Senator Marco Rubio (R., Fla) was a guest on Thursday’s AgriTalk radio program with Mike Adams, where the conversation focused on immigration, trade, and regulation.
This is an unofficial FarmPolicy.com transcript of their discussion.
Mr. Adams: Welcome back to AgriTalk here in Washington, D.C. Yesterday I had the opportunity to talk with Florida Senator Marco Rubio. We had an exchange back and forth, difference of opinion on Cuba. We also talked a number of ag issues. But I started off asking Senator Rubio does he have any plans, any announcements coming about possibly running for President.
I have to start off—I mean, you’ve got a great setting here, this is going to be on the radio—we keep a pretty good secret. We wouldn’t let it get out of this room. Do you want to make any announcements while you’re here?
Sen. Rubio: Yes, I do. I do. I saved a bunch of money by switching to Geico. [Laughter.] That’s actually not true, I’m still on State Farm, but I thought it was funny, you know. [Laughter.]
Mr. Adams: Be careful Brian Williams, in how you tell your stories now, okay? We don’t want you to get in trouble. Well, we’re so glad that you are with us. And let’s just talk for a little bit and then we’ll open it up to the audience. We just heard from Chairman Conaway his thoughts on how we can address the immigration issue. I know you’re very involved in this.
We look at it in this group, I think, two different ways. Obviously we want to get some kind of resolution nationally, but there’s also the ag labor component to this we’re trying to get resolved as well. How do we approach it? Does it have to be all or nothing or can it be piece by piece?
Sen. Rubio: Well, a couple points. First of all, it’s a critical issue with regards to workforce, and that’s true all over the country. Virtually, there’s no sector—there are some mechanized sectors in agriculture, but by and large agriculture is reliant upon labor. And I’ve actually met some of these folks, both in Florida and in other parts of the country, in South Carolina very recently, in a peach operation, that are dealing with labor problems.
We need a reliable system that allows us to bring to this country, on a seasonal or year-round basis, temporary workers who want to work in agriculture, but do not want to be here permanently—and those are millions of people. And there’s a recognition of that in this country. I think there is a broad recognition of that, that we need to address that. The problem is that it has been wrapped up in the broader issue of immigration, which is much more complex.
Now I would start by saying there’s a significant amount of people in this country illegally who quite frankly never want to be citizens, do not want to be permanent residents, they just want to work for nine months out of the year, or six months, or eight months, they want to go back home for a period of time, and they want to come back again next year when their labor is needed. But they’re afraid to leave because if they do, they’re going to have to sneak back in again next year, so they stay. Because again, we don’t have a cost effective program that works for every part of agriculture, and that has to be fixed.
I personally worked on negotiating the differences out there between different ag groups across the country, those who represent farm workers, on a program as part of the comprehensive approach. But the lesson of 2013 and our efforts is that you’re not going to be able to deal with something like immigration in one massive piece of legislation. And the primary reason for it is because there is the belief in this country, increasingly, rightfully so, that any massive piece of legislation will never follow through on the enforcement pieces.
And so if you do something to deal with ten million people that are here illegally, unless you enforce the law, you’re going to have ten million more a decade from now, and people aren’t prepared to do that. So I think the key to doing anything on immigration is to prove to the American people that we’re serious about enforcing our immigration laws, but as part of that, one of the things that would really relieve the pressure is to have a system that allows people to come here legally and work when their labor is necessary, and return back to their home country, and return again in the future if their labor is needed again, as it will be. And so I do have hope that we can deal with that.
And if we were only dealing with that issue, I think we could make tremendous progress. The problem has been that many advocates for immigration reform want it all or nothing, because they’re afraid that the minute agriculture gets what it wants, it will stop lobbying on behalf of immigration reform; the day technology companies get what they want, they’ll stop lobbying, and so forth, so they want to hold everyone together as a coalition, and that’s been the impediment.
Mr. Adams: The next topic—and I assume you and I are probably going to disagree on this—I just disagreed with Chairman Conaway, so…
Sen. Rubio: Yeah, okay.
