Farm Bill: Senate Issues, Chairwoman Stabenow on C-SPAN
Pete Kasperowicz reported on Friday at The Hill’s Floor Action Blog that, “The Senate starts work at 2 p.m. [today], and will continue to debate the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, S. 744. At 5 p.m., debate will shift to the Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act, S. 954.
“At 5:30 p.m., senators will vote on an amendment to the farm bill from Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Vt.), which would set up a pilot project for Internet projects in rural areas.
“After that, the Senate should be in a position to vote on final passage of the farm bill.”
Philip Brasher reported on Friday at Roll Call Online that, “Farmers know they’ll lose $5 billion in annual direct payments when a new farm bill passes. But up until now, few growers have complained about that prospect, because they know they can still count on buying federally subsidized crop insurance.
“However, those popular crop insurance policies may start coming with some strings attached. The Senate farm bill (S 954) would add a means test to the insurance program for the first time and would also begin requiring policyholders to comply with rules for protecting wetlands and preventing soil erosion.
“‘There is consternation out here in the countryside,’ said David Miller, director of research and commodity services for the Iowa Farm Bureau, that state’s largest and most powerful farm organization. The crop insurance restrictions are ‘making the Senate bill less attractive to people,’ he said.”
Mr. Brasher explained that, “The House Agriculture Committee’s farm bill (HR 1947) contains no new restrictions on crop insurance. But several amendments expected to be debated on the House floor include proposals to cap the amount of premium subsidies any one farmer can receive. The conservation compliance measure and adjusted gross income limit also are likely to be proposed as amendments.”
Chris Clayton reported on Friday at the DTN Ag Policy Blog that, “House Majority Leader Eric Cantor apparently won’t press another pause button on the farm bill.
“Cantor, a Republican from Virginia, sent a memo out Friday to other House Republicans. In it, Cantor outlined several key agenda items for the spring and summer, including another repeal vote on Obamacare, legislation to avoid rising interest rates for student loans and a bill to require the Securities and Exchange Commission to conduct more cost-benefit analysis for rule-making.
“In his memo, Cantor also stated on the summer agenda ‘and we will consider a farm bill produced by the Agriculture Committee and Frank Lucas.’”
Mr. Clayton added that, “The House Ag Committee is set for a May 15 markup for the farm bill and shooting to reduce the projected 10-year spending by $38 billion compared to current budget estimates.”
In a radio interview earlier this week with Mick Kjar (Ag News 890, Terry Loomis, Farm Director (Fargo, ND)), Senate Agriculture Committee member John Hoeven (R., N.D.) discussed the potential timing of the Farm Bill.
Sen. Hoeven noted that, “We had a meeting last Thursday, and we’re going to try to be, in our Ag Committee, marking up the [Farm] bill by the end of next week.”
If not by the end of next week, Sen. Hoeven added, “then we are going to start essentially the 13th –that week of the 13th…[W]e want to be to the Senate floor, in front of the full Senate in May.” (Ag News 890 audio clip here (MP3- 1:08)).
And speaking yesterday on the Agriculture Today radio program (The Red River Farm Network), Sen. Hoeven indicated that, “The Farm Bill is still going to emphasize crop insurance first.” (Agriculture Today audio clip here (MP3- 0:15)).
A news release Wednesday from Sen. Mark Udall (D., Colo.) stated that, “Six members of the Colorado congressional delegation are urging leaders of the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives Agriculture committees to pass a five-year Farm Bill. In a bipartisan and bicameral letter today, Senators Mark Udall and Michael Bennet [D] and Representatives Scott Tipton [R], Mike Coffman [R], Cory Gardner [R] and Ed Perlmutter [D] called the bill crucial for farmers, ranchers and rural economies across the state.”
A Purdue Universitynews release indicated yesterday that, “Last year, farmers didn’t have nearly enough rain for their wilted, drought-ravaged crops. So far this year, they have too much of it – so much that they can’t get into their fields to work them for planting.”
The update explained that, “[Purdue Extension agronomist Tony Vyn] advises farmers anxious to get into their fields not to succumb to three common tillage temptations: tilling too early or too often and when it’s too wet. He says farmers need to be patient and wait for a break in the weather.
“That break will come, but slowly. The outlook for the first half of May is continued frequent rainfall with below-normal temperatures for Indiana, said the State Climate Office, based at Purdue University. Both temperature and rainfall should moderate to more typical May conditions later in the month… [W]hen farmers do get into their fields, [Purdue Extension corn specialist Bob Nielsen] says 25 percent to 30 percent of the corn crop could be planted in a week and the rest of it a week later – still in time for maximum yield potential.”
Chris Clayton reported yesterday at the DTN Ag Policy Blog that, “The Senate Agriculture Committee hasn’t announced a date yet to mark up the farm bill, but Sen. Chuck Grassley told reporters Tuesday morning the committee will meet next week.
