October 7, 2015

Highlights and Summary: Iowa Ag Summit

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.”


Friday Morning Update: Biotech; Policy; Ag Economy; Iowa Ag Summit; and, Biofuels


Jacob Bunge reported in today’s Wall Street Journal that, “U.S. regulators for the first time are proposing limits on the planting of some genetically engineered corn to combat a voracious pest that has evolved to resist the bug-killing crops, a potential blow to makers of biotech seeds.

“The measures proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency represent a bold step to thwart the corn rootworm, a bug that ranks among the most expensive crop threats to U.S. corn farmers.

“The plan is aimed at widely grown corn varieties sold by Monsanto Co. , the first to sell rootworm-resistant corn, and rival seed makers including DuPont Co. and Dow Chemical Co. Such corn seeds have been genetically modified to secrete proteins that are toxic to destructive insects, but safe for human consumption, helping to reduce farmers’ reliance on synthetic pesticides.”


Thursday Morning Update: Policy; Ag Economy; Trade; Regs; and, Political Notes

Policy Issues

A House Ag Committee news release yesterday stated that, “Today, Chairman of the Agriculture Committee K. Michael Conaway (TX-11), Nutrition Subcommittee Chairwoman Jackie Walorski (IN-2), and Livestock and Foreign Agriculture Subcommittee Chairman David Rouzer (NC-7) sent a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell raising concerns about recommendations received from the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC).

“‘Members of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee greatly exceeded their scope in developing recommendations,’ Chairman Conaway said. ‘The Secretaries share responsibility for these flawed recommendations because they failed to keep the Committee focused on nutritional recommendations and away from areas such as sustainability and tax policy, which are outside of the Committee’s purview. At a time when consumers are already subjected to conflicting and often contradictory nutrition and health information, the dietary guidelines must provide the public with realistic, science-based recommendations. Given the grave concerns that have been raised, more time is needed for public comment, and those comments should be fully reviewed and considered.’”

Also yesterday, House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture Chairman Robert Aderholt (R., Ala.) turned his attention to the Dietary Guidelines during a hearing where FDA Administrator, Dr. Margaret Hamburg, presented budget related testimony.

During the discussion portion of yesterday’s hearing, Chairman Aderholt noted that, “Let me switch over to dietary guidelines. The Department of Health & Human Services, and of course FDA is a part of that, has a lead role in developing the dietary guidelines for Americans in 2015. The Secretary of Agriculture appeared before this subcommittee, was sitting where you are sitting just about a week ago. He made a commitment to adhere to the statutory directive for developing the dietary guidelines for Americans. And as he put it, and this was his quote, “I know my role and I will color within the lines.”

Chairman Aderholt went on to ask Dr. Hamburg: “Can we get an assurance from the Department of Health & Human Services that the final report would include only nutrient and dietary recommendations and not include environmental factors and other extraneous material?”

A complete transcript of the exchange between Chairman Aderholt and Dr. Hamburg on the Dietary Guideline issues can be found in this update that was posted yesterday at


Update on Cuba Trade Issues

Nick Miroff reported on Tuesday at The Washington Post Online that, “Cuba policy sometimes makes strange bedfellows, which is how a man like Thomas Marten, a burly Illinois soybean farmer with a bushy red beard, had come to Havana to make a statement about the principles of free enterprise. ‘As a Republican, I believe in trade for the betterment of all people,’ he said, as he rushed to another business meeting with communist officials. ‘Prohibiting it is something that hurts us all.'”

The Post article noted that, “Over the years, no country in the world has triggered more U.S. government penalties and fines on private businesses than Cuba, and Marten had come to Havana with nearly 100 other American farmers, farm lobbyists and former U.S. agriculture officials looking to throw a little weight behind a new push against those sanctions.

“Calling itself the U.S. Agriculture Coalition for Cuba, the group isn’t shy about its interest in selling more American food to the communist government, but its members also appear sincerely interested in helping the island’s small farmers after decades of technological isolation and the disastrous legacy of state-run agriculture.”

Mr. Miroff explained that, “The Cuba effort isn’t a new one for the farm lobby. But after Obama’s announcement, it had produced a new enthusiasm, said the group, telling foreign reporters and television cameras from Cuban state media that supporters of the embargo in Congress were ‘a minority.’

“Lawmakers have offered new proposals to lift U.S. trade and travel restrictions on Cuba, but it’s unclear whether Republican leaders will allow the measures to come up for a vote.”

The Post article added that, “American food sales to the island peaked at more than $700 million in 2008, according to trade figures. That made the United States one of Cuba’s largest trading partners at the time, despite the sanctions.

“But because the U.S. sanctions limit the sales to a cash-only basis and bar U.S. banks from financing the sales, Havana has increasingly looked elsewhere to cover its import needs. Last year the Castro government spent less than $300 million on U.S. food, mostly frozen chicken and soybeans.

“Cuba has stopped buying U.S. wheat entirely, and rice shipments have plunged as well, the farm group said.”