Mr. Adams: Let’s talk Cuba. The President’s pushing to open up Cuba. Agriculture groups want to do more trade with Cuba. How do you feel about it?
Sen. Rubio: Well, first of all, there are agricultural goods that are allowed to be sold in Cuba, but they’re not allowed to do it on credit, and there’s a reason why: they don’t pay. And that’s a big problem. The second point I would make is the following. My interest in Cuba—this is my only interest in Cuba. I want Cubans to be free in a democracy.
I believe, in addition to my personal connection to the issue, I believe it is bad for the national security of the United States to have an anti-American dictatorship 90 miles from our shores. I’ll support any policy towards Cuba that achieves that goal.
I do not believe that a unilateral opening to Cuba will achieve that goal, for the following reason: there is no such thing as the Cuban economy. The entire Cuban economy is owned by the Cuban government, primarily the Cuban military, through a holding company by the name of GAESA, G-A-E-S-A. They own everything. They own the hotels, they own the farms, they own everything.
To do business with Cuba requires you to do business with the military dictatorship. And doing business with them is not a two-way street. It is they will pick and choose who they allow in, what they allow in on their terms, and they will not allow anything in that could provide any sort of democratic opening on the island, which is what I primarily care about in terms of the future of the Cuban people.
And that’s my concern, that you’re going to have a leadership transition, because the actuarial tables tell you that the current leaders, who are all over 80 something years of age, will not be there forever. And I want us to have leverage to be able to say if you want a better relationship with the United States, we need to see these things: we need to see independent political parties, we need to see the ability of people to organize themselves and speak openly, and have freedom of the press, and so forth. If you give these things away without any of those openings, what leverage do you have in the future for that?
And here’s one more point I would make. Every single piece of farmland in Cuba today, every major agricultural property in Cuba today was once owned by a private owner, including American companies. They were stolen. They were confiscated. There’s $7 billion worth of American claims on the island of Cuba that we were never compensated for.
If you allow the import—this is the reverse of perhaps what the farm bureaus around the country want—if you allow the import of agricultural goods from Cuba to the United States, you are allowing them to traffic in stolen goods. They stole someone’s farm, they stole someone’s equipment, and they’re now going to make a profit off what they stole without compensating, including American companies—United Fruit Company—but also individuals.
You know, my family comes from a farming background in Cuba. They weren’t landowners, they were sharecroppers. They grew tobacco. But that property today is completely in the control of the Cuban government. There’s no profit motive. That’s why Cuban cigars are no longer any good. But the point being that that’s a factor that no one’s talking about. There are $7 billion worth of claims that are completely uncompensated.
Imagine if someone came in and stole your farm and 15 years later, they are growing crops on that farm and selling it to the country you went to for a profit, using the things you…your land, your equipment, what you invested in. That’s another part of it we haven’t discussed.
Mr. Adams: In case you do have aspirations for another job somewhere down the line, what would you say to agriculture? Many in agriculture and other parts of the country not really familiar with you or your policies or what you would push for if you got that new job. What can you tell this group about your ag positions?
Sen. Rubio: Well, first of all, as I said, I have a family connection. My grandfather was the single greatest influence on my life growing up, and it all entailed…you know, he was one of 17 children. Was a labor program, I guess, that they were undergoing, but… [Laughter.] He was the only one that couldn’t work on the [field]. He had polio when he was six years old, so he actually went out and learned how to read and write, and struggled because he was disabled from polio.
But nevertheless, Florida is an enormous agriculture state. People associate Florida with real estate, no income tax, and Walt Disney World. All are great—and beaches. But we have an enormous ag component. And it’s one that’s endangered by a number of things.
First of all, by unfair trade practices that we see, whether it’s dumping of tomatoes from Mexico or some of the other issues. But the other issue we’ve really begun to face is both environmental regulations from the EPA—we had a [numeric] nutrient content fight a year ago where they basically tried to come in and impose standards that would make the water even cleaner than what comes out of your tap, in some instances, on agriculture.
And the other threat we face is invasive species. And in particular we’re having a problem now—we’ve got a [canker] problem in Florida that almost wiped out the citrus industry, and now we have a greening problem that actually—the canker ruined the fruit, the greening destroys the trees.