“Responding to a question about a mark-up session next week, Grassley, a Republican from Iowa, said, ‘That’s what I’ve heard and that’s what we’ll be ready for.’
“Grassley said most issues moving into the mark up have been resolved outside of the commodity title. ‘I’d say it’s the only title that’s not settled at this point. There’s pretty much agreement on the rest of the bill.’”
Mr. Clayton pointed out that, “Grassley acknowledged there would be attempts to reduce crop-insurance subsidies, but he said he didn’t think those would succeed. Grassley said 92% of farmers buy crop insurance. Attempts to limit it would reduce participation and lead to more payments for disaster programs.”
The DTN update added that, “Republicans are going to pursue more cuts in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., a member of the committee, has introduced a bill meant to reduce SNAP, — formerly called food stamps — by $30 billion over 10 years.”
Policy Issues: Crop Insurance, CRP, Nutrition, Animal Production (Antibiotics), and Disaster Declaration
Christopher Doering reported yesterday at The Des Moines Register Online that, “Crop insurance indemnities have risen to a record $17 billion for 2012 crop year, the U.S. Agriculture Department said in its latest report issued on Monday.
“The figure, which was up more than $700 million from the prior week, pushed the total for 2012 to $16.99 billion. The number is higher than 2011 when a series of natural disasters ranging from a freeze in Florida to drought in Texas prompted insurance companies to pay out a record $10.8 billion to farmers, short of the $12 billion they collected in premiums.
“The 2012 drought spread beyond the Midwest to affect more than 60 percent of the contiguous United States, making it the worst since the Dust Bowl in the 1930s. A sharp drop in crop yields pushed corn and soybean prices to record highs during the summer and costs to feed U.S. livestock soared, forcing ranchers to send their herds to slaughter rather than pay the higher feed costs.”
Rob Schultz reported earlier this week at Madison (Wis.) Online that, “The number of state farmers buying crop insurance this year could increase 15 percent after last year’s drought showed how well the program worked.”
“‘Just cropping the land is getting more and more and more expensive, and there’s so much more risk out there from the inputs compared to what your return is. That used to be widening, now it’s narrowing,’ [Michelle Austin, director of insurance services for Badgerland Financial] said.”
Ellyn Ferguson reported on Saturday at Roll Call Online that, “Mississippi’s Thad Cochran, the new ranking Republican on the Senate Agriculture Committee, could be the wild card among the congressional players involved in writing a farm bill that could have a chance of being signed into law this year.
“He took the top GOP seat at the start of the 113th Congress after asserting his seniority on the panel to move Pat Roberts of Kansas out of the spot. The change means not only new leadership but also a regional shift in power that is likely to alter the Senate farm bill’s direction.
“Cochran is expected to champion Southern growers who opposed the 2012 Senate farm bill written by Roberts and Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich. Despite opposition from Cochran and other Southern Republican committee members, the two leaders got the bill through the panel and the Senate floor with bipartisan support.”
The Roll Call article pointed out that, “On nutrition issues, Cochran may surprise those who want to see significant cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, a domestic food aid program for low-income people that constitutes more than half of all Agriculture Department and farm bill spending. The lawmaker says federal food programs such as SNAP and the national school lunch program have benefited his state, which ranks among the poorest in the nation.”
“So far, Cochran, a veteran of the Senate and a courtly practitioner of behind-the-scenes maneuvering, is keeping his farm bill plans to himself. He says he will seek consensus on a committee bill and does not plan to block or delay the legislation,” the Roll Call article said.
David Rogers reported yesterday at Politico that, “House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) said Thursday that he will move ahead a farm bill markup May 15 despite pressure from the Republican leadership to take more time first and consider tougher changes in the food stamp program to win over conservative votes.
“Lucas told POLITICO that he was fully prepared to hold listening sessions first with the Republican whip’s office over the next month. But he wants to keep to his schedule and produce a bipartisan bill together with his ranking Democrat, Minnesota Rep. Collin Peterson.
“‘They suggested I take a little more time,’ Lucas said of a meeting Thursday with Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and his top staff. ‘I said I wanted to go May 15 but would be happy to hold the listening sessions to hear what my colleagues think.’”
Mr. Rogers added that, “As the floor leader, Cantor is said to be worried still about the ability to win over conservative support for any farm bill, and Lucas has felt pressure from the leadership to steer more to the right and consider tougher work requirements for food stamp beneficiaries, for example.”
In part, Sen. Roberts pointed to legislation he introduced last week relating to crop insurance. Noting the drought conditions on the high plains, he stated that, “We’re in desperate need of moisture, but we’re also in desperate need of crop insurance. That’s the number one item of concern, I don’t care what farm hearing you have, what region of the country you have, where you are, both the lender and the farmer need the crop insurance.”
