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.
Damian Paletta reported this week at The Real Time Economics Blog (Wall Street Journal) that, “After years of increases that defied the roaring stock market of 2013 and the slowly falling unemployment rate, the number of Americans receiving food stamps appears to be easing. Somewhat. Very, very slowly.
The Journal update explained that, “SNAP data can bounce around, and it’s unclear whether the number of people receiving benefits will continue to fall. The December figures don’t take into account changes that were made in February when Congress passed a farm bill that included new limits on who can receive food stamps. Also, as more and more Americans return to work and earn more money, the number of people receiving these benefits is expected to fall, though many thought total enrollment would fall more quickly than it has.”
Jennifer Steinhauer reported in yesterday’s New York Times that, “Within [the farm bill signed by President Obamalast month] is a significant shift in the types of farmers who are now benefiting from taxpayer dollars, reflecting a decade of changing eating habits and cultural dispositions among American consumers. Organic farmers, fruit growers and hemp producers all did well in the new bill. An emphasis on locally grown, healthful foods appeals to a broad base of their constituents, members of both major parties said.”
The article noted that, “While traditional commodities subsidies were cut by more than 30 percent to $23 billion over 10 years, funding for fruits and vegetables and organic programs increased by more than 50 percent over the same period, to about $3 billion.
“Fruit and vegetable farmers, who have been largely shut out of the crop insurance programs that grain and other farmers have enjoyed for decades, now have far greater access. Other programs for those crops were increased by 55 percent from the 2008 bill, which expired last year, and block grants for their marketing programs grew exponentially.”
A news release on Friday (“U.S. Sugar Producers Set Sights on Foreign Subsidies”) indicated that, “With a strong five-year sugar policy at their side, U.S. sugar producers are now setting their sights on addressing the foreign sugar subsidies that make U.S. sugar policy necessary. That’s according to Jack Roney, director of economics and policy analysis for the American Sugar Alliance (ASA), who spoke today at the USDA Agricultural Outlook Forum.
“‘U.S. sugar producers are among the most efficient in the world, and we would thrive in a global freemarket, if one existed,’ he explained. ‘But historically, sugar has been and continues to be the world’s most distorted commodity market because of foreign subsidization. Something must be done about it.’
“Roney says that sugar producers are so serious about addressing foreign subsidies that, even after passage of a five-year Farm Bill, they still remain willing to give up U.S. sugar policy if other countries will end their direct and indirect market-distorting policies.”
In part, today’s article noted that, “But just as a new industry for Iowa is about to take root, a proposed change in government policy could limit demand for ethanol and send new plants and jobs to other countries. Think Brazil, China or European nations…The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has proposed reducing the amount of renewable fuel that must be blended into the fuel supply that powers American vehicles. The EPA says it’s bending to market realities: The mandates were too aggressive and hard to reach, given that autos have become more fuel-efficient.”
The Register article added that, “Using cellulosic ethanol in your tank is expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 86 percent when compared with gasoline, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Corn-based ethanol, as it’s currently made, reduces greenhouse gases an average of about 20 percent.” (See related video below).
Reuters writer Christine Stebbins reported yesterday that, “U.S. farmers and bankers have almost a year to get ready for major changes in 2015 as crop insurance rather than direct cash payments to producers becomes the centerpiece of farm policy under the five-year farm bill signed by President Barack Obama earlier this month.
“For 2014 plantings, analysts said there will be no major changes to crop insuranceexcept sharply lower grain prices than in 2013, which will lower potential payments and premiums. Then in 2015, farmers will have a new insurance option for supplemental coverage based on local county yields.”
“‘The message is crop insurance does become the foundation of the farm bill and the primary safety net for producers because they have lost all those direct payments,’ [Michael Barrett, senior vice president for crop insurance at Farm Credit Services of America] said.”