And the problem with losing agriculture is when you lose agricultural land and it becomes developable now because it becomes the highest, best use, you can never get it back. Once someone builds a multifamily housing complex on a piece of agricultural land, you can never come back ten years later and turn it back into farming. And that’s a major problem. You lose the capacity to grow food and to feed your people.
We take that for granted in the United States. We have a lot of people in this country that, when you ask them where does food come from, they’ll say the supermarket. They don’t realize that someone had to grow it. And we take for granted that we have a plethora of food and that we have it in what’s basically still affordable in comparison to the rest of the world, although prices have gone up a little bit, but not necessarily because of agriculture’s fault. And we take that for granted. Food security is even more important than energy security in terms of the future of our country. And if you lose the capacity to feed your people, not to mention export and provide products to others, you lose a major component of your economy.
So what are the threats from government in that regard? The first, of course, is these environmental regulations. The second, for example, is the interpretation of existing law from regulatory agencies like the Waters of the United States issue that we’re trying to address in the budget.
And the third role government can play is with basic research. This greening issue, as I pointed out, is something that the University of Florida, through a program called [IFAS], has been doing round the clock research to try to fix. If we don’t fix that issue, it is not unforeseeable that in less than a decade we will have no Florida citrus left. That, to me, is unimaginable for a state so identified with oranges and grapefruits.
And last is I think it’s important for us to open up free and fair trade with allies and partners around the world. It has to be on terms that are fair. So I believe in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, but that means that we need to have a deal with Japan that allows us to sell beef and other products into their markets. I think it’s important for these deals. It’s good for us to have millions of people around the world that can afford to buy what we grow, millions of people in the consumer class.
But it has to be on terms that are fair to the American agriculture sector, because I can tell you many of our agricultural products have to compete against other nations that heavily subsidize their industries and have zero environmental or labor regulations over their head compared to ours. And if they can undercut our growers, wipe them out, put them out of business, they then control the global market and can charge us anything they want, and as I said, we lose the growing capacity.
Mr. Adams: See, he can talk ag. There we go. All right. [Applause.]
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.
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.”
Donnelle Eller and Jennifer Jacobs reported on the front page of Sunday’s Des Moines Register that, “Nine GOP White House contenders did their best to sound more compelling and better-versed on farm-related matters than their competitors Saturday as they were quizzed during an unusual showcase of agriculture policy on the presidential campaign trail.”
The Register writers explained that, “Unlike the raucous, free-wheeling political rock concert that was the freedom summit, which was hosted by conservative Republican U.S. Rep. Steve King, [moderator and pork and ethanol entrepreneur Bruce Rastetter], a mainstream Republican, kept tighter control on the conversation. He staged a living-room-like setting with leather chairs and a vase of tulips and conducted interview-style question-and-answer sessions on renewable fuels, the wind energy production tax credit, normalizing trade with Cuba, biotechnology, illegal immigration, water pollution from farm runoff and other topics.
“The mood in the crowd of about 900 was warm but mostly subdued as they heard from, in order: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, former New York Gov. George Pataki and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. Despite the free tickets and free lunch, a third of the seats were empty by afternoon.”
Sunday’s article noted that, “The Republicans’ stances differed little except on the Renewable Fuel Standard, a federal mandate that outlines how much ethanol and biodiesel must be blended annually into the country’s fuel supply. Most said they understand and accept the need for the mandate, at least until it can be phased out. Santorum and Huckabee in particular passionately defended it.
“But Pataki expressed vocal opposition to the RFS, as did Cruz, whose answers were met with applause.”
A news release on Friday from USDA’s Farm Service Agency stated that, “Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced today that a one-time extension will be provided to producers for the new safety-net programs established by the 2014 Farm Bill, known as Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) and Price Loss Coverage (PLC). The final day to update yield history or reallocate base acres has been extended one additional month, from Feb. 27, 2015 until March 31, 2015. The final day for farm owners and producers to choose ARC or PLC coverage also remains March 31, 2015.”