Scott Wilson and Zachary A. Goldfarb reported in yesterday’s Washington Post that, “Five months after his resounding reelection victory, President Obama is bumping up against the boundaries of his political power in Washington as the core of his second-term legislative agenda moves into a still-divided Congress.
“His ability to secure the three high-profile legislative items now confronting Congress — gun-control measures, reform of the immigration system and his long-term budget priorities — is likely to determine his domestic legacy.”
In a radio interview earlier this week with Mick Kjar (Ag News 890, Terry Loomis, Farm Director (Fargo, ND)), House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D., Minn.) discussed several policy variables regarding the Farm Bill.
Rep. Peterson pointed to the likelihood that the House could move on the Farm Bill before the Senate does and highlighted the possibility of the legislation being marked up in the Committee around the week of May 6. (Ag News 890 audio clip here (MP3- 1:05)).
Executive Branch Budget Proposal- Agricultural Related Issues
DTN Ag Policy Editor Chris Clayton reported yesterday (link requires subscription) that, “The budget proposal President Barack Obama released Wednesday [full budget here, agriculture section here] is unlikely to gain any traction in agriculture, particularly in areas such as cuts to crop insurance or shifts in international food aid.
“The president’s proposal — released two months behind schedule — would cut $37.8 billion from farm programs and crop insurance. That compares to the Senate Agriculture Committee’s plan for a $23 billion cut in the entire farm bill last year while the House Agriculture Committee passed $35 billion in savings.”
Mr. Clayton added that, “Once again, the administration proposes to eliminate direct payments, which Congress also is willing to do, but also to include a disaster program even though Congress let the disaster program expire in 2012.”
Yesterday’s update explained that, “The Farm Bureau has substantially changed its vision for the farm subsidies this year, although it once again backs ending direct payments.
“‘Last year, Congress merely extended the old 2008 farm bill until Sept. 30 of this year. Now, while unfortunately we have less money to work with, it is vital that Congress complete a new five-year farm bill this year. Doing so is in the economic interest of our entire nation,’ Farm Bureau president Bob Stallman said in a release.”
Bloomberg writer Alan Bjerga reported earlier this week that, “Corn’s 25 percent drop from a record reached in August won’t affect possible purchases of sugar for use in ethanol as the government tries to stem a sweetener glut, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said.
“A projected record corn harvestwon’t influence the U.S. Department of Agriculture as it decides whether to purchase sugar for use in ethanol plants, potentially increasing a glut of the grain while decreasing sugar inventories, Vilsack said yesterday in an interview. The agency is required to manage sugar supplies under federal law, and biofuel use is one tool to prop up prices that are approaching levels at which the government is required to buy up inventories, he said.
“‘There’s obviously a significant oversupply, and the law requires us to deal with an oversupply,’ Vilsack said. ‘There are consequences if we don’t deal with it that are fiscally more dire than if we do deal with it,’ possibly by buying sugar for biofuels plants, he said. Nearly all U.S. ethanol is made from corn.”
The Bloomberg article noted that, “Prices for domestic sugar dropped 40 percent in the 12 months ended yesterday as stockpiles climbed to their highest in a decade, potentially triggering federal purchases. Corn has plummeted from its Aug. 10 record of $8.49 a bushel as the worst drought since the 1930s gave way to forecasts for the biggest harvest ever this year, which would triple inventories by 2014.”
Gregory Meyer reported yesterday at The Financial Times Online that, “Grain prices collapsed for a second straight session on Monday as the market absorbed the implications of a report showing higher than estimated US corn stocks.
“The falls came after a pair of surveys released last Thursday by the US that highlighted its continued importance as a food commodities supplier even as rivals such as Argentina, Brazil and Ukraine took bigger shares of world exports.
“In Chicago, CBOT May corn closed down 7.6 per cent on Monday to $6.4225 a bushel, the lowest since last June. This followed a 5.4 per cent fall on Thursday before a break for the Easter holiday weekend. Corn prices have experienced their largest two-day fall in percentage terms since 1996.”
Ashley Parker and Steven Greenhouse reported in Saturday’s New York Times that, “The nation’s top business and labor groups were near agreement Friday on a guest worker program for low-skilled immigrants, closing in on a deal that would eliminate one of the last significant obstacles to a new proposal for a broad overhaul of immigration laws, officials involved in the talks said.
“The progress in the talks, which stalled late last week, had members of a bipartisan group of eight senators that has been working on an immigration bill increasingly optimistic that they would be able to introduce comprehensive legislation in the Senate when Congress returns the second week of April.”
The Times article explained that, “Some involved in the negotiations remained hopeful that a deal would be reached by the weekend, but the Congressional recess, along with the Good Friday observance, made it difficult to lock all the moving pieces in place, those close to the talks said. And, while the members of the bipartisan group were optimistic, aides cautioned that no deal would be final until all the senators had signed off on every piece of the legislation.”