Emmarie Huetteman and Ron Nixon reported late last week at The New York Times Online that, “A House vote on an Agriculture Department spending bill containing a provision that would allow schools to opt out of the Obama administration’s nutrition standards for school meals has been delayed until sometime next week, a senior Republican aide said Thursday.”
The article noted that, “Representative Robert B. Aderholt, Republican of Alabama and chairman of a House subcommittee on agriculture appropriations, has said that delaying the rules would give schools 12 months to help them comply.
“Senator Debbie Stabenow, Democrat of Michigan and chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said that she recognized that some schools might have problems complying with the nutritional standards and the added cost.
“But Ms. Stabenow said that paying for healthier foods in schools costs less than treating conditions like Type 2 diabetes and hypertension in children, on which $14 billion is spent a year. She said she would work with other lawmakers to help schools but opposed any effort to delay the nutritional standards.”
A news release yesterday from Cargill indicated that, “Cargill, one of the largest pork producers in the U.S., is continuing its commitment of moving to group housing for its sows that produce hogs for pork. Company owned facilities will be 100 percent group housing by the end of calendar 2015. Contract hog farms that contain Cargill-owned sows will transition to 100 percent group housing by the end of calendar 2017. The hogs produced by Cargill-owned sows represent approximately 30 percent of the total hogs harvested annually at the company’s two pork processing facilities in Illinois and Iowa.”
The update noted that, “Based upon the timetable Cargill has set up for completing the transition to group housing for gestating sows, the company will be prepared to support ‘early adopter’ customers seeking pork products from alternative sow housing in the next few years.”
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.”
“The CFTC fares better than in the past in that the GOP allows for a modest $3 million increase for information technology investments. But the $218 million budget is still $62 million less than President Barack Obama’s request and continues a pattern that has frustrated the administration’s ability to implement Wall Street reforms called for under the Dodd-Frank law enacted in July 2010.
“In the case of nutrition programs, the House bill seeks to open the door for starchy, white potatoes to be added to the list of qualified vegetables under the WIC supplemental feeding program for pregnant women and their young children. The Agriculture Department would also be required to establish a waiver process for local school districts which have found it too costly to comply with tougher nutrition standards for school lunch and breakfast programs.”
DTN Ag Policy Editor Chris Clayton reported yesterday that, “Demonstrating some of the complications involved in agriculture and climate change, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsackdisputed Republican views on the Obama administration’s work with dairy producers to reduce methane while the secretary also dismissed a study raising doubts about carbon emissions from cellulosic biofuels.
“Vilsack spoke at an Earth Day forum on climate change held at Drake University and co-sponsored by the magazine New Republic and the League of Women Voters.
“USDA also used the forum to announce $6 million in grants to 10 universitiesto study the effects of climate change on agriculture. The universities are designated as USDA’s ‘climate hubs’ to help producers adapt to changing climate conditions.”
An update posted yesterday at fibre2fashion.com reported that, “The board of the Brazilian Association of Cotton Producers (ABRAPA) has called for a speedy implementation of the World Trade Organization (WTO) panel against the US farm bill, especially in view of the conflict with US regarding the cotton subsidies.
“According to a statement issued by ABRAPA, board members of ABRAPA recently met with Brazilian Ambassador to WTO Paulo Estivallet de Mesquita, also the director of the Economic Department of the Brazilian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), and requested him to seek for quick action from the WTO panel against the US farm bill [sic].”
Earlier this week on The Rachel Maddow Show (MSNBC- television), Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack was asked about the minimum wage and noted that, “When you raise the minimum wage, you raise wages for 28 million Americans. About 50 percent of those Americans make less than $35,000 a year. A substantial percentage of those folks live in rural communities that I care deeply about. You raise those wages, you are absolutely going to move people out of the need for SNAP or as much SNAP as they`ve been currently receiving, the food stamps.”
Elaborating on the SNAP program, Sec. Vilsack noted that, “[B]ecause the recent farm bill, there was a conversation about potentially reducing food stamps by $40 billion. That didn`t go anywhere and it ended up being a very small reduction and many governors around the country are figuring out ways to even avoid that reduction…[S]ixty-six percent of people receiving food stamps are one of three types of individual. You`re either a child, a person with a disability, or a senior citizen. Add the 7 percent that are veterans, and you have nearly three quarters of the people receiving food stamps, not any politician is going to want to cut support for children, for senior citizens, for people with disabilities and veterans.
“And then when you realized that 42 percent of food stamp recipient families are earning some kind of wage, that only 8 percent of all food stamp recipients are receiving cash welfare, this is really about the working poor. That`s why raising the minimum wage will help move people out of SNAP and out of dependence on that food assistance program.”