Also on Friday, Senate Ag Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R., Kan.) stated that, “‘USDA heard the concerns directly from producers earlier this week at our first Committee hearing and took action as a result,’ Chairman Roberts said. ‘I would encourage all producers to visit their local FSA office as soon as possible to make sure they have enough time and information to make these important decisions.’”
Reuters writer Christine Stebbins reported on Friday that, “Crop insurance price guarantees for U.S. corn, soybeans and spring wheat in 2015 will fall 10 percent or more based on futures settlement prices for February, grain analysts said on Friday.
“The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Risk Management Agency (RMA), which oversees the multibillion-dollar crop insurance program, by law uses the average price in February for harvest-time grain futures contracts to set the ‘floor’ price that private insurers must guarantee farmers who sign up…[B]ased on Friday’s futures closes, the RMA is expected to set the floor price for corn at $4.15 a bushel, down 10 percent from last year’s $4.62, and for soybeans at $9.73 a bushel, down 14 percent from last year’s $11.36.”
Labor related disputes at some West Coast ports continue to hamper container product movement, with one consequence being negative implications for the agricultural sector. The port issue was front-page news in Sunday’s Los Angeles Times as well as Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal.
Mickey Kantor, a former U.S. trade representative and secretary of Commerce, noted in Tuesday’s Los Angeles Times that, “If the West Coast’s 29 ports are not returned to full operation soon, it will create a shock wave that reverberates across the economy, derailing a promising economic recovery that is creating jobs and restoring a sense of economic security for the nation…[F]or American farmers, the cost of a shutdown is equally crippling, as orders for many agricultural products are already taking a hit because of the uncertainty over whether they can be delivered in time.
“The Washington, D.C.-based Agriculture Transportation Coalition, which tracks ocean shipping issues, estimated in December that nationwide the lost sales for fruits, vegetables and meats totaled more than $400 million per week. In California, citrus growers are being hit especially hard. Their trade association reckons reductions in sales to Asian markets are already down 25%, costing growers an estimated $125 million.”
Amb. Kantor added that, “President Obamahas directed Labor Secretary Thomas Perez to engage in the dispute to revive negotiations, which is a welcome sign. He is scheduled to meet Tuesday with the employer group, the Pacific Maritime Assn., and with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union. But the president must be prepared to use his bully pulpit — and all other means at his disposal — to ensure that our nation remains open for business.”
An update on Tuesday at The Japan News Online indicated that, “Prime Minister Shinzo Abe expressed on Tuesday his desire for an early conclusion of the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement.
“‘[The negotiations] are in their final phase. I’ll seek the road that best serves the nation’s interests by protecting what needs to be protected and pushing for what we want,’ Abe said about the TPP negotiations during a question-and-answer session at the plenary session of the House of Councillors.”
Adam Behsudi reported at the Tuesday Politico Morning Trade newsletter that, “The Senate is likely to be the first chamber to consider key legislation for getting the landmark Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement and other trade deals easily passed in Congress, House Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan said Friday. ‘Our calendar is pretty crowded, and they, I believe, have reserved calendar space to do that, so I literally think it’s a legislative calendar issue,’ the Wisconsin Republican said in a briefing with reporters.
“The introduction of a ‘trade promotion authority’ bill could come as soon as next week following the Presidents Day recess. But if the Senate passes the legislation first, a new procedural step would have to be added to the process.”
For a more detailed look at the political play regarding TPA, TPP and currency related issues among lawmakers, and between the executive and legislative branch, see “Currency Battle Is Tethered to Obama Trade Agenda,” by Jonathan Weisman, which was published on the front page of the Business Section in Monday’s New York Times.
Recent reports of a growing U.S. hog herd have been noted, while simultaneously, anecdotally related articles regarding citizen concerns and litigation over the potential negative environmental impacts of some large scale animal operations have also been published in recent days.
Meanwhile, new FAA rules regarding drone use were noted on the front page of Tuesday’s Des Moines Register, it appears that at least for now, one primary use of drones in the ag sector is for detailed and efficient crop scouting.