Last month, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D., Minn.) introduced the Freedom to Export to Cuba Act with Senators Mike Enzi (R, Wyo.), Ag Committee ranking member Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.), Jeff Flake (R., Ariz.), Pat Leahy (D., Vt.), and Dick Durbin (D., Il.). “This bill lifts the trade embargo on Cuba and knocks down the legal barriers to Americans doing business in Cuba.”

And a recent editorial in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune noted that “Klobuchar, who often pushes relatively noncontroversial legislation, is to be commended for taking on such a divisive issue. Forging the consensus needed for passage will be difficult, but this is a battle worthy of her skills.”

Also last month, Sen. Klobuchar traveled to Cuba with with Senators Claire McCaskill (D., Mo.) and Mark Warner (D.,Va.).


Wednesday Morning Update: Policy Issues; Ag Economy; Trade; Regs; and, Budget

Policy Issues

Yesterday, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture heard testimony regarding the USDA’s Marketing and Regulatory Programs.

In his opening statement, Subcommittee Chairman Robert Aderholt (R., Ala.) indicated that, “USDA is requesting a total of $987 million in discretionary resources in FY 2016 for the mission area, a decrease of $12.5 million from the 2015 enacted level…I am particularly concerned that USDA has requested scarce discretionary resources for lower priorities. For example, APHIS has requested an increase to enhance implementation of the Lacey Act provisions. I have trouble supporting such an increase at the expense of higher priority and more effective animal and plant health programs, many of which the agency has proposed to decrease.

“With the overall spending caps still in effect, I anticipate that the Subcommittee’s funding levels will remain relatively flat at best.”

Ed Avalos, USDA Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs noted yesterday that, “To strike the balance between rigorous scientific review and timely entry to the market of genetically engineered crops, USDA streamlined and improved the process for making determinations on petitions involving biotechnology. Because of the enhancements, we reduced the length of the petition review by more than 600 days when we can use the environmental assessment process. With this improvement, we estimate that the cumulative number of actions taken to deregulate biotechnology products based on a scientific determination will increase from a cumulative total of 87 actions in 2011 to an estimated 119 in 2016.”

This topic came up in the discussion portion of yesterday’s hearing; Chairman Aderholt inquired: “Last year you reported that you were only able to reduce the backlog of 22 petitions by six. Your testimony this year states that you are nearly through the list of backlogged petitions. Can you provide us some more details on the status of the backlog and what progress you’ve been able to achieve?”

Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Administrator Kevin Shea offered more details, and explained that, “You might recall a year ago I pledged to you we would cut the backlog of 16 by at least half, and I’m proud to say that the fantastic men and women who work in our biotechnology review program have indeed exceeded that goal, and there now only six of those 16 remain, so that means we reduced it by more than half.

“I would say this also, when we began our business process improvement just a few years ago, 2012, there were 23 re-regulation requests in the backlog. Since then 11 [more] requests to come in, so there were a total of 34 regulation requests. There are only six left. We got 28 out of 34 done. There are only six remaining. We’re going to get those done, we think, by the end of this fiscal year.

And so now we have the system in equilibrium. We can handle the amount that come in. And not only can we handle them, we can handle them quicker. It was taking us three to five years to do these things. We are now down to 15 to 18 months. Our goal is no more than 15 months, and I think we’re going to achieve that as well.”


Tuesday Morning Update: Policy Issues; Trade; Ag Economy; Biotech; and Budget

Policy Issues

In a speech yesterday at the 2015 National Anti-Hunger Policy Conference in Washington, D.C., Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack discussed the SNAP program and announced “more than $27 million in grants to fund innovative projects designed help end childhood hunger.”

Also yesterday, at the School Nutrition Association’s 2015 Legislative Action Conference, a separate venue in Washington, D.C., Sen. John Hoeven (R., N.D.) announced “that he plans to introduce the Healthy School Meals Flexibility Act later this week or early next week. The legislation would provide permanent flexibility to school districts in complying with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s new school nutrition requirements.”

Additional details on these federal nutrition policy issues from yesterday, and on Sec. Vilsack’s remarks regarding the SNAP program, can be found here, at

On Monday, USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) updated its monthly Amber Waves publication; the March edition contained two particularly interesting articles on nutrition related policy. The first looked at the number of school districts serving “local” food, while the second addressed the potential of restricting sweetened beverages purchases through the SNAP program– an especially timely article considering the House Ag Committee’s ongoing top-to-bottom overview of the program (Committee SNAP hearing summaries here and here).

A summary overview of the two ERS articles is available here.

Arthur Delaney reported yesterday at the Huffington Post that, “The Republican Party’s new point man on food stamps, Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas), insists that he doesn’t want to cut nutrition assistance benefits. Instead, Conaway is leading a multiyear review of the program, just to make sure it’s the best it can be.

But it might not be up to Conaway. Republicans could push food stamp cuts this year through a parliamentary process known as ‘reconciliation.’