In his prepared remarks to the Subcommittee, Under Sec. Scuse noted that, “The President’s Budget includes a proposal to consolidate 250 field offices. However, there are steps that need to be taken to reshape and restructure our county offices and workforce before we can begin actively planning any office consolidation plan. So far, the agency has not identified any specific offices for closure and implementation of these changes will carry over beyond FY 2015. FSA is proposing to reduce non-federal staff by 815 FTEs, saving $61.6 million, and realigning approximately 300 federal headquarters and state office oversight staff to the county offices, saving $6.8 million.
“To promote increased efficiency, the IT request includes base funding to continue contract services that support modernization, development and maintenance of applications systems, and deployment support (e.g. data and database administration, testing and certification, and security). These funds will enable FSA to maintain essential program delivery and operations in the field, as well as provide support for improvements. This funding includes 65.0 million for MIDAS.”
In his opening statement, Subcommittee Chairman Robert Aderholt (R., Ala.) indicated that, “We will explore two of the more controversial proposals from the Farm Service Agency that call for a reduction of 815 non-federal permanent full time staff years and the closure of 250 county offices. While all of us on the Subcommittee are proponents of efficiencies, many of us here are not convinced that FSA has fully developed these plans and the savings associated with the proposals.”
Chairman Aderholt inquired about proposed technological advancements at yesterday’s hearing. He noted that proposed efficiencies from fewer FSA offices are contingent on successful implementation of necessary technological variables that are used in the field offices, including the FSA “MIDAS” software. To listen to a portion of a discussion on this issue, including remarks about MIDAS between Chairman Aderholt and Under Sec. Scuse, just click here (MP3- 1:43).
At an April 8 Senate Agriculture hearing, Senator John Hoeven (R-ND) and Richard Childress, former NASCAR driver, testify of the importance of increased blender pumps to provide consumers with greater choice at the pump.
Today Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D., N.D.) participated in a Senate Ag Committee hearing where she reinforced the importance of biofuels toward building a strong all-of-the-above energy strategy, and highlighted the need for policies that support biofuels.
A news release yesterday from USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) indicated that, “Producers surveyed across the United States intend to plant an estimated 81.5 million acres of soybeans in 2014, up 6 percent from last year and an all-time record high, according to the Prospective Plantings report released today by [NASS]. If realized, soybeans will surpass the previous record of 77.5 million acres planted in the United States set in 2009.”
The release added that, “Corn growers intend to plant 91.7 million acres in 2014, down 4 percent from last year and if realized the lowest planted acreage since 2010. Expected returns for corn are anticipated to be lower in 2014 compared with recent years [related graph].”
Climate Issues- White House Proposal, and Farm Bill Issues
Justin Gillis reported on the front page of today’s New York Times that, “Climate change is already having sweeping effects on every continent and throughout the world’s oceans, scientists reported Monday, and they warned that the problem is likely to grow substantially worse unless greenhouse emissions are brought under control.
“The report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations group that periodically summarizes climate science, concluded that ice caps are melting, sea ice in the Arctic is collapsing, water supplies are coming under stress, heat waves and heavy rains are intensifying, coral reefs are dying, and fish and many other creatures are migrating toward the poles or in some cases going extinct.”
Chapter Seven of the report, which is available here, is titled, “Food Security & Food Production Systems.”
Ellyn Ferguson reported yesterday at Roll Call Online that, “Large-scale farming and agribusiness, derisively dubbed Big Ag by critics, look to polish their image this week with a Statuary Hall ceremony for a hero in the field and a screening of a documentary about young farmers and ranchers.
“On Tuesday, top lawmakers, including Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, plan to attend the installation of a bronze statue of plant scientist Norman E. Borlaug. Borlaug is hailed as the father of the 1960s ‘Green Revolution’ that improved crop production in Mexico and Asia.”
Reuters news reported on Friday that, “China’s corn imports from the United States, the world’s top exporter, decreased sharply in February, hurt by Beijing’s rejection of an unapproved genetically-modified (GMO) strain, but imports from Ukrainesurged, official customs data showed on Friday.”
The article explained that, “Beijing has since November rejected a total of about 900,000 tonnes of corn from the United States after detecting Syngenta corn strain MIR 162, which is not approved by China’s agriculture ministry for import.
“But China’s imports of non-GMO corn from Ukraine surged to 192,374 tonnes in February, bringing the country’s total imports in the month to 479,758 tonnes, up 21.74 percent on year, data showed.
“China started importing corn from Ukraine late last year and feed mills continue to book cargoes under a loan-for-grains deal signed in 2012.”
Paul Davidson reported this week at USA Today Online that, “Prices are rising for a range of food staples, from meat and pork to fruits and vegetables, squeezing consumers still struggling with modest wage gains.