Jack Nicas and Andy Pasztor reported on the front page of the new “Business and Tech” section of Tuesday’s The Wall Street Journal that, “Long-awaited federal rules proposed for commercial drones should pave the way for thousands of U.S. businesses to fly the devices in industries like filmmaking, farming and construction, but drone proponents worried that limits in the regulations would stifle other possible uses like package delivery.”
The Journal writers added that, “Ted Ellett, a former FAA chief counsel who represents companies that want to use drones, said the proposal ‘seems to be close to a home run’ for many of his clients and their peers.
“Drones for farming would likely thrive under the proposal, he said, but the FAA’s proposed limits still would allow the agency to block drone flights if they pass ‘over a single farmer on his tractor in the middle of a 100-acre field in Iowa.’”
And, Katy Burne reported in Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal that, “U.S. regulators are poised to introduce measures that would ensure anonymity for traders in the $700 trillion market for swaps, said people familiar with the discussions, a flip-flop that would hand a victory to hedge funds and speedy trading firms while dealing a blow to banks.
“The planned action from the Commodity Futures Trading Commission would encourage trading among any and all market participants, mirroring futures markets that the agency also oversees, and would raise the chance of traders dealing directly with one another, potentially bypassing banks that have historically been major providers for these complex transactions, the people said.
“The CFTC measures could be unveiled as soon as next month and may come as a rule change or as staff guidance, the people familiar said. The Wall Street Journal reported in November that the CFTC was scrutinizing identity disclosures in swaps. A spokesman for the agency declined to comment.”
Fred Barbash reported on Tuesday at The Washington Post Online that, “A federal judge in Texas last night temporarily blocked the Obama administration’s executive actions on immigration. The judge, responding to a suit filed by 26 Republican-run states, did not rule on the legality of immigration orders but said there was sufficient merit to the challenge to warrant a suspension while the case goes forward.”
Issues regarding immigration and the budget for the Department of Homeland Security also continue to percolate.
Earlier this week, Politico’s Jason Huffman and Bill Tomson sat down with Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack “to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the 2014 Farm Bill.” A video replay of this discussion is available here, while an unofficial FarmPolicy.com transcript of the interview can be found here.
In part, Sec. Vilsack indicated that, “I think basically what Congress had a difficult time determining is when a non-farm family individual is actively engaged in farming enough so that they qualify to participate in some of the safety net programs. This is a notion of actively engaged, who is actively engaged in terms of providing management responsibilities.
“This involves a very narrow percentage of folks who are in the business of farming, primarily limited partnerships, general partnerships. It doesn’t involve family farms, it doesn’t involve family farm corporations. So our expectation is that probably one to two percent, or perhaps even fewer of the overall farmers are going to be impacted by however we define actively engaged.”
Sec. Vislack added that, “We’re working through that process and I think we have a pretty good handle on it. We’re working it through the regulatory process right now, and I would anticipate and expect sometime in 2015, relatively shortly, we’ll be coming out with how we define it and asking for comment on whether or not we’ve got it right or not.
“The reality is that this has been a loophole that has been utilized by folks in partnerships to allow for many, many, many people to qualify as actively engaged, when in fact they might be only engaged in a conference call or in a very narrow sense participating in the decision-making in a farming operation. So we will close that loophole to the extent that we can, but Congress is not giving us a whole lot of room to do that.”
A recent update at the Red River Farm Network Online indicated that, “Minnesota Congressman Collin Peterson, who is the ranking member on the House Agriculture Committee, says the heavy lifting is done for the 2014 farm bill. ‘We’ve got everybody on board now with a position that it is not going to be reopened so now the issue is making sure it is implemented correctly.’ While it won’t be reopened, Peterson says the farm bill will likely be subject to criticism once the costs become known. ‘I think people are going to be surprised at how much this is going to end up costing, which is what I was afraid of at the time we passed the bill,’ said Peterson, ‘For example, Iowa and, probably, Minnesota look like they’re going to sign up for the ARC so you’re going to have corn farmers that were getting $20 an acre in direct payments that are going to get $90 an acre and that will cause a commotion.’”
The full interview with RRFN’s Mike Hergert and Rep. Peterson is available here (MP3- 8:00).