“The GOP has discussed using reconciliation as a way to repeal Obamacare or to do tax reform. Now, some Democrats and food stamp advocates are warning that the Republican-controlled Congress could use the obscure budget maneuver to reduce food stamp assistance.”


Sunday Afternoon Update: Policy Issues; Trade; Ag Economy; Biotech; and Regulations

Policy Issues

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.”


Budget Issues Linger– Could Portend Problems with Trade

Categories: Budget /Trade

Siobhan Hughes and Kristina Peterson reported in Saturday’s Wall Street Journal that, “Congress temporarily avoided a partial shutdown of the Homeland Security Department Friday night, approving a one-week extension of the agency’s funding as its midnight deadline approached.

“Support for the one-week patch came together Friday night hours after a three-week short-term spending bill was defeated in the House in a blow to the chamber’s GOP leaders.

“After watching top House Republicans’ plan derail Friday afternoon, House Democrats helped GOP leaders find the votes to pass the one-week funding measure Friday night in a 357-60 vote. House Republican leaders brought the one-week bill to the floor under a fast-track procedure that required a two-thirds majority for passage.”

The Journal writers noted that, “The defection of more than 50 Republicans represented an embarrassment for [House Speaker John Boehner] and was also an early setback in Republican efforts to prove they can effectively govern the GOP-controlled Congress…[T]he struggle to pass even a short-term fix in the House highlighted the tightrope Mr. Boehner must walk, despite controlling the biggest House GOP majority in decades.

“Though Mr. Boehner currently leads a pack of 245 House Republicans, potential defections from either the conservative or centrist wing on tough bills leave him little room to maneuver on votes where Democrats withhold their support.”

Lisa Mascaro and Michael A. Memoli reported in Saturday’s Los Angeles Times that, “The legislative maneuvering left conservatives upset that they had been unable to stop Obama’s immigration plan and more pragmatic Republicans weary of dragging out the fight over Homeland Security funds at continued risk.”

Carl Hulse reported in Saturday’s New York Times that, “The tense meltdown in the House on Friday over funding for the Department of Homeland Security underscores how Congress has lost the ability to perform its most basic functions no matter which party is in charge.”

Mr. Hulse pointed out that, “But the dysfunction also worried lawmakers from both parties who want to make some bipartisan deals on issues like taxes.

“‘My hope is that this does not define the session,’ said Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, the top Democrat on the Finance Committee. ‘We have to find some common ground.'”

Ashley Parker also writing in Saturday’s New York Times, reported that, “The funding stalemate bodes poorly for any larger policy accomplishments this year, leaving lawmakers pessimistic that the 114th Congress will be able to work in a bipartisan fashion on more complicated issues.

“The Office of Management and Budget has said that a vote to increase the nation’s debt limit will be necessary by mid-to late summer, and lawmakers were also hoping to take up trade policy, as well as at least a modest overhaul of the nation’s tax code — undertakings that now look increasingly imperiled.”

And The Washington Post editorial board opined on Sunday that, “The House has become an embarrassing spectacle, and the promises of Republican leaders in both houses to govern without hop-scotching from crisis to crisis have been shredded. Speaker John A. Boehner’s control of the tea party faction in his GOP caucus is so slight he couldn’t even manage a three-week funding extension for DHS, let alone approving a budget through the end of the fiscal year in September.

Now, instead of tackling major legislation, Congress will be paralyzed for more days — and perhaps even longer — as House Republicans continue to insist on measures to reverse Mr. Obama’s immigration moves that have no chance of passage in the Senate, no chance of being signed by the president and no chance of becoming law.”


Friday Morning Update: Policy; Trade; Ag Economy; Biofuels; Biotech; and, Budget

Policy Issues

On Thursday, the House Agriculture Nutrition Subcommittee met, “to review SNAP recipient characteristics and dynamics.” Yesterday’s hearing followed Wednesday’s full House Ag Committee meeting on SNAP and nutrition issues.

A summary and overview of Thursday’s Subcommittee hearing is available here.

Over the past two days, the House Ag Committee has been presented with a large amount of detailed analysis and information on SNAP; it appears that Chairman Mike Conaway’s (R., Tex.) top-to-bottom review of the program is off to a substantive and serious start.

In remarks on the House floor Thursday, Ag Nutrition Subcommittee ranking member Jim McGovern (D., Mass.) indicated that, “Mr. Speaker, yesterday the House Agriculture Committee – where I am proud to serve – held the first hearing in its ‘top-to-bottom’ review of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.

“SNAP is the nation’s pre-eminent anti-hunger program that provides critical food assistance to more than 46 million Americans. Last year, 16 million children – or 1 in 5 American children – relied on SNAP. Unfortunately, every indication is that Republicans will once again try to cut this critical safety-net program.”


Thursday Morning Update: Policy Issues; Trade; Ag Economy; and, Budget Issues

Policy Issues

On Wednesday, the House Agriculture Committee met to discuss the SNAP program and nutrition issues, a summary and overview of this Committee hearing is available here.

