What is Best in New Farm Bill

New Holland ZimmPollBefore we get to the Farm Bill let’s look at our latest ZimmPoll which asked the question, “Could drones (UAV’s) serve a purpose on your operation?”

Well over half of the voters this week said that drones could in fact serve a purpose on their operation. Price is still a factor and may be the reason that some operations would not use them yet. We’re going to see a lot more about this new technology since predictions have been made that eighty percent of the multi-million dollar market will be for agricultural use.

Our poll results:

  • Yes, if affordable – 50%
  • No – 18%
  • Yes, at any price – 14%
  • No, worried about privacy – 14%
  • What are they? – 5%

Our new ZimmPoll is now live and asks the question, “What’s best in the new farm bill?”

The Senate finally passed its version of a conference bill Jan. 29, and now the farm bill goes to President Obama’s desk. As you can read on Senator Debbie Stabenow’s website: “This isn’t your father’s Farm Bill. It is a bill for our future that grows our agriculture economy, helps provide greater access to healthy Michigan-grown foods, preserves our land and water, and cuts unnecessary spending. The Farm Bill is a rare example of a major bipartisan jobs bill and a bipartisan deficit reduction bill,” Chairwoman Stabenow said. Have you had the chance to review the new bill? Let us know what you think is the best part.

Senate Passes Farm Bill – Not Your Father’s FB

fb-2014The Senate just passed the Farm Bill. The vote was 68-32. Now it’s on to the President’s desk.

I’m just waiting on the press releases to start showing up. Curiously, I got one before the vote!

From Senator Debbie Stabenow’s website:

The U.S. Senate today voted overwhelmingly to approve the bipartisan Farm Bill authored by U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow, Chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, by a vote of 68-32. The bill represents rare bipartisan agreement on a major jobs bill, legislation that will help grow Michigan’s agriculture economy, the state’s second-largest industry. The 2014 Farm Bill reduces the deficit by $23 billion and represents the most significant reform of American agriculture policy in decades. The Farm Bill was approved by the House last week and will now head to the White House for the president’s signature.

This isn’t your father’s Farm Bill. It is a bill for our future that grows our agriculture economy, helps provide greater access to healthy Michigan-grown foods, preserves our land and water, and cuts unnecessary spending. The Farm Bill is a rare example of a major bipartisan jobs bill and a bipartisan deficit reduction bill,” Chairwoman Stabenow said.

EU Agriculture Commercial for CAP

EU CAP VideoThe European Union is trying to sell the public on their Common Agriculture Policy while promoting agriculture with a campaign, “Taking Care of Our Roots.”

Designed to be greener, fairer and more efficient, the CAP reform aims to reinforce the partnership between Europe and its farmers and deliver real benefits to more than 500 million EU consumers. It also provides an excellent opportunity to bring together EU citizens, farmers, NGOs, other rural actors, national, regional, local authorities, and the European Commission to better understand and debate the importance of agriculture in our lives – and those of future generations.

Here’s a video that delivers the message, Our Life, Our Roots. What do you think? Should USDA run a campaign like this?

AFBF Voting Delegates Make Policy

Florida Farm Bureau DelegationThe annual meeting of the voting delegates of the American Farm Bureau Federation is underway here in San Antonio, TX. This is grass roots at its finest.

Throughout the day the delegates will work through the AFBF policy book making changes and perhaps adding new policy positions. Each one is placed on very large screens so everyone can easily read the proposals and see the changes as they are made and voted on. Of course there is discussion but the process moves pretty quickly.

I spoke with Florida Farm Bureau President John Hoblick who sits on the AFBF board. In my interview he walks us through the process and talks about the policies of highest importance to Florida farmers and ranchers. I worked for Florida Farm Bureau once upon a time. It is where I got my start in agricultural communications! John is pictured with the FFBF delegation.

You can listen to my interview with John here: Interview with John Hoblick
2014 AFBF Convention Photos

NCBA’s Government Affairs Advocating for Beef

nafb-13-19-editedThe National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) attended this year’s NAFB Trade Talk event and I spoke with Colin Woodall, Vice President of Government Affairs, while stopping by their booth. Colin voiced that it is an exciting time to be part of the beef community. He admits herd numbers are down, but that it means people are making money. Beyond cattle numbers he discussed a few other hot topics he and others on Capitol Hill are tirelessly working on to ensure beef production in the United States continues to grow and thrive.

