legislation.

“The effort fits with the spirit of Obama’s ‘Let’s Move’ campaign and other initiatives in which she has advocated for healthy eating and a reduction of obesity. Until now, however, she has largely shied away from direct confrontations with lawmakers and industry groups.”

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Ag Economy; Biofuels; Policy Issues; Calif. Drought; and, Climate

Agricultural Economy

Tony C. Dreibus reported in today’s Wall Street Journal that, “Wheat futures jumped to the highest price in more than 10 months amid concerns that dry weather will curtail production of the grain in the U.S. southern Great Plains.

“Little rain is forecast for the next two weeks in parts of Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas, private weather forecaster Commodity Weather Group said in a report Wednesday. Nearly the entire western half of Kansas, the biggest U.S. wheat producer, is suffering from severe to extreme drought conditions, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.”

The Journal article stated that, “About 34% of wheat in the state was rated good or excellent as of March 13, down from 37% a week earlier, as dry, windy weather curbed crop prospects, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said in a report Monday. Hard-red winter wheat, grown in the southern Plains and used to make bread, is planted in the fall, lies dormant for the winter, then starts growing again in March and April. Growers harvest the crop mostly in June.”

Mr. Dreibus explained that, “Along with the dry weather in the U.S., unrest in Eastern Europe’s Black Sea region also may be boosting prices, said Craig Turner, a senior broker at Daniels Trading in Chicago.

Russia is expected to move quickly to annex the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea after voters last week opted to secede. That could slow exports from Ukraine, expected to be the world’s sixth-biggest exporter of the grain this year. If embargoes are put in place, Russian exports may decline, Mr. Turner said.

“‘The more Russia-Ukraine heats up, the more concern that the grain trade could get disrupted,’ Mr. Turner said.”

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Farm Bill; Budget; Ag Economy; Biofuels; and, CFTC Issue

Farm Bill –Policy Issues (Conservation, Nutrition, Trade, Regulations, Labor), Political Notes

Randy Olson reported in yesterday’s Sauk Herald (Sauk Centre, Minn.) that, “As stark as the outlook is for the hard-to-handle U.S. federal budget, Congressman Collin Peterson (DFL-Detroit Lakes) has a simple message for people to take to heart. ‘We’ll all have to pay a little more, and we’ll all get a little less,’ Peterson said during an interview on Monday in Sauk Centre. ‘It’s not an appealing message to share during election season, but we have to get our budget under control,’ the 11term congressman added.”

The article noted that, “As the ranking Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee, Peterson has been at the front of Farm Bill policy discussions since they began three years ago. ‘I worked during my last term on the Farm Bill, when Democrats were in the majority and I was Chairman,’ Peterson explained. ‘We were the only committee working under the Super Committee in 2011 who produced a bill. When the Super Committee fell apart, we took Farm Bill discussion to the Senate and took it up in the House this past July. After 13 hours in committee and 99 amendments, we got it out pretty much how we put it together’…‘We had a deal that included major spending cuts, but the Republicans in the House didn’t bring it up,’ Peterson stated. ‘We had plenty of time to finish it, but they broke two weeks early. Right-wing groups like Club for Growth said if anyone voted for it, they would get a negative score. Many Congressmen have farmers in their districts but left them out to dry.’”

Joel Myhre reported yesterday at the Fergus Falls Journal (Minn.) Online that, “Holding down Minnesota’s Seventh District for 21 years, DFL Congressman Collin Peterson is running for another term with his focus on the farm bill and responsible government spending…‘My number one priority is to get the farm bill done,’ he said. ‘That has been my focus and will continue to be my focus until it’s done.’”

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From USDA: Healthier Soils To Get Through Drought

Categories: Conservation

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Budget- USDA; Farm Bill Issues; Ag Economy; Regulations; and Trade

Budget- USDA

Richard Wolf reported yesterday at USA Today Online that, “The soaring national debt has reached a symbolic tipping point: It’s now as big as the entire U.S. economy.

“The amount of money the federal government owes to its creditors, combined with IOUs to government retirement and other programs, now tops $15.23 trillion.

That’s roughly equal to the value of all goods and services the U.S. economy produces in one year: $15.17 trillion as of September, the latest estimate. Private projections show the economy likely grew to about $15.3 trillion by December — a level the debt is likely to surpass this month.”

And more specifically with respect to agriculture, Reuters writer Charles Abbott reported yesterday that, “The U.S. Agriculture Department plans to close 249 offices this year — half of them the local ‘county office’ that deals with farmers — in a cost-cutting program, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced on Monday.

“USDA says the package will save $150 million a year and help reduce the yawning federal deficit. Vilsack announced the closures in a speech to the annual meeting of the 6 million-member American Farm Bureau Federation.

“Some 7,000 USDA employees have accepted early retirement in the past 15 months ‘and that number is sure to grow as this year progresses,’ said Vilsack. USDA had roughly 104,000 employees last year.”

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Legislative-Budget Outlook; Ag Policy Issues; Ag Economy; Biofuels; and MF Global

Legislative – Budget Outlook

Mark Landler reported in yesterday’s New York Times that, “President Obama is heading into his re-election campaign with plans to step up his offensive against an unpopular Congress, concluding that he cannot pass any major legislation in 2012 because of Republican hostility toward his agenda.”

More specifically with respect to the legislative outlook, the Times noted that, “Winning a full-year extension of the cut in payroll taxes is the last ‘must-do’ piece of legislation for the White House, [Joshua R. Earnest, the president’s deputy press secretary] said.”

Similarly, David Nakamura reported in yesterday’s Washington Post that, “White House aides said that [Pres.] Obama is willing to work with Congress if lawmakers refrain from ‘partisan attacks’ but that after the February fight to extend the payroll tax holiday through the end of the year, the president will not engage in any more high-stakes showdowns to advance his policies before the election.”

Nonetheless, Rachel Leven reported on Saturday at The Hill Online that, “Lobbyists expect 2012 to be ‘surprisingly busy’ compared to the normally lethargic pace of a presidential election year.”

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Farm Bill; Ag Economy; Regulations (Climate); Food Safety; CFTC; and Trade

Farm Bill Issues

A news release yesterday from American Farmland Trust (AFT) stated that, “A national coalition of 56 policy and advocacy organizations is urging Congress to preserve funding for essential U.S. Department of Agriculture conservation programs and to take additional steps to enhance soil, water quality and wildlife on agricultural land. The coalition outlined a set of key principles [PDF] that lawmakers should observe as they write the Conservation Title of the 2012 farm bill and seek ways to trim the federal deficit.

“The 56 coalition members are asking Congress to:

“- Put a high priority on funding critical conservation programs at the current baseline level of $6.5 billion a year.

– Strengthen and enforce provisions that require farmers to implement basic conservation practices in return for farm subsidies and extend them to insurance subsidies.

Target conservation dollars where the opportunities for conservation and environmental outcomes are greatest.

Streamline existing programs by reducing unnecessary administrative burdens and ramp up their effectiveness by linking payments to performance and focusing more on whole-farm and whole-ranch conservation systems.

– Ensure that all segments of the farming community – women, minorities and beginning farmers – have access to funding and technical assistance. “

The AFT release added that, “The 2011 Survey on Agriculture and Environment [PDF] conducted on behalf of the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, shows clearly that Americans overwhelmingly view conservation as an important priority in national farm policy and don’t want to see conservation programs cut.”

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