Also on the SNAP issue, a report yesterday by  Mathematica Policy Research presented “estimates that, for each state, measure the need for SNAP and the program’s effectiveness in each of the three years from 2010 to 2012.”

The Mathematica item stated that, “This report presents estimates that, for each state, measure the need for SNAP and the program’s effectiveness in each of the three fiscal years from 2010 to 2012. The estimated numbers of people eligible for SNAP measure the need for the program. The estimated SNAP participation rates measure, state by state, the program’s performance in reaching its target population. In addition to the participation rates that pertain to all eligible people, we derived estimates of participation rates for the ‘working poor,’ that is, people who were eligible for SNAP and lived in households in which someone earned income from a job.”

The report noted that, “Tables III.1  and III.2  present our final shrinkage estimates of SNAP participation rates and the number of people eligible, respectively, in each state for FY 2010 to FY 2012 for all eligible people and for the working poor.”

Recall that he House Agriculture Nutrition Subcommittee will hold a hearing today, “to review SNAP recipient characteristics and dynamics.”

Also on Wednesday, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilisack presented testimony at the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture.


Wednesday Morning Update: Senate Ag Committee Farm Bill Hearing, Ag Economy; Trade; Budget; and, Biofuels

Policy Issues- Senate Ag Committee Hearing; House Ag Committee Hearing Today

In two separate panels, agricultural producers and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack testified before the Senate Agriculture Committee on the implementation of  last year’s Farm Bill Tuesday morning.

A summary and overview of the hearing is available here.

AP writer Mary Clare Jalonick reported on Tuesday that, “Congressional Republicans are laying the groundwork for an overhaul of the nation’s food stamp program, trying again after an unsuccessful attempt two years ago.

“House Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas, said Tuesday that his panel is starting a comprehensive, multiyear review of the program to see what’s working. He said ‘either huge reforms or small reforms’ could come from that, though he wouldn’t detail what those might be.

“Conaway says a 2013 GOP effort to cut food stamps ‘didn’t resonate well’ because Republicans didn’t spell out why it was important. House Republican leaders tried unsuccessfully to cut the program by 5 percent annually by passing a bill with broad new work requirements.”

The AP article noted that, “Some Democrats say they are wary of the review process. Agriculture Committee member James McGovern, a Massachusetts Democrat who is a longtime advocate for food stamps, said he wonders why the SNAP program is singled out for review and not expensive farm programs.

“‘I am deeply concerned about this,’ McGovern said. ‘This is a program that by and large works.’”

Meanwhile, David Pierson reported yesterday at the Los Angeles Times Online that, “An estimated 9 million people are sickened and 1,000 killed by food-borne illnesses in the U.S. each year, but until now officials were unable to pinpoint which foods were most likely to blame.

“In a report released Tuesday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Food and Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service detailed the sources of the most common food-borne illnesses with the aim of improving food safety and policy.”

The LA Times article noted that, “Among the findings: More than 80% of E. coli O157 cases were attributed to beef or crops such as leafy vegetables.

“About 75% of campylobacter illnesses were linked to dairy (66%), particularly raw milk dairy, and chicken (8%).

“More than 80% of listeria illnesses were attributed to fruit (50%) and dairy (31%).”


Agricultural Economy

Also on Tuesday, USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service released its annual U.S. Crop Values Summary, a link to the complete report along with highlights regarding corn and soybeans can also be found at

Tuesday’s Los Angeles Times contained an article highlighting ongoing drought concerns California. The article included this quote from Bill Patzert, a climatologist with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory: “If you think we’ve turned around on the drought, stop smoking whatever you’re smoking.”

Details on this article, as well as Reuters news updates that focused on agricultural issues in Brazil, Ukraine, and Russia have been posted here.

And Jon Hilsenrath reported on the front page of today’s Wall Street Journal that, “Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen, sounding upbeat about the economy, laid the groundwork for interest-rate increases later this year.

“‘The employment situation in the United States has been improving on many dimensions,’ Ms. Yellen told the Senate Banking Committee on Tuesday, her first of two days of semiannual testimony before lawmakers. Spending and production had increased at a ‘solid rate,’ she added, and should remain strong enough to keep bringing unemployment down.”


Trade Issues (TPA, TPP); West Coast Ports

And in trade related news, William Mauldin reported in Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal that, “Lawmakers from both parties are trying to strike a difficult balance as they wrangle over the final intricacies of a bill that would expedite consideration of trade deals.

“House and Senate leaders crafting the so-called fast-track bill want to include sweeteners to attract skeptical Democrats, including rules to allow lawmakers greater access to the details of continuing trade negotiations.

“But supporters fear too many provisions friendly to Democrats could alienate Republicans and the business community, or even put a major Pacific trade deal at risk when it comes up for a final vote. The U.S., Japan and 10 other Pacific Rim countries are hoping to agree to the final terms of the trade partnership in coming months.”