The Farm Bill was a hot topic everywhere you went during Trade Talk, but Colin focused on one aspect of the bill that is front and center for NCBA.

“Country of Origin Labeling is one issue that we have to get fixed because right now we have a retaliation that is looming from both Canada and Mexico where they could should us out of their markets or add a surtax our markets probably sometime in late summer or early fall of 2014.”

Colin also brought up Federal Lands Grazing. Many farmers and ranchers utilize permits to graze federal lands in the western part of the U.S. Activists groups are pressuring for the removal of these permits.

“We have two pieces of legislation we are working on right now. One is to try and change the way the federal government approaches wildfires. To make sure we are managing federal lands in a way to mitigate the severity of wildfires. Then also we are trying put in place a Grazing Improvement Act that would make the process to get these permits a little bit more expedited and try and cut out some of the bureaucratic red tape we have to deal with right now.”

The beef industry relies heavily on international trade. On this topic Colin shared news on the Trans Pacific Partnership and what it means to producers and consumers alike. Continue reading

Farm Bill Comments from Growth Energy Economist

The farm bill is important for agriculture and renewable energy and I had the opportunity to chat with a veteran farm policy expert who now serves as Vice President and Chief Economist for Growth Energy.

growth-millerJim Miller has served many roles in his career, from leadership positions with the National Farmers Union and National Association of Wheat Growers to Senior Policy Advisor on the Budget Committee under Senator Kent Conrad (D-ND) and USDA Under Secretary for Farm and Foreign Agriculture Services, so he’s had his share of farm policy experience and farm bills in particular.

“The process for developing the 2013 farm bill is just a tremendous mess,” said Miller. “The action that the House took in splitting the nutrition title from the rest of the farm bill I don’t think is very hopeful to those of us interested in farm bills and what that means for rural America.”

Miller thinks it will be very difficult for the House and Senate to achieve a compromise. “I do not envy those who are likely to be appointed to the conference to try to reconcile these differences,” he said. The House has yet to appoint conferees and now has several more procedural steps before that might occur. In the meantime, Congress is facing the bigger issues of keeping the government funded and dealing with the debt ceiling, which means it is almost certain the current farm bill extension will expire at the end of September without a new one. Miller says that’s not a big deal for most farm programs and the nutrition program but will impact a number of the other titles which lose the authorization to operate when the extension expires.

Jim also comments about the challenges to the RFS in this interview from the New Holland American Ethanol Producers Club event being held this week in Lyle, Minnesota at the Absolute Energy ethanol plant: Jim Miller, Growth Energy

Congressmen Visit Farm Progress Show

Two Illinois congressmen visited with agricultural leaders and the media during opening day of the Farm Progress Show in Decatur to talk about issues important to farmers and ranchers.

fps13-davisCongressman Rodney Davis, a Republican from the district of Illinois that includes Decatur, is a member of both the House Agriculture and Transportation committees, so he is deeply involved in two top agriculture priorities – the farm bill and WRDA.

Davis said he was shocked when the farm bill failed in the House and called it “probably the worst day I’ve had in Congress” but he is hopeful they will get it done yet. “We passed an ag-side only, didn’t change hardly anything, and that’s going to give us a chance to conference that portion. And we’re going to go back to Washington at the beginning of next month and pass a food and nutrition side which I hope then is combined back together.”Interview with Rep. Rodney Davis

fps13-shimkusCongressman John Shimkus, who represents Illinois’ 15th district, says nutrition is still going to be tough. “It’s going to be $40 billion in major reforms,” he said. “But once we do that, I do believe (both bills) will go to conference and Chairman Lucas and Debbie Stabenow will work their magic.”

