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.”
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.”
“Ethanol makers are bracing for a drop in earnings as cheap crude pushes down the prices they fetch from refiners to blend the corn-based fuel additive into gasoline. Ethanol producers also face a recent jump in the price of corn, their main raw material.
“Falling profit margins for the $40 billion U.S. ethanol industry may cause some companies to scale back production in 2015, analysts and industry executives say. Still, many observers think ethanol demand may remain steady or even rise if cheap gasoline spurs U.S. motorists to drive more, tempering the hit to ethanol earnings.”
Andrew Pollack reported on the front page of the Business section in today’s New York Times that, “Its first attempt to develop genetically engineered grass ended disastrously for the Scotts Miracle-Gro Company. The grass escaped into the wild from test plots in Oregon in 2003, dooming the chances that the government would approve the product for commercial use.
“Yet Scotts is once again developing genetically modified grass that would need less mowing, be a deeper green and be resistant to damage from the popular weedkiller Roundup. But this time the grass will not need federal approval before it can be field-tested and marketed.
“Scotts and several other companies are developing genetically modified crops using techniques that either are outside the jurisdiction of the Agriculture Department or use new methods — like ‘genome editing’ — that were not envisioned when the regulations were created.”
Jenny Hopkinson, Helena Bottemiller Evich, Bill Tomson and Chase Purdy reported yesterday at Politico that, “The Obama administration is becoming increasingly involved in what Americans put on their dinner plates and in their cereal bowls, from requiring school children to be served fruit to eliminating trans fats in doughnuts. But the new Republican Congress is already laying the groundwork to push back in 2015.”
Yesterday’s article noted that, “Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.), chairman of the House Appropriations Agriculture Subcommittee, has been leading the charge on school lunch, along with Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.), a key member of the Senate Appropriations Agriculture Subcommittee. But their cause is about to be picked up by the House Education and Workforce Committee, chaired by Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.), and the Senate Agriculture Committee, chaired by Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), as they begin work to reauthorize the law governing school nutrition programs.
“Both Kline and Roberts have been openly critical of the 2010 Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, a bipartisan law that included many reforms that are now sparking complaints among schools and Republicans who argue the rules are too prescriptive and costly.”
Christopher Doering reported in yesterday at The Des Moines Register Online that, “Iowa made a record 3.9 billion gallons of ethanol in 2014, but output of the fuel faces uncertainty next year as the U.S. government debates the future of a controversial rule mandating the blending of ethanol in gasoline, a trade group said Monday.
“Iowa, the largest ethanol producing state, accounted for roughly 27 percent of country’s production this year. The increase in production in 2014 was the first noticeable one in years after output hovered at about 3.7 billion annually since 2011, according to Iowa Renewable Fuels Association.”
Mr. Doering noted that, “For the first time, a small amount of the ethanol production came from cellulosic feedstocks such as corn stover and corn kernel fiber. Despite falling short of cellulosic production goals in recent years, producers of the nascent fuel are starting to show signs of delivering. In 2014, Poet-DSM opened its $275 million facility in Emmetsburg. DuPont plans to open its $225 million cellulosic ethanol plant in Nevada next year.
“IRFA said the ethanol industry is facing uncertainty in Congress where some lawmakers are considering legislation that would change or repeal the Renewable Fuels Standard that requires increasingly more ethanol to be included in the country’s gasoline supply. Growth is further hindered by the inability of consumers to have access to higher blends of ethanol, such as gasoline containing 15 percent of the largely corn-based fuel, the group said.”
David Pierson reported in today’s Los Angeles Times that, “If your eggs seem a little pricier, consider the recent changes on Frank Hilliker’s ranch.
“In the last six months, the third-generation egg farmer in central San Diego County has reduced his flock by half and embarked on a $1-million overhaul of his henhouses to make them more spacious. Customers are now paying about 50% more for a dozen eggs from Hilliker’s family business at around $3 a carton.
“It’s all to comply with a landmark animal welfare law that takes effect in California on New Year’s Day. Voters overwhelmingly approved Proposition 2 in 2008 to effectively abolish the close confinement of farm animals in cramped cages and crates — a practice that animal advocates say causes needless suffering and boosts the likelihood of salmonella contamination.”
DTN Ag Policy Editor Chris Clayton reported yesterday that, “Congress wants USDA to operate like a business, but Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is complaining that Congress is willing to spend $1.5 million on outside studies to duplicate work his department has already finished.
“Vilsack, in a phone interview with DTN on Thursday, expressed his frustration with some of the policy riders in the $1.1 trillion funding bill Congress approved. The policy restrictions ranged from blocking the secretary from creating a new beef checkoff to preventing the Farm Service Agency from eliminating its smallest offices nationally.
“‘I would say that it’s somewhat puzzling when Congress says ‘operate USDA like a business’ and then doesn’t give you the tools and flexibility to do so,’ the secretary said.”
“But the average price of $7,943 per acre is still more than double what it was a decade ago, and economists say they expect farmland values to level off.”
The article noted that, “‘Commodity prices and farm income are settling back to more expected levels, and I think land values will probably move sideways for a while,’ Michael Duffy, a retired Iowa State economics professor who conducted the survey, said in a news release.”
“‘Many people think this report indicates the beginning of another farm crisis, but land values are still considerably higher than they were just a few years ago.’”
Karen DeYoung and Carol Morello reported on the front page of today’s Washington Post that, “In the wake of President Obama’s historic decision to mend diplomatic ties with Cuba, U.S. businesses and potential tourists scrambled to figure out what new opportunities will be available on the island and to position themselves at the head of the line.
“The political conversation sparked by Obama’s Wednesday announcement grew in both volume and dogmatism. Some hailed the opening as the dawn of pragmatic diplomacy. Others denounced it as a presidential sellout.”
Geoff Dyer and Marc Frank reported yesterday at The Financial Times Online that, “The US is to open talks with Cuba about establishing full diplomatic relations and reopening an embassy in Havana, potentially bringing to an end more than five decades of hostility and one of the last vestiges of the Cold War.
“The dramatic move to thaw relations began with a prisoner swap on Wednesday, including three Cuban agents held in US jails and Alan Gross, an American development worker who has been in a Cuban prison for five years on spying charges. The US said an unnamed Cuban man who had provided ‘critical’ intelligence to the US had also been released from a Cuban jail after almost 20 years.”
The FT article explained that, “The push to ease ties with Cuba could bring to an end more than 50 years of US economic sanctions which were put in place just after the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 in a bid to isolate the island and contain its ambitions to export communism.”
“‘These 50 years have shown that isolation has not worked. It’s time for a new approach,’ Mr Obama said in a televised address. ‘It does not serve America’s interests, or the Cuban people, to try to push Cuba towards collapse,’ he said. ‘Let us leave behind the legacy of both colonisation and communism, the tyranny of drug cartels, dictators and sham elections.’
“US officials said that the administration was relaxing some restrictions on commerce with Cuba, although bigger steps to unwind the embargo would require the approval of Congress,” the FT article said.
Dyer and Frank added that, “Marco Rubio, the Florida senator who is the son of Cuban immigrants, immediately denounced the initiative and said he would work to block efforts at opening trade and commerce with Cuba.”
Michael A. Memoli reported yesterday at the Los Angeles Times Online that, “A turbulent lame-duck session of Congress came to a sudden end Tuesday as the Senate rushed to clear a lingering tax bill and some key presidential nominations in a late-night flurry of final votes.
“Lawmakers signed off on a deal to extend $45 billion worth of tax breaks through this calendar year, ensuring that businesses and individuals can claim the deductions in their next IRS filings. The 76-16 vote also approved what had been a separate bill to create new tax-free accounts that can be used for the care of disabled family members.”
The article explained that, “The agreement sent lawmakers home earlier than many had expected just a few days ago, when Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) forced members into a marathon weekend session as he made a final, unsuccessful effort to derail President Obama’s new immigration policy during consideration of the $1.1-trillion spending deal.