Mr. Mauldin explained that, “The bill’s authors—Sen. Orrin Hatch (R., Utah), Sen. Ron Wyden (D., Ore.) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R., Wis.)—are now fighting over how much leverage to give lawmakers to remove any coming trade deals from fast-track protection. That would subject the pacts to ordinary amendments and procedural delays.”

Reuters writer Krista Hughes reported on Tuesday that, “U.S. Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen warned Congress on Tuesday against a bid to crack down on currency cheats and said adding currency rules to trade deals could hobble monetary policy.

“Lawmakers have introduced legislation allowing firms to seek compensation for currency weakness overseas and some are also fighting to include a currency chapter in upcoming trade deals such as the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).”

Also on Tuesday, Reuters news indicated that, “A meeting aimed at sealing a Pacific trade deal has been called for April, Mexico’s economy minister said on Tuesday, adding he was optimistic it would be sealed in the first half of 2015.

“‘I am very optimistic that there will be good news for the TPP in the first half of this year,’ Ildefonso Guajardo told Reuters, referring to the Trans-Pacific Partnership.”

On the West Coast Port issue, Diana Marcum reported on Tuesday at the Los Angeles Times Online that, “An end to labor strife at West Coast ports should speed up cargo operations, but it may be too late to help California’s drought-weary nut and citrus farmers.

Citrus took the hardest hit. Oranges, many bound for Chinese New Year celebrations, sat decaying on ships, at docks and on the ground as a nine-month labor dispute snarled ports. Fieldworkers, packinghouse employees and truck drivers had their hours cut.”

The article added that, “Losses could reach as high as 50% of citrus exports, or $500 million, according to trade groups… [F]or California’s almond farmers and processors, the severe cargo backlogs have raised fears that foreign buyers could cancel contracts for almonds stuck in storage and buy from other countries.”



David Nakamura and Sean Sullivan reported on the front page of today’s Washington Post that, “The Senate moved closer Tuesday to a deal to avert a partial shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security, but the proposal faced an uncertain future in the House, where Republican leaders conspicuously refused to embrace it.

“Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters he was prepared to move swiftly to extend funding for DHS through the fiscal year in a bill that is not contingent on Republican demands to repeal President Obama’s executive actions on immigration.”



Bloomberg writer Mario Parker reported on Tuesday that, “Ethanol producers are cutting output after getting squeezed by the biggest drop in gasoline prices since 2008.

“Valero Energy Corp. and Green Plains Renewable Energy Inc., representing about 15 percent of U.S. capacity, have reduced operations as margins narrowed. At a typical mill in Illinois that makes ethanol from corn, profit margins have almost totally disappeared, compared with $1.33 a gallon a year ago, according to AgTrader Talk, a Clive, Iowa-based consulting company.”

Keith Good

Policy Issues; Trade; Ag Economy; and, Budget Issues Tuesday

Policy Issues

In a letter yesterday to Senate and House Budget Committee leaders, a large number of food, agriculture and policy organizations indicated that, “The undersigned 392 organizations, representing America’s agriculture, nutrition, conservation, rural development, finance, forestry, energy, trade, labor, equipment manufactures and crop insurance sectors, strongly urge you to reject calls for additional cuts to programs within the jurisdiction of the Senate and House Agriculture Committees.

Just over one year ago, Congress passed, and the President signed into law, sweeping changes to our nation’s food and farm policy that included significant deficit reduction. The 2014 Farm Bill required over three years of debate in both chambers of Congress and ultimately ended with the consolidation of over 100 programs and cuts to mandatory spending across many titles, including the elimination of the direct payment program. These cuts came in addition to those already in effect due to sequestration.”

After noting that the new measure saved an estimated $23 billion, the letter stated that, “We, therefore, oppose re-opening any title of the Farm Bill during the consideration of the 2016 Budget Resolution and strongly urge you to refrain from including reconciliation instructions for either the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry or for the House Committee on Agriculture.”

Recall that The House Ag Committee will hold hearings this week on Wednesday and Thursday regarding Farm Bill nutrition issues; while, this morning, the Senate Ag Committee will hold a hearing on Farm Bill implementation and hear testimony from Sec. of Ag. Tom Vilsack.

Sec. Vilsack is also scheduled to appear on Wednesday at the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture.

(more…) Monday News Update

Recall that earlier this month, USDA updated its U.S. Farm Sector Income Forecast and noted that, “Net farm income is forecast to be $73.6 billion in 2015, down nearly 32 percent from 2014’s forecast of $108 billion. The 2015 forecast would be the lowest since 2009.”

Scott Irwin, an agricultural economist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, noted that, “It’s neither happy times nor is the sky falling in terms of agriculture incomes.”

However, Reuters news published a disconcerting article on Monday which stated that, “Across the U.S. Midwest, the plunge in grain prices to near four-year lows is pitting landowners determined to sustain rental incomes against farmer tenants worried about making rent payments because their revenues are squeezed.”

The article noted that, “Some grain farmers already see the burden as too big. They are taking an extreme step, one not widely seen since the 1980s: breaching lease contracts, reducing how much land they will sow this spring and risking years-long legal battles with landlords.”

Meanwhile, a separate Reuters article over the weekend focused on the issue of genetically modified crops in India.

Details on these two Reuters articles can be found at

The Wall Street Journal reported on Monday that it will “likely take months for the backlog to clear” at West Coast Ports after this weekends resolution of the labor dispute there.  Labor Secretary Tom Perez discussed his role in resolving the dispute Monday morning on MSNBC and CNBC television.

Monday’s papers also included a look at the ongoing budget showdown regarding the Department of Homeland Security. The impetus for the dispute stemmed from executive branch action on immigration policy.  Meanwhile, a subsequent federal court ruling temporarily stopping executive branch implementation of the that policy has added to the complexity of how to resolve the dispute.

An article on the front page of Monday’s Wall Street Journal noted that, “Senate Republicans, still mulling their options, are most likely to end up supporting a short-term extension of the agency’s current funding.” Also, Nathan Koppel reported today at The Wall Street Journal Online that, “The Obama administration on Monday asked a federal court to allow it to continue implementing the president’s immigration plan, which was temporarily blocked last week by a Texas judge.”

News with potentially negative implications for the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade negotiations and Japan unfolded on Monday.

Robin Harding reported today at The Financial Times Online that, “Shinzo Abe, the Japanese prime minister, has lost an important ally on the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal after his agriculture minster resigned in a scandal over political donations.”

The FT article added that, “The resignation matters because Mr Nishikawa is a longstanding member of the LDP’s ‘agricultural tribe’. He acted as a firewall for Mr Abe against internal party critics on trade deals and farm reform.

“Negotiators are near a deal on the huge TPP agreement, and agricultural reform is one of Mr Abe’s top priorities this year, so the loss of Mr Nishikawa is a blow to the prime minister’s agenda.”

Also today at is a summary of a recent USDA- Economic Research Service report highlighting agricultural trade issues with China, as well as a look at an ERS publication on wetlands and the Farm Bill.

Keith Good

Recent USDA Updates: Trade with China, and Farm Bill Issues

A recent report from USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) (“China’s Growing Demand for Agricultural Imports” ) indicated that, “China’s 2001 accession to the World Trade Organization lowered barriers to agricultural imports, and its economic growth has generated new demands for agricultural commodities. An agricultural trading relationship of mutual importance is developing between the United States and China. The United States accounted for over 24 percent of the value of China’s agricultural imports during 2012-13, a larger share than any other country. U.S. agricultural sales to China doubled from 2008 to 2012, reaching nearly $26 billion in annual sales. China has overtaken Japan, Mexico, and Canada to become the leading export market for U.S. agricultural products.”

“All of China’s leading suppliers of agricultural imports are countries richly endowed with land resources: the United States, Brazil, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and Argentina. China has been importing more agricultural products from many of these countries, but the United States remains the leader,” the ERS report said.

The ERS report stated that, “Soybeans, other oilseeds, and fats and oils represent nearly half of China’s agricultural import value. Soybeans and other oilseeds are processed to extract oils, and the residual meal is used as a high-protein animal feed ingredient. China also imports fats and oils that are refined and manufactured into consumer oil products. China produces most of its own meat and dairy products, but imports of these products are also significant. The mix of agricultural imports is diver- sifying as China’s purchases of fruits, nuts, cassava, sugar, wine, breeding stock, and processed food imports rise.”

With respect to livestock, the ERS report indicated that, “China’s imports of meat and animal offal rose to over 2.5 mmt during 2013. Pork meat and offal are the largest types of meat imported…China’s imports of dairy products grew more than fourfold from 2008 to 2013, reaching 1.6 mmt.”

Farm Bill

A separate ERS report this month (“Targeting Investments To Cost Effectively Restore and Protect Wetland Ecosystems: Some Economic Insights“) stated that, “USDA has spent more than $4.2 billion on wetland restoration and protection over the last two decades. One challenge in allocating these funds is the lack of information on variations in wetland benefits and costs across the Nation. This report discusses the biophysical impacts of new wetlands for eight benefit categories: duck hunting, carbon sequestration, flood protection, nitrogen removal, species protection, open space, sediment removal, and groundwater recharge, as well as the value of these impacts for some categories. In addition, it presents county-level estimates of the costs of restoring and preserving wetlands for some parts of the United States. Although the estimates range in precision and are not comprehensive, they call attention to some areas where the benefits of new wetlands are likely to exceed costs or perhaps may be insignificant. For example, the benefits of restoring and preserving wetlands near the Missouri River in central North and South Dakota are likely to exceed costs. Findings underscore the need for additional information that may increase the number, accuracy, and spatial resolution of wetland benefit estimates.”

Also, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency indicated in a tweet on Monday that:


Monday Morning Highlights: West Coast Ports, Budget, and, the Ag Economy

West Coast Ports

Laura Stevens reported in today’s Wall Street Journal that, “West Coast ports are finally working at full speed again—for the most part— but it will likely take months for the backlog to clear, port officials and logistics experts said.”

The Journal article added that, “Port and logistics experts estimated it could take anywhere from about two to six months to get the U.S. supply chain—which makes sure T-shirts end up on shelves and auto parts are available for manufacturing—back on track.

“Port problems have been causing widespread pain for shippers, retailers, meat and poultry companies and manufacturers across the country. Farmers couldn’t get produce to Asia, leaving some fruit rotting in containers, and some auto manufacturers were forced to fly in parts to keep plants running.”

Today’s article noted that, “Farmers producing crops including oranges, potatoes, Christmas trees and soybeans have all been hard hit, as cargo arrived spoiled in Asia or couldn’t get there at all, said Peter Friedmann, executive director of the Agriculture Transportation Coalition. U.S. farmers are already competing with similar crops being grown around the world as the dollar strengthens, and the slowdown has been a tough blow, he said.

Farmers may have a hard time winning back customers lost over the past couple months, he said, adding, ‘People who are sourcing these products can’t afford a lack of dependability.'”

Sec. of Labor Tom Perez discussed his role in the port dispute resolution on MSNBC and CNBC on Monday morning.


Michael A. Memoli reported in today’s Los Angeles Times that, “Republicans were hammered over the 1995-96 government shutdowns, losing House seats in the next election and boosting President Clinton’s sagging approval ratings.

“They shot themselves in the foot again with the 16-day government shutdown in 2013 over Obamacare, although their record-low public approval ratings rallied in time to dominate the 2014 midterm election.

Now it appears the party is heading toward another budget-related standoff, this time over immigration policy and the Homeland Security Department, which is scheduled to run out of funding Saturday.”

The article noted that, “But buoyed by a Texas federal judge’s order last week to temporarily halt the president’s immigration plan, other Republicans are betting heavily that this time things will end differently for the party.

“They predict Democrats will shoulder the blame if the Homeland Security Department runs out of money and see no reason to drop their demand that renewed funding include amendments blocking President Obama from implementing his program to defer deportation for millions of immigrants in the country illegally.”

Kristina Peterson reported on the front page of today’s Wall Street Journal that, “In one of the first signs of movement, Senate Republicans, still mulling their options, are most likely to end up supporting a short-term extension of the agency’s current funding, potentially for one or two months, according to GOP aides. But that would meet some conservative opposition in the chamber, and a short term deal also could face hurdles passing the House, where many Republicans are demanding legislative steps to block the president’s immigration policy.”

Today’s article added that, “Many Senate Republicans would like to avoid a lapse in national-security funding at a time of high-profile global threats from Islamic State militants, cybersecurity concerns and other unrest. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, speaking on Sunday morning news shows, raised concerns about the funding impasse coming amid fresh terrorism threats, such as a video from Somali terrorist group al-Shabaab purportedly calling for an attack on the Mall of America in Minnesota.

“If funding were to lapse, though, Mr. Johnson said most of the agency’s 240,000 employees, including airport-screening and border-control agents, would still have to work because they are considered essential. He said 30,000 employees would be furloughed, and he said none of the employees would be paid until an agreement was reached.”

Agricultural Economy

Christian Berthelsen reported in today’s Wall Street Journal that, “The rebound in the cotton market is showing signs of wear.

Cotton prices have gained 13% since touching a 5½-year low of 57.30 cents a pound in late January as the U.S. had been selling more of the fiber overseas. But prices faltered Friday after weekly government data showed a large number of orders for U.S.-grown cotton were canceled.

“The news came one day after federal forecasters said growers would likely plant more acres with cotton this spring than an industry group had previously projected.”

And Mitsuru Obe reported today at The Wall Street Journal Online that, “Japanese agriculture minister Koya Nishikawa abruptly resigned over a fundraising scandal Monday, depriving Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of his point person on widely anticipated agriculture reforms only months after he was chosen for the job.

“Mr. Nishikawa’s resignation comes as Mr. Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party is expected to submit legislation to parliament next month that would drastically scale back the political power of small farming co-operatives, helping pave the way to the sector’s overhaul.”

Robin Harding reported today at The Financial Times Online that, “Shinzo Abe, the Japanese prime minister, has lost an important ally on the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal after his agriculture minster resigned in a scandal over political donations.”

The FT article added that, “The resignation matters because Mr Nishikawa is a longstanding member of the LDP’s ‘agricultural tribe’. He acted as a firewall for Mr Abe against internal party critics on trade deals and farm reform.

“Negotiators are near a deal on the huge TPP agreement, and agricultural reform is one of Mr Abe’s top priorities this year, so the loss of Mr Nishikawa is a blow to the prime minister’s agenda.”


Sunday Recap: West Coast Ports; Trade; Dietary Guidelines; Ag Economy; and, Policy Issues

West Coast Ports

A tentative agreement on the West Coast port dispute was reached on Friday, while articles on Saturday cautioned, “that the new contract won’t immediately resolve the delays.” Some lawmakers also weighed in on the developments expressing relief and a need for quick implementation of the agreement. A recap of news from Friday and Saturday can be found here at

The cautionary tone was amplified in an article by Tiffany Hsu, Andrew Khouri and Peter Jamison on the front page of Sunday’s Los Angeles Times titled, “Despite West Coast ports’ labor deal, normality not yet on horizon.” The writers indicated that, “West Coast ports are emerging from the most contentious labor dispute in more than a decade, but lingering resentment and structural problems may complicate a return to normality.”

For more, see this update.

Trade Issues

President Obama used his weekly address on Saturday to call on Congress to pass Trade Promotion Authority (TPA).

While The Wall Street Journal reported on Saturday that “House and Senate negotiators are converging on a deal” regarding TPA- more details at

A news release on Friday from U.S. Wheat Associates indicated that, “Several influential countries are not complying with the domestic agricultural support commitments they made as members of the World Trade Organization (WTO). That is the conclusion of a study sponsored by U.S. commodity organizations and introduced to agricultural negotiators Wednesday, Feb. 18, 2015, in Geneva, Switzerland. Those organizations made the point that recognizing the current realities in agricultural support and trade could help improve the chances of finally reaching a Doha Round agreement.

“The study was conducted by DTB Associates, Washington, DC, and updates a similar study conducted in 2011. U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) was one of the sponsors of the latest study indicating that the governments of India, China, Turkey, Brazil and Thailand have dramatically increased trade distorting subsidies for wheat, corn or rice production over the past ten years to levels that exceed their WTO agreements — in most cases by large margins. That information has not been readily available to WTO negotiators.”

The news release noted that, “For more information, visit and”

And Democrat Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), along with several House Democrats, including Collin Peterson (Minn.), just concluded a trip to Cuba, for more on this trip and Cuba issues, see this FarmPolicy update.

Dietary Guidelines

Following Thursday’s release of dietary guidelines from a government advisory committee, reactions from lawmakers and other interested parties have been publicized, including different views from former United States Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Kathleen Merrigan and American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman on the “sustainability” aspect of the guidelines.

The South Dakota congressional delegation also “expressed their concern about the misleading and inconsistent guidelines on meat consumption in the report.”

More details here, at

Agricultural Economy

News articles and reports highlighting aspects of the U.S. agricultural economy can be found in this update on Saturday at

And news release on Friday from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations stated that, “The model of agricultural production that predominates today is not suitable for the new food security challenges of the 21st century, FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva said today.”

The release added that, “Agriculture has a potentially large role to play not only in guaranteeing food security but also in building resilience to the affects of climate change and in reducing humankind’s emissions of global warming gases, according to the FAO Director-General.

“‘The impacts of climate change are no longer an anticipated threat. They are now a crystal-clear reality right before our eyes,’ he warned, adding: ‘Climate change will not only affect food production but also the availability of food and the stability of supplies. And in a global, interdependent economy, climate change makes the global market for agricultural products less predictable and more volatile.’”

Policy Issues

The House Ag Committee will hold hearings this week on Wednesday and Thursday regarding Farm Bill nutrition issues; while, on Tuesday, the Senate Ag Committee will hold a hearing on Farm Bill implementation and hear testimony from Sec. of Ag. Tom Vilsack.

Sec. Vilsack is also scheduled to appear on Wednesday at the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture.

Recall that earlier this month, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Ag heard from USDA Inspector General Phyllis Fong.

Meanwhile, Tom Steever reported on Friday at Brownfield that, “The Chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee says cutting crop insurance subsidies is a non-starter, but the Kansas Republican also expresses the need to convince detractors that the risk management tool has value.

“Senator Pat Roberts says there are people who believe that crop insurance subsidies should be reformed, which he says is the nice way to describe a cut.

“‘Usually they want the money for something else,’ Roberts told Brownfield Ag News at the Western Farm Show in Kansas City Friday, ‘either that or they just do not feel that farmers ought to have subsidized crop insurance.’”

Mr. Steever added that, “Roberts says Obama budget writers see crop insurance subsidies as low hanging fruit where money can be saved.

“‘We’re determined to educate these folks to the value of crop insurance; that’s going to be an ongoing effort, but that’s the way it’s been for years,’ said Roberts.  ‘We’re going to put that down as a top priority.’”

And Ron Nixon reported in Saturday’s New York Times that, “To understand America’s fragmented food safety inspection system, consider a slice of frozen pizza. The pepperoni is examined by the Agriculture Department, the cheese and tomato sauce by the Food and Drug Administration, each agency using its own methods for inspecting and testing.

“If someone gets ill sampling that slice’s tasty goodness, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention might sound the alarm, but it would fall to the F.D.A. to pressure the pizza maker for a recall.

The Obama administration wants a single new agency to sweep all that away: the Food Safety Administration, a colossus that would be housed within the Department of Health and Human Services to ‘provide focused, centralized leadership, a primary voice on food safety standards and compliance with those standards,’ the administration said in its new budget request.”

Keith Good

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