February 28, 2015

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.”


Video: House Agriculture Committee Organizational Meeting for 114th Congress

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From the House Ag Committee- Today, members of the House Committee on Agriculture met to formally organize and adopt the Committee’s rules for the 114th Congress.

“We have a very talented team of proven leaders whose impressive and diverse backgrounds will be a great asset in the Committee’s work this Congress,” said Chairman K. Michael Conaway (R., Tex.), who began his first term as Chairman this month. “I look forward to working with my colleagues to promote a strong production agriculture system and maintain a vibrant rural America.”

The Chairman’s full statement can be viewed here. Supporting documents can be viewed here.

See also this House Ag Committee tweet from today:


ERS: Genetically Engineered Seeds Planted on Over 90% of U.S. Corn, Cotton and Soybean Acres

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From USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS): U.S. farmers have adopted genetically engineered (GE) seeds in the 19 years since their commercial introduction, despite their typically higher seed prices. Herbicide-tolerant (HT) crops, developed to survive the application of specific herbicides that previously would have destroyed the crop along with the targeted weeds, provide farmers with a broader variety of options for weed control. Insect-resistant crops contain a gene from the soil bacterium Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) that produces a protein toxic to specific insects, protecting the plant over its entire life. “Stacked” seed varieties carry both HT and Bt traits and now account for a large majority of GE corn and cotton seeds. In 2014, adoption of GE varieties, including those with herbicide tolerance, insect resistance, or stacked traits, reached 96 percent of cotton acreage, 94 percent of soybean acreage (soybeans have only HT varieties), and 93 percent of corn acreage planted in the United States. This chart comes from the ERS data product, Adoption of Genetically Engineered Crops in the U.S., updated July 2014.


Video: Rep. Noem Speaks on House Floor about Importance of Farm Bill

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May 7- Rep. Kristi Noem (R., S.D.) speaks on House Floor about the importance of a Farm Bill to the Agriculture industry in South Dakota.


Bloomberg’s Alan Bjerga Discusses Sequestration Impacts on USDA- C-SPAN Today

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Senate Farm Bill Issues; EPA- Drones; Biofuels; Labor; and, Sec. Vilsack

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Farm Bill: Senate Process- Title I Issues

The Need-To-Know Memo (Email update from National Journal) stated Friday that, “The farm bill isn’t dead, but it’s fading fast after senators left town without agreement on how to deal with hundreds of proposed amendments. Senate Democratic aides now predict defeat under this scenario: Without an amendment deal, which isn’t expected, [Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.)]  will file cloture on the bill next week, possibly on Tuesday. Backers probably ‘don’t have the votes’ to overcome the cloture hurdle, a Democratic leadership aide said. Though the vote might split both parties, most opposition would come from Republicans, many of whom will cite Reid’s blocking of amendments to oppose the bill on procedural grounds.”

Pete Kasperowicz reported on Friday at The Hill’s Floor Action Blog that, “The House and Senate return to a week of work that may well be dominated by reaction to President Obama’s decision to stop deporting younger illegal immigrants who join the military or graduate from high school.

“The Republican response to that Friday announcement has a good chance of playing out particularly loudly in the Senate. The upper chamber is planning more behind-the-scenes work on a farm bill, so Republicans will have plenty of time to fill the empty stage of the Senate floor with complaints about the immigration decision.”

The Hill update noted that, “The immigration decision undoubtedly makes tougher what was already tough, like the farm bill, which was already starting to get attacked by Republicans as a $400 billion increase in spending. Or cooperation on moving judicial nominations — Senate Republicans had already decided not to move any more circuit court nominees until the November elections.”


Today’s Senate Agriculture Committee Hearing: Postponed

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Bay City Times (Michigan) reporter Andrew Dodson indicated yesterday that, “In anticipation of a possible government shutdown, Sen. Debbie Stabenow, the chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, has postponed a weekend hearing in East Lansing.

“The hearing, ‘Opportunities for Growth: Michigan and the 2012 Farm Bill,’ was to feature two area farmers and focus on the upcoming reauthorization of the Farm Bill.

“In an email to the Times, Stabenow’s press secretary said the postponement deals with the possible government shutdown and that ‘there might be a session in (Washington, D.C.) over the weekend at this point.'”


Vilsack to be Nominated for Secretary of Agriculture

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Recall that last month, on November 23rd, Philip Brasher reported at The Des Moines Register Online that, “Former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack today said that he won’t be the next agriculture secretary, ending speculation that an Iowan would snag the post important to a large swath of the state’s economy.

“In an e-mail, Vilsack said he had never been contacted by aides to President-elect Barack Obama about that position or any other.”