The RRFN update also noted that, “South Dakota Senator John Thune was concerned about retaining the target price, which is now known as the reference price, program when the farm bill was written. ‘With commodity prices now falling, I think people may start farming for the farm program instead the market,’ Thune told RRFN [MP3], ‘I was concerned about that and I think that will increase dramatically the cost of the farm bill.’ Thune worries that may create the temptation to reopen the farm bill and ‘I’m very concerned about that.’”
And recall that late last week, Mike Hergert interviewed House Ag Committee Chairman Mike Conaway (R., Tex.), who noted in part that, “We’ll take an approach that says you want to spend $80 billion a year on food stamps? Let’s take a look at that and let’s see what works, what doesn’t work, and let’s understand the program. Let’s reevaluate how that program is considered successful by looking at how quickly folks can get off the program, back on their own two feet, taking care of their own families, as opposed to the current model that says, you know, it’s successful the longer you stay on it. So we’ll be going through that.”
Mr. Hergert’s full interview with Chairman Conaway is available here (MP3- 6:00); see also this photo from the House Ag Committee’s Instagram webpage with a caption that noted: “I had a blast talking with Mike Hergert with the #RedRiver #Farm Network. Ag reporters like Mike who ask good questions & get the facts right provide a service to our democracy & specifically to our #farmers & #ranchers. The farmers in #NorthDakota & #Minnesota are lucky to have Mike working for them”
Evan Halper reported on the front page of yesterday’s Los Angeles Times that, “The political clash over climate change has entered new territory that does not involve a massive oil pipeline or a subsidy for renewable energy, but a quaint federal chart that tries to nudge Americans toward a healthy diet.
“The food pyramid, that 3-decade-old backbone of grade-school nutrition lessons, has become a test case of how far the Obama administration is willing to push its global warming agenda.
“The unexpected debate began with a suggestion by a prominent panel of government scientists: The food pyramid — recently refashioned in the shape of a dinner plate — could be reworked to consider the heavy carbon impact of raising animals for meat, they said. A growing body of research has found that meat animals, and cows, in particular, with their belching of greenhouse gases, trampling of the landscape and need for massive amounts of water, are a major factor in global warming.”
Karen DeYoung reported on the front page of today’s Washington Post that, “The Obama administration announced new rules easing travel and trade restrictions against Cuba on Thursday, moving quickly to implement steps the president ordered less than a month ago when he said the United States would reestablish diplomatic relations with the island’s communist government.
“Freed from cumbersome requirements to obtain a Treasury Department license, individual Americans will be able to travel to Cuba provided they say the trip is intended to serve religious, educational or other approved purposes under the still-standing U.S. embargo. When they return, they can bring up to $400 in Cuban goods, including $100 worth of alcohol and tobacco.”
“The announcement comes at a time when Des Moines Water Works in Iowa announced it was suing three nearby counties for ongoing nutrient problems in the city’s drinking water system. The DMWW has claimed those counties have not done enough to cut back nutrient runoff, costing the city’s water ratepayers some $7,000 a day to filter the water.”
Christian Oliver reported yesterday at The Financial Times Online that, “The EU has sought to resolve years of acrimony over the status of genetically modified crops by giving each of its 28 member states the final say over whether they can be grown within their borders.
“While GM crops are common in America and Asia, they remain divisive in Europe. Brussels has repeatedly insisted that US companies such as Monsanto will not be able to use a transatlantic trade deal under negotiation with Washington to push Europe to buy more GM crops.
“At the European Parliament in Strasbourg on Tuesday, lawmakers voted that each national government should be allowed to ban the planting of GM crops, even if they had been declared safe by Brussels. This rare opt-out from Europe’s hallowed single market showed how intractable positions had become.”
Gregory Meyer reported yesterday at The Financial Times Online that, “US grain silos are bulging with the most corn on record after last year’s huge harvest, adding to the drag on commodities markets suffering weakness from agriculture to oil.
“Government statisticians counted 11.2bn bushels (285m tonnes) of corn stocks in domestic storage as of December 1, up 7 per cent from a year earlier, the US Department of Agriculture said on Monday. The figure was slightly above a market expectation of 11.123bn bushels and Chicago grain futures fell.
“The US is the world’s biggest producer of corn, used in products from pig feed to ethanol fuel. A record crop of 14.2bn bushels last autumn has served to rebuild low inventories after several years of erratic weather. Ample stocks tend to damp market volatility, as consumers feel comfortable they will not run out of supply.”
Philip Brasher reported on Friday at Agri-Pulse Online that, “A top lobbyist for food and beverage giant PepsiCo Inc. who was formerly a top aide to Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts is taking over as the Agriculture Committee’s chief of staff as it prepares to rewrite federal child nutrition policy.
“Joel Leftwich, a native of Wellington, Kansas, worked for Roberts, R-Kan., as deputy staff director for the committee before becoming senior director for PepsiCo’s public policy and government affairs team in March 2013.
“One of the committee’s main orders of business this year will be to reauthorize the law that sets standards for school meals and the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program. The programs have a broad impact on the food and beverage industry. First lady Michelle Obama has made it a top priority to preserve higher school nutrition standards that USDA imposed under the expiring law, the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act.”
Emiko Terazono reported yesterday at The Financial Times Online that, “Global food prices fell to the lowest level in four years in 2014, as plentiful supplies of cereals, dairy products, sugar and vegetable oils pushed markets lower.
“The UN Food and Agricultural Organization said its December food price index fell more than 9 per cent from a year before. In 2014, the index averaged 202 points, down 3.7 per cent from 2013, the third consecutive yearly fall.”
The FT article pointed out that, “Dairy products faced the largest declines, thanks to a rise in exports and demand falling among some of the leading importers, such as China and Russia. Prices, which started the year at record highs, fell 34 per cent in December from a year before, helped by declines in milk powders, butter and cheese.”
Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack was a guest on yesterday’s AgriTalk radio program with Mike Adams, where the conversation focused on beef checkoff issues, COOL (Country of Origin Labeling), Farm Bill implementation, and trade with Cuba (audio replay here, MP3- 11:30). An unofficial FarmPolicy.comtranscript of yesterday’s discussion is available here.
On the checkoff issue, Sec. Vilsack indicated that, “Well, Mike, it was fairly obvious that the industry was not interested in having a second checkoff, and obviously the only reason we proposed it was because I believe, and I think most in the industry believe, that we need additional resources for promotion and research in the beef industry. This is an industry that faces some interesting challenges at home, and some great opportunities abroad, and there is an opportunity, I think, with increasing the checkoff and increasing investment in the checkoff, to do more research and more promotion and more marketing.
“But the industry made the decision that they were not interested in a second checkoff, and they have been unable to reach consensus on how to increase the existing checkoff, so when the writing is on the wall, you basically have to pay attention to the attitude of the folks you’re trying to serve. And it’s an unfortunate circumstance. My hope is that the industry will take an opportunity now to reach consensus, to figure out a way to strengthen the beef checkoff program.”
And in comments regarding beef imports, Sec. Vilsack pointed out that, “But if there is an equivalency determination, which is to say that the processes are equal to or better than what the U.S. does, and if it comes from an area where we’ve already done a risk assessment and find little or no risk, and that there are protections, then the science and the international rules basically say we have to open up our market opportunities, and then that allows us to go to other countries who are creating barriers to our beef products and be able to articulate and say very clearly we live by these rules and we think that—and we live by the science, and we think everyone should live by the rules and the science so that you have a much more objective system, rather than a subjective one.”
Jeevan Vasagar reported yesterday at The Financial Times Online that, “A small grilled sausage from Bavaria has become the unlikely symbol of German resistance to the transatlantic trade deal being negotiated between the EU and the US, after the country’s agriculture minister warned that ‘not every sausage can be protected’ in the trade talks.
“Christian Schmidt, Germany’s agriculture minister, said in an interview with Der Spiegel: ‘If we want to seize the opportunities of free trade with the enormous American market then we can’t carry on protecting every sausage and cheese speciality.’
“Food producers, politicians and campaigners against the trade deal seized on his remarks as evidence that the protection of regional brands would be sacrificed to globalisation.”