AG NEWS 07/06/2012

“House Farm Bill Released by Ag Committee Leaders”

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas and Ranking Member Collin Peterson have released a discussion draft of the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act or FARRM. The bipartisan bill saves billions of taxpayer dollars, reduces the nation’s deficit and repeals outdated policies while reforming, streamlining and consolidating others. Chairman Lucas says the bill is the product of a two-year process that examined every policy under the committee’s jurisdiction. He calls it reform-minded, fiscally responsible policy that is equitable for farmers and ranchers in all regions. Lucas adds that it is an investment in production agriculture and rural America. Peterson says the legislation released Thursday brings us another step closer to achieving the goal of completing work on the 2012 Farm Bill before the current bill expires. He says allowing existing farm policy to expire would jeopardize one of the economic bright spots of the nation’s fragile economy.

According to Peterson – the commodity title will work for all parts of the country, there is continued support for the sugar program and his Dairy Security Act. He says there will be challenges ahead – but he expects the committee will approve the bill next week. If the House leadership brings the bill to the floor – he says it can be finished in September.

Highlights of FARRM include a savings of more than 35-billion dollars in mandatory funding and repeal or consolidation of more than 100 programs. The elimination of direct payments and streamlined and reformed commodity policy saves more than 14-billion dollars. Improved integrity and accountability in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program saves more than 16-billion dollars. The consolidation of 23 conservation programs into 13 – improving program delivery to producers – saves more than six-billion dollars. It also provides regulatory relief – including H.R. 872 to mitigate the burdens faced by farmers, ranchers and rural communities.

This legislation will be considered by the House Agriculture Committee on July 11.

“Senate Ag Chair Will Take Closer Look at FARRM Act”

Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow says she will review the draft farm bill legislation released by House Agriculture leaders Frank Lucas and Collin Peterson closely to compare it to the reforms achieved in the bill recently approved by the Senate. She has concerns with some of the differences between the two bills. As an example – Stabenow cites greater cuts in food assistance. She says the Senate bill focused on fraud and misuse – but the House draft changes eligibility rules so that some people truly in need will not receive the help their family needs. Stabenow says it’s vital that the House be allowed to complete work on the farm bill. She says failing to pass a bill by the September deadline would jeopardize millions of jobs and undercut the strong growth in agriculture.

“Farm Groups Start Weighing in on House Farm Bill Draft”

Farm groups are already weighing in on the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act – released by House Ag Committee Chairman Frank Lucas and Ranking Member Collin Peterson Thursday.

National Farmers Union is pleased that the discussion draft released by Lucas and Peterson contains provisions to address a long-term market collapse. NFU President Roger Johnson says that is a very critical part of any safety net. But he says the FARRM Act does have a number of areas that concern NFU. Johnson says the 35-billion dollars in cuts are deeply disproportionate and far larger than agriculture should have to bear given its share of the federal budget. He says NFU is concerned the energy title contains no mandatory funds – calling the energy title a key driver in rural development projects. Johnson also says now is not the time to make deep cuts to nutrition programs.

National Sorghum Producers commends the House Agriculture Committee’s bipartisan commitment to strong U.S. farm policy and the nation’s farmers and ranchers. NSP says the text released by Committee Chairman Frank Lucas and Ranking Member Collin Peterson indicates producers will have the opportunity to choose the policy option that best fits their farm and provides minimum price protection. Both are components NSP has advocated for from the beginning of the process.

The National Cotton Council is encouraging House Ag Committee members to pass the bill as introduced in the discussion draft. NCC Chairman Chuck Coley says by providing cotton producers a choice of the Stacked Income Protection Plan or the new Supplemental Coverage Option – Chairman Lucas has offered programs that provide a safety net for upland cotton – while also offering a clear path to resolution of the Brazil case. Coley says the group is pleased that the range of programs provides choices that offer a balanced safety net across commodities and regions – but still allow for market-driven planting decisions. He also points to improvements to crop insurance and a reasonable approach to payment limits and income means tests.

“House Ag Members Encouraged to Support Sugar Program Reform”

Members of the House Agriculture Committee have been urged to support a farm bill amendment that would make changes to the sugar program. In a letter to committee members – 22 sweetener user, environmental and taxpayer groups state that Virginia’s Bob Goodlatte has written an amendment that would make modest changes to the program. The National Council of Farmer Cooperatives has expressed strong opposition to any amendment Goodlatte intends to introduce that would change the existing sugar program in a way that would effectively eliminate it.

Among other things – the groups argue in the letter that U.S. sugar policies cost consumers 3.5-billion dollars in extra food bills and sacrifice up to 20-thousand potential jobs. They say the Goodlatte amendment will eliminate some of the worst aspects of current policies – including eliminating restrictions on the Secretary of Agriculture’s ability to set import quotas and returning price supports to 2008 levels.

NCFC President and CEO Chuck Conner says any House amendment similar to the one introduced in the Senate by Pennsylvania’s Pat Toomey would undermine a program that costs taxpayers nothing and would threaten thousands of American jobs. He says the benefits of ending the sugar program would not go to U.S. consumers – but to our foreign competitors who are heavily subsidized. According to Conner – the current sugar program has reached a balance to ensure adequate and safe supplies of sugar at very competitive prices.

“Important Piece of Gestation Stall Debate Lost”

When it comes to the conversation surrounding the use of gestation stalls for pregnant sows – there’s an important piece that has been left out. That’s according to Veterinarian Steve Dritz and Research and Extension Livestock Specialist Joel DeRouchey – both of Kansas State University – who say it’s important not to forget the reason producers implemented swine gestation stalls in the first place. Dritz says a gestation stall ensures a sow is fed to meet her individual nutritional needs. When in group pens – some sows eat more than they should – while others eat less than they need. Gestation stalls also protect the pregnant sows – as they can be aggressive and physically harm one another. DeRouchey notes those working with the animals love them and want them to do as well as possible.

Dritz recently spent time in Europe where he learned that animals with the ability to move in and out of gestation stalls actually choose to spend 80 to 85-percent of their time in the individual stalls. He adds that research designed to measure stress hormones in swine has shown no difference in sows that are free to move about versus those housed in gestation stalls. When it comes to production – he says gestