Government News -
Tuesday, 23 November 2010 13:20
By Keith Good
The “Washington Insider” section of DTN reported yesterday (link requires subscription) that, “Most observers would give high odds that current ranking member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., would keep that position in the new Congress next year. But congressional contacts confirm there is a possibility Chambliss could be tapped to be the ranking member on the Senate Intelligence Committee. Chambliss worked closely with Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.C., during the 2008 Farm Bill debate to form what turned out to be an effective North-South coalition that helped each region get some of their key omnibus farm bill objectives.
“Should Chambliss get the Intelligence position, the next possible ranking slot would be offered to Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan. But some contacts signal Roberts, for whatever reason, may not get the Agriculture ranking position. If so, next in line would be Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb.”
Meanwhile, a news release yesterday from the Oklahoma Farm Bureau stated that, “Voting delegates to the 69th annual meeting of the Oklahoma Farm Bureau said they want the federal government to continue direct assistance payments in the next farm bill. The meeting was held Nov. 19-21 at the Cox Convention Center in Oklahoma City.
“‘Our top priority is the continuation of direct payments and revenue assurance programs,’ said OFB President Mike Spradling. ‘The payments provide producers flexibility to grow various crops while providing income support.’”
The release added that, “The resolution stated: ‘We support a program or policy tool, like direct payments, that continues to provide a fixed share of the federal budget allocation for agriculture, is a green box policy, and is considered as part of a revenue assurance program.’
“There is concern direct payments may be eliminated since the administration is considering reducing the agriculture department’s budget.”
Ron Hays of the Radio Oklahoma Network provided an overview of the farm safety net debate in an audio report that was posted on Sunday.
Recall that earlier this fall, Reuters news reported that, “Oklahoma Rep. Frank Lucas said he would retain so-called direct payments that guarantee cotton, grain and soybean growers $5 billion a year as part of a judicious fine-tuning of the 2008 farm law, which is popular in farm country.
“‘There’s no need to throw out the system,’ said Lucas during a Reuters interview. ‘I think we take the ‘08 bill and we build off of that, and within the money available to us.’”
Also, remember that back in September, the Iowa Farm Bureau passed a resolution stating that Congress should eliminate direct payments: “Direct payments should be replaced by using this money for an improved revenue insurance program and risk management and fair trade.”
More broadly with respect to the midterm elections and the future direction of farm policy, an update posted yesterday at AgWired.com reported that, “While some are worried that the new fiscal hawks who were elected as the Republicans swept control of the U.S. House will be bad for agricultural interests in this country, the American Farm Bureau Federation says the shift to the right doesn’t necessarily mean the wrong path for farm policies.
“‘I know there’s people in the press who have said, ‘Oh gosh, [incoming Speaker of the House Republican] John Boehner’s gonna kill farm programs.’ I think that’s far from the truth. He’s a very smart guy, and he’s going to recognize a lot of the new people coming in are rural Republicans, and the Farm Bill’s going to mean a lot to those folks,’ Mary Kay Thatcher, Director of Public Policy at AFBF, told our own Cindy Zimmerman during the Trade Talk session at the recent National Association of Farm Broadcasters meeting in Kansas City. While she believes farm programs will take some cuts, it won’t be more than what other programs are asked to give up.”
In a related news regarding budgetary concerns, the November 19 edition of The Kiplinger Agriculture Letter indicated that, “As Washington focuses on budget deficits…Farm spending is smack in the crosshairs, with the cochairmen of Obama’s debt crisis commission pushing to reduce federal dollars for crop subsidies, conservation incentives and export support payments.
“Deep cuts for ag are part of broad proposals to slash $3.8 trillion from the federal budget by ’20, underscoring the need for severe budget remedies to keep the nation from sliding into fiscal disaster.”
The Kiplinger Letter stated that, “But despite the growing fervor about deficits, fueled by a wave of freshman legislators arriving on Capitol Hill with zeal for shrinking the size of government and federal expenditures…
“Don’t expect any big spending cuts soon. The fact is, Congress doesn’t make big shifts quickly and farm interests have lots of bipartisan support. Further, the partisan split between House and Senate will deepen the gridlock on most budget issues.”
The Kiplinger Letter added that, “Eventually, though, farmers and ranchers will see less government money. Of course, the range of federal benefits to farmers to support crops and livestock… about $15.7 billion a year since ’03…is already slipping with the better farm economy.”
Meanwhile, the “Room for Debate” Blog (The New York Times) stated yesterday (“Do Farm Subsidies Protect National Security?”) that, “With a House full of newly elected Republicans who pledged to cut federal spending, will the next farm bill be different? Some new members of Congress, like Kristi Noem of South Dakota, campaigned as deficit hawks, but have defended subsidies as a national security issue: the decline of farms could mean more food imports, they say. (Ms. Noem had partial ownership in a ranch that received more than $3 million in subsidies over 15 years, before her family bought her out last year.)
“Do payments to farms protect national security? Or, more broadly, how should the farm subsidy program be changed?”
An update posted yesterday at the AgMag Blog (Environmental Working Group) also addressed the farm program – national security issue, and pointed out that GOP Representative-Elect Vicky Hartzler from Missouri has indicated that, “[S]he says some agriculture programs represent a ‘national defense issue’ because they help guarantee that ‘we have a safety net to make sure we have food security in our country.’”
In policy related developments regarding nutrition, the Associated Press reported yesterday that, “First lady Michelle Obama had Miami elementary school students cheering Monday over a typically contentious dinner topic — vegetables. Even the green ones.
“The first lady ate some cherry tomatoes and fresh herbs with the students, who were the first in the country to receive a free salad bar as part of her new initiative to get more veggie displays into school cafeterias.”
The AP article stated that, “Only about 15 percent of public school cafeterias have salad bars. Dozens of schools want to add them, but can’t afford the $2,500 equipment display or the produce to stock it, said Lorelei DiSogra, vice president of nutrition and health for the United Fresh Produce Association. The organization is donating 6,000 salad bars to schools, mostly in low-income neighborhoods, over the next three years as part of Obama’s Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools initiative.”
A news release on this development from United Fresh Produce can be viewed here, while a transcript of the first lady’s remarks from yesterday can be viewed here.
Mrs. Obama also stated yesterday that, “But there’s one last thing I want to make sure everybody knows, is that we also need Congress to do their part. And one of the things that we hope will get passed soon is the Child Nutrition Reauthorization bill. And that’s going to provide money and resources to more schools so that we can improve nutrition, get better food into school lunchrooms, that we get more nutrition education into the classrooms, that we get more physical education.”
Greg Sargent indicated yesterday at The Plum Line Blog (The Washington Post) that, “Is there a new intra-GOP war brewing — a sequel to the Tea Party’s big victory in the battle over earmarks?
“Fresh off a big victory over the GOP establishment on earmarks, conservative GOP senators are opening up a new front in the battle on government spending that could be similar to the earmarks standoff: They are calling on Congress to let billions in ethanol subsidies expire.
“Senators Jim DeMint and Tom Coburn, two leading conservative Senators who have pushed the GOP to be serious about its anti-spending rhetoric, told me they are calling on fellow Republicans to urge Congress to allow ethanol subsidies to expire — something that could put other leading GOP Senators in an awkward spot and subject them (in theory) to the wrath of the anti-government-spending Tea Party if they don’t go along.”
Recall that last week, a news item from the Renewable Fuels Association stated that, “Tens of thousands of jobs could be a stake if Congress fails to extend key ethanol tax incentives in the lame duck session warned a group of leading ethanol and agriculture advocates in a letter to House and Senate leadership.”
Meanwhile, an Inside Energy article from earlier this month (November 8, by Tom LoBianco) reported that, “The corn-ethanol industry could have a strong ally atop a key committee in the soon-to-be Republican-controlled House, an ethanol lobbyist said last week.
“Oklahoma Republican Frank Lucas, who is poised to become chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, has warned some groups that being ‘anti-ethanol’ would be bad politically, said Jon Doggett, vice president for public policy at the National Corn Growers Association, an ethanol trade group in Washington.
“‘He’s told the livestock groups and others in this alliance of environmentalists, food manufacturers and livestock groups that to be anti-ethanol is not going to be viewed well in the new Congress,’ Doggett said. ‘I think that will hopefully change some of the debate that we’ve had. That will help a lot.’”
The Inside Energy article noted that, “The corn growers association and other ethanol trade groups want Congress to extend the Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax Credit, which pays so-called ‘blenders’ — refiners, oil companies and other entities — 45 cents for every gallon of ethanol they mix into gasoline. The VEETC is slated to expire on December 31, and ethanol trade groups are pressing Congress to extend it during the post-election ‘lame-duck’ session that begins on November 15.”
In other news, Philip Brasher reported yesterday at The Green Fields Blog (Des Moines Register) that, “There is some good news out of California for ethanol producers. The California Air Resources Board is moving toward revising its analysis of the impact of corn ethanol on greenhouse gas emissions. That change, if adopted, would assure that corn ethanol from the Midwest could meet California’s new low-carbon fuel standard, at least for the next few years, industry officials say.
“The low-carbon standard, which takes effect in January and will be tightened in coming years, is aimed at reducing the greenhouse gas emissions of cars and trucks in California. Every type of fuel, including electricity, is being graded in terms of carbon per mega joule, a unit of energy. California is the single largest market for ethanol, consuming about 1.5 billion gallons a year.
“CARB had estimated that corn ethanol resulted in as many if not more emissions as gasoline. However, research at Purdue University has convinced the CARB staff that the board has been overestimating the land-use impact of corn ethanol. The board is expected to adopt the new analysis next year. At issue is the extent to which using corn for motor fuel leads to more land being converted to cropland to replace the corn going into ethanol. As a result of the Purdue analysis, CARB is moving toward reducing the land-use charge by 50 percent.”
A news release yesterday from the National Corn Growers Association stated that, “The National Corn Growers Association welcomed a decision by California regulators Thursday which will begin to reflect ethanol’s significantly superior emissions profile compared to gasoline. However, NCGA remained critical of the timing and the process which allowed immature science to penalize this critically needed fuel.”
Bloomberg writers Joshua Zumbrun and Steve Matthews reported yesterday that, “The unemployment rate in North Dakota is 3.7 percent, and ‘if it wasn’t for cable news, we probably wouldn’t have any idea that the rest of the country was any different,’ said Doug Johnson, co-owner of crop insurer TCI Insurance in West Fargo, who added six new employees this year.
“As businesses across the U.S. struggle to recover from the deepest recession since World War II and the national jobless rate remains stuck at 9.6 percent, Johnson has benefited from his location in the northern Great Plains, where a boom in commodities, such as wheat and soybeans, is helping to create jobs, lift farmers’ incomes and fuel demand for goods ranging from Deere & Co. tractors and Agco Corp. combines to dinners at local restaurants.”
Yesterday’s article added that, “The agricultural Midwest — particularly North and South Dakota, Kansas and Nebraska — has been leading the U.S. economic recovery as its banks, businesses and households avoided the worst of the housing bubble’s collapse and the financial crisis that followed. Now the region is getting a further boost from record exports of commodities, driven by demand in China and Russia and a declining dollar. U.S. farm shipments next year may surpass the 2008 record of $115.3 billion, Joe Glauber, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s chief economist, said last month.
“‘This has been the brightest spot in the U.S. economy throughout the recession, the only part of the country that has held up reasonably well,’ said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics Inc. in West Chester, Pennsylvania.”
Leslie Reed reported yesterday at the Omaha World-Herald Online that, “The Humane Society of the U.S. has no plans to conduct a petition drive in Nebraska aimed at treatment of farm animals, the group’s president and chief executive officer said here Sunday.
“But Wayne Pacelle said his group still will continue to work to eliminate tight confinement practices on farms and ranches.”
“Pacelle’s appearance in Lincoln had fueled speculation that the national Humane Society was about to mount a petition drive like those in California and Arizona that resulted in restrictions on battery cages for chickens, gestation crates for sows and crates for veal calves. In Ohio, agriculture groups voluntarily agreed to phase out the tight confinement practices in the face of an HSUS petition drive,” the article said.
Reed indicated that, “Mark McHargue, a Central City, Neb., pork producer and a director of the Nebraska Farm Bureau Federation, said he remains skeptical of the HSUS’s motives. McHargue said he uses gestation crates to house pregnant sows on his hog farm. He said he believes the crates are a humane way to handle animals that would fight and harm one another if they weren’t restrained. Working without the crates also would increase his cost of production.
“‘You heard a lot of frustration and anxiety tonight about what’s happened in other states,’ McHargue said. ‘There’s no reason to think that what happened in other states won’t happen in Nebraska.’”
And, DTN Ag Policy Editor Chris Clayton reported yesterday (link requires subscription) that, “USDA’s Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration is faced with wading through at least 37,500 comments as the department now tries to work on a final livestock marketing rule.
“The extended public comment period closes at midnight Monday with a flood of comments coming into the agency and the federal system that manages public comments for proposed federal rules. The volume of comments USDA must review for the proposed rule likely means USDA will not issue an interim or final rule for several months.”
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