Shimkus serves on the House Energy Committee so he is fully engaged in the battle over the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), representing both sides of the issue in his district on the Eastern side of Illinois. “I’ve got corn growers, I’ve got renewable refiners and I’ve got petroleum refiners,” said Shimkus, who does believe the RFS has some problems that need to be fixed, such as the Renewable Identification Numbers (RINS) program. Interview with Rep. John Shimkus

2013 Farm Progress Show Photo Album

Coverage of the 2013 Farm Progress show is sponsored by Bayer CropScience, Growmark and New Holland

Insider Look at 2013 for Food & Agriculture

Farm to Fork PoliticsHow about some Farm to Fork Politics? That’s what we got to kick off 2013 National Ag Day activities in Washington, DC. Here are the panelists for the session that was sponsored by Agri-Pulse just prior to their annual reception. Seated l-r are Dr. Keith Collins, former USDA Chief Economist, B. Hudson Riehle, Senior VP of the Research & Information Services Division for the National Restaurant Association and Dr. J. B. Penn, John Deere. These gentlemen gave us opening remarks before taking questions from the audience.

You can listen to the session here: Farm to Fork Politics Session

Before we got started I spoke with each of our panelists to ask them to tell me what they planned to tell us.

Dr. J.B. PennLet’s start with Dr. J.B. Penn. He had a “generally positive” message but chose to look back at recent years as a guideline for the outlook for the future. So he looks back at the last ten years to see how we “got here today.” He mentions something that is a common thread of the comments of all our panelists and that is uncertainty and volatile markets.

You can listen to my interview with Dr. Penn here: Interview with Dr. J.B. Penn

B. Hudson RiehleNext up is Hudson Riehle. He says that “despite a host of challenges the restaurant industry will post record sales this year of $660 billion dollars.” That’s up 3.8% over 2012. He says it’s the fourth straight year of sales growth but that the increase this year is much more modest than it has been.

You can listen to my interview with Hudson here: Interview with B. Hudson Riehle

Dr. Keith CollinsWe also heard from Dr. Keith Collins who said his first focus would be on three things, liquidity, solvency and economic growth. Then his second focus is corn because it accounts for so much of the value of crop production. He says we’re very dependent on having a good crop in 2013. Finally, he talks about where the farm bill may be headed. When it comes to the current Congress Dr. Collins is on the one hand depressed about what he see in politics but at on the other hand seeing that the glass is half full.

You can listen to my interview with Dr. Collins here: Interview with Dr. Keith Collins

2013 National Ag Day Activities Photo Album

Coverage of the National AgDay Activities is sponsored by the BCS think tank and American Seed Trade Association

Farm to Fork Politics

Agri-Pulse Ag DayThe first in the series of 2013 National Ag Day activities is an Agri-Pulse sponsored session titled, “Farm to Fork Politics: An Insider’s look at the year ahead for food and agriculture”

Join us for this panel discussion moderated by Sara Wyant of Agri-Pulse and featuring J.B. Penn of John Deere, former USDA Chief Economist, Dr. Keith Collins and B. Hudson Riehle, the Senior Vice President of the Research and Information Services Division for the National Restaurant Association.

I spoke with Sara before we got started tonight and asked about her perspective of what the year ahead will hold. Sara is very optimistic about agriculture and food. She sees heightened interest in these subjects here on Capitol Hill. She says it’s a time of fiscal austerity with budget cutting and a need to figure out what’s best to maintain a sustainable ag industry and work to feed a growing population.

We’ve got a big crowd here tonight. There were over 330 pre-registered and we’re expecting House and Senate leadership to join us for the reception following this session.

You can listen to my interview with Sara here: Interview with Sara Wyant

I’ll be saving a lot of photos to my online photo album: 2013 National Ag Day Activities Photo Album

Coverage of the National AgDay Activities is sponsored by the BCS think tank and American Seed Trade Association

Sequester Monster is Coming

sequester-monsterThe impending deadline for “sequestration” has taken on the character of a looming cataclysmic event or awakening of a sleeping monster in a horror movie – a monster with an axe aimed at all government spending.

Sequester is scheduled to take effect on March 1 and so far Congress has made no effort to prevent the across the board spending cuts from taking place. I talked with GROWMARK government affairs director Chuck Spencer to find out more about the Sequester Monster.

Chuck explains that sequestration traces back to the Budget Control Act of 2011 requiring Congress to come to an agreement on deficit reduction by the end of 2012 – or else there would be cuts to all defense and non-defense spending. “There are exemptions within the provisions, obviously Social Security, veterans affairs, some nutrition programs,” he said. “Those cuts for sequestration can range anywhere from 10 percent in some discretionary defense programs to 7.8% for non-defense discretionary programs.”

gmk-chuck-spencerNo one really knows what the reductions would mean but Chuck says there are those who believe that with the ballooning federal deficit, drastic measures are needed. “Households when times get tough are able to cinch the belt up and make things work, why can’t government do the same?” he said.

One proposal to avoid sequestration comes from the Democrats who are suggesting taking all the needed cuts – $55 million – from defense and agriculture. The reasoning behind taking half from agriculture is ending direct payments, which is supposed to be done whenever a new farm bill is completed. Chuck says one problem is that those cuts would take effect immediately, and the current farm bill that was extended through September includes direct payments for this season. “Many farmers have incorporated their management plans for 2013, we’re coming up on spring planting season, and a change in that type of program – particularly for crops in the southern part of the country – would be very difficult to deal with,” he said.

Listen to my interview with Chuck here: Chuck Spencer, GROWMARK

Farm Policy Facts Relaunches Education Campaign

fpf-logo-706x155A diverse coalition of agricultural organizations that came together during the 2008 Farm Bill debate under the name Farm Policy Facts announced that they are stepping up education activities during the 113th Congress.

Farm Policy Facts will communicate with the media and members of Congress via regular email alerts that will include a mix of farm policy news, detailed analysis and case studies of farm policy in action. Former journalists and legislative experts – including Rene Pastor, a longtime commodities reporter with Reuters, and Tom Sell, a former Hill aide and USDA official and cofounder and managing partner of Combest, Sell & Associates, LLC. – will be regular contributors.

Rally Calls for Farm Bill Now

About 500 people turned out for the Farm Bill Now rally near the Capitol on Wednesday, which featured members of Congress as well as representatives from a number of the nearly 100 organizations who make up the coalition calling for a comprehensive, five year food, farm and jobs legislation before the current bill expires at the end of this month.

The event was co-hosted by American Farm Bureau Federation president Bob Stallman and National Farmers Union president Roger Johnson. “Perhaps never in the history of farm legislation have so many diverse farmer and rancher voices joined together for such a common call for action on a farm bill,” said Stallman. “We gather here under a banner adorned with three words. FARM. BILL. NOW. And we are here to raise our voices toward Capitol Hill.”

House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson told the rally that there’s no good reason why the House has not yet brought the farm bill passed out of his committee to the floor for a vote. “People say we don’t have the votes, I don’t agree with that,” he said. “We just need the opportunity to have this bill come up and work on it.”

However, Peterson believes that if nothing changes between now and the end of the month, the bill will be put off indefinitely. “This rally is a good starting point, but what we need is 100-200 calls from people in their districts to these members. If you don’t do that, we’re not going to get a farm bill.”

Peterson praised Senate Ag Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow for getting a bill passed by the Senate, and she gave credit to her entire committee for working together to get it done. “We could pay for the national deficit if we had a dollar for every person that said we couldn’t get this done,” Stabenow said. “There’s no reason this farm bill can’t get passed by the House. You just have to want to get it done.”

Stabenow stressed only 18 days are left before the current farm bill expires. On the first day Congress was back in Washington on Monday, she went to the floor of the Senate urging the House leadership to pass a bill in that time. Watch that speech from YouTube.

A FAPRI Farm Market Outlook

Patrick Westhoff is the Director of the Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute (FAPRI) at the University of Missouri–Columbia and a professor in the MU department of agricultural and applied economics. He was also our St. Louis Agribusiness Club speaker yesterday. I spoke with him beforehand since I had to leave early.

He says his job was to talk about why agricultural markets have been so wild the last several years and why they’ll continue to be volatile for years to come. He says one of the reasons is an “ordinary garden variety one” which is weather. Sometimes people forget that he said. He says they’re watching agricultural land markets vary carefully. And of course he mentions farm policy and the farm bill and the efforts in Washington, DC recently. When it comes to tight corn stocks he says the smallest piece of news is having an impact on markets and he expects that to continue for the next several years. Hear some more of his outlook in my interview.

You can listen to my interview with Patrick here: Patrick Westhoff Interview

St. Louis Agribusiness Club Meeting Photo Album

Iowa Corn Caucus Grades Candidates on Farm Issues

ICGAThe Iowa Corn Caucus released its report card for presidential candidates today, giving grades for different policy areas related to agriculture with an overall grade for each candidate.

The highest overall grade went to Newt Gingrich, who scored straight As on every single policy issue. Second in the class was Rick Santorum, who had mostly A’s but faltered under farm programs in the areas of crop insurance and conservation. President Obama received a grade of B, as did Mitt Romney, but the rest of the four major Republican candidates got no more than a C minus. Rick Perry received that grade, while Michelle Bachmann was close behind with a D+ and both Herman Cain and Ron Paul got Ds. Cain in particular failed miserably in the energy policy category and farm programs – getting straight Fs in all those areas.

“Our purpose wasn’t to endorse any candidate, but instead to give farmers a tool that they could take with them to the caucuses in January,” said Iowa Corn Growers senior policy advisor Amanda Taylor. The survey for candidates was developed in conjunction with the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) to include ten questions directly related to agricultural issues.

ICGA president Kevin Ross noted that only half of candidates responded to the survey, so the Corn Caucus used other methods to determine the grades. “We tracked interviews, speeches, media quotes and all things related to agriculture, including voting records of candidates who held office,” he said. The candidates who did return the survey were Obama, Cain, Gingrich and Santorum.

Find out more about the Corn Caucus project results from the ICGA website, and listen to a press conference this morning about it here: Iowa Corn Caucus Results

Vilsack Talks Farm Bill at John Deere

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack chose the John Deere Des Moines Works facility to talk about his priorities for the 2012 Farm Bill, which he says is really a misnomer.

“After all, for decades this bill has been about a whole lot more than just farming. It’s been about energy, it’s been about nutrition, it’s been about jobs. Now, some may keep calling it the Farm Bill out of convenience, or maybe even out of tradition; but I think we’re doing it a disservice,” Vilsack said.

The secretary acknowledged that fiscal and political realities will have an impact on the outcome for any legislation in the coming year. “So our priorities must be clear. We simply need to do more with less,” he said.

Read the secretary’s speech here.

Do You AGree

There’s a new ag policy group in town. Welcome to AGree.

Today eight of the world’s leading foundations launched AGree, a new initiative that will tackle long-term food and agriculture policy issues confronting the nation and the world as the population continues to grow and resources become ever-more constrained.

AGree is launching at a pivotal moment for food and agriculture policy. Over the next four decades there will be an additional 2.6 billion people on Earth to feed—a 38 percent population increase from today—in addition to the 925 million people who currently suffer under-nutrition or hunger. Simultaneously, the world faces a limited amount of easily accessible arable land, increasing pressures on freshwater quality and availability and accelerating environmental degradation.

Solutions to these challenges will require best-in-class research, comprehensive analysis and cross-sector dialogue—resources productively brought together for the first time under the AGree initiative. AGree will fill a crucial void in current agriculture research and discussions that frequently do not consider solutions across multiple sectors such as environment, energy, rural economies, and health.

AGree’s mission to nurture dialogue among diverse opinions on agriculture issues is embodied by the leaders of the initiative: Dan Glickman, former secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture under President Bill Clinton and a former congressman from Kansas for 18 years; Gary Hirshberg, chairman, president and “CE-Yo” of Stonyfield Farm; Jim Moseley, former deputy secretary at the U.S. Department of Agriculture under President George W. Bush and Indiana farmer for more than 40 years; and, Emmy Simmons, former assistant administrator for Economic Growth, Agriculture, and Trade at the U.S. Agency for International Development and a board member for several organizations engaged in international agriculture and global development.

AGree is funded by Ford Foundation, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, The William & Flora Hewlett Foundation, The David and Lucile Packard Foundation, W.K. Kellogg Foundation, The McKnight Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation and The Walton Family Foundation.

So what do you think about this new organization?

Republican Budget Would Cut Farm Spending

The FY 2012 Budget Resolution unveiled by House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan (R-Wis) includes reforming current farm programs.

The Republican budget plan would cut farm program spending by $30 billion over the next decade to “reflect the economic reality of record-high farm income by restructuring farm programs, saving taxpayers money and increasing farmer independence.”

Net farm income this year is forecast to be the second-highest recorded in the past 35 years. Production costs have risen, but income has risen faster as prices for major commodities such as corn and soybeans have outstripped even the rising cost of energy. The top five earnings years for farmers in the last 35 years have occurred in the last decade.Yet, at the same time, numerous overlapping government programs exist to provide income support to farmers.

With crop prices – and deficits – hitting new highs, it is time to adjust support to this industry to reflect economic realities.This budget proposes two major reforms to achieve this: First, reduce the fixed payments that go to farmers irrespective of price levels, to reflect that soaring commodity prices are reducing the need for high levels of farm-income support. Second, reform the open-ended nature of the government’s support for crop insurance, so that agricultural producers assume the same kind of responsibility for managing risk that other businesses do.

Corn growers say they are willing to take a proportionate share of budget cuts to get the deficit under control.

“These cuts are significant, but so is our nation’s out-of-control budget deficit,” said National Corn Growers Association President Bart Schott in a statement. “What is important is that farmers are not singled out — the cuts proposed for agriculture are proportional to those proposed for other areas of the federal budget. We know this is just the beginning of the budget discussion. No matter the outcome, we are committed to working with the House and Senate Agriculture Committees to fashion a farm bill that provides farmers with risk management tools that are there when they truly need them.”

FAPRI: Farm Incomes Up But Not Biggest Driver in Consumer Price Rise

The amount consumers will be paying for food at the grocery store could jump this year, but rising farm incomes won’t be the biggest factor in that increase.

The latest report from the Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute (FAPRI) at the University of Missouri shows there will be good farm incomes in the U.S. this year … a record $99 billion in 2011 … but it won’t be the biggest driver in an expected 4 percent increase in consumer prices. FAPRI’s director, Pat Westhoff, that distinction belongs energy costs.

“[High oil prices] are probably the biggest reason for the year-to-year changes. The higher energy costs we’ve seen in recent months do increase the cost of transporting and processing the food. And those are a big share of the overall consumer food dollar.”

Westhoff points out that while the amount of money American farmers will be making this year will increase, still only about 20 cents of every food dollar goes back to the people who grow and raise that food.

Westhoff says crop producers should have a good 2011, with livestock producers getting more of a mixed bag. “The positive is we have seen higher prices for cattle and hogs. But they’re also facing much higher feed costs this year.”

He adds that strong international demand for U.S. farm products will buoy the ag sector with cattle prices expected to go up and tightening corn stocks, helped by advancements for the ethanol and biofuels sectors, will keep those prices higher as well.

Westhoff cautions farmers that FAPRI doesn’t have some kind of crystal ball, and producers should expect some volatility.

“If you’re a producer or someone using agricultural products, you’re going to want to be very active in risk management these days to make sure that you’re able to handle different contingencies that might come up over the course of the next couple of months.”

Listen to my entire conversation with Westhoff here: Pat Westhoff, Director, MU FAPRI

American Farm Bureau Sets Policy

AFBF Annual MeetingThe votes are in, the delegates have spoken and the American Farm Bureau Annual Meeting has concluded with a new set of policies. AFBF President, Bob Stallman, held a closing press conference to point out a few highlights from today’s decision making. He said that even with the adverse weather conditions that happened here in Atlanta the program ran smoothly and attendees all accepted some small changes that had to be made. He pointed out that they’re farmers and deal with the weather every day! I’m going to pull a few comments from the news release that just came out in the interest of time and because I know some AgWired fans are waiting on this.

You can listen and download the press conference here: Bob Stallman Closing Press Conference

Stallman told us that delegates voted to “maintain a strong farm income safety net, address dairy price volatility and urge greater oversight of regulatory actions by the Environmental Protection Agency.”

As Congress prepares to draft a new farm bill later this year and in 2012, the delegates reiterated their support for extending the concepts of the 2008 farm bill.

“The 2008 farm bill has worked as farmers and ranchers have weathered market ups and downs over the last four years,” said American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman. “It’s important to maintain a program that protects our nation’s food, fiber and fuel supply and the consumers who rely on agriculture’s productivity.” Continue reading