Damian Paletta and Mark Peters reported on the front page of today’s Wall Street Journal that, “A large number of Republican governors are pushing to reshape social-welfare programs with drug testing or other requirements, arguing that the new rules better prepare recipients for employment and assure taxpayers that the benefit money is well spent.
“Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, fresh off his re-election, said he would propose his state join several others in mandating drug screening for people seeking nutrition or cash assistance. Utah Republicans want to require that certain residents allow the state to assist them in finding a job if they want to collect benefits through Medicaid, the health-care program for low-income and disabled Americans. Indiana Gov. Mike Pence is proposing Medicaid recipients kick in at least a few dollars a month as a condition for receiving benefits.”
The Journal writers noted that, “The drug-test push is part of a wave of changes that Republican governors are eyeing for Medicaid, cash assistance, unemployment and nutrition assistance, programs run jointly by federal and state governments.”
Paletta and Peters also explained that, “Drug-screening rules, though they have disqualified relatively few people from benefits, have proved to be the most contentious. Earlier this month, a federal appeals court struck down a 2011 Florida law that required drug screening for people seeking benefits through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, saying the requirement was unconstitutional and that the state hadn’t demonstrated that recipients have more of a drug problem than the general population.
“This year, the U.S. Agriculture Department blocked a drug-screening requirement in Georgia for the state’s food-stamp program, which it oversees.”
Ashley Parker and Robert Pear reported in yesterday’s New York Times that, “After moments of high drama, dry process and acrimony, the Senate passed a sweeping $1.1 trillion spending package Saturday night, abruptly ending several days of chaotic legislative maneuvers and clearing the bill for President Obama to sign.
“The legislation, which will fund most of the government through the fiscal year that ends in September, passed in a bipartisan vote, 56 to 40, after a turbulent process — a fitting coda for a governing body that has often failed to govern.”
Robert Pear reported on the front page of today’s New York Times that, “Health insurance companies preserved their tax breaks. Farmers and ranchers were spared having to report on pollution from manure. Tourist destinations like Las Vegas benefited from a travel promotion program.
“Also buried in the giant spending bill that cleared the Senate on Saturday and is headed to President Obama for his signature were provisions that prohibit the federal government from requiring less salt in school lunches and allow schools to obtain exemptions from whole-grain requirements for pasta and tortillas.
“The watered-down standards for school meals were a setback for the first lady, Michelle Obama, who had vowed to fight ‘until the bitter end’ for tougher nutrition standards. But they were a victory for food companies and some local school officials, who had sought changes in regulations that are taking effect over several years.”
An update yesterday from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations stated that, “Latest indications confirm that world cereal production will reach an all-time record of more than 2.5 billion tonnes in 2014.
“Buoyed by bumper crops in Europe and a record maize output in the United States of America, this year’s cereal output should reach 2.532 billion tonnes, including rice in milled terms, or 0.3% higher than 2013, according to FAO’s latest Crop Prospects and Food Situation Report.
“The record global cereal harvest in 2014 will outpace projected world cereal utilization in 2014/15, allowing stocks to rise to their highest level since 2000 and pushing the worldwide stock-to-use ratio, a proxy measure for supply conditions, to rise to 25.2 percent, its highest level in 13 years, according to FAO.”
“But because negotiations on the package dragged over policy details, House lawmakers also prepared to move on a short-term spending measure that would avert a government shutdown if Congress cannot pass the larger bill by Thursday, when the current funding expires.”
The Times article explained that, “The spending bill would fund nearly all of the federal government through September 2015, except for the Department of Homeland Security, which it would fund only through February, in retaliation for President Obama’s unilateral action to defer the deportation of as many as five million undocumented immigrants. Congressional Republicans plan to take up funding for the agency — which has primary responsibility for carrying out the president’s immigration directive — early next year, when they will control both chambers of Congress and believe they will have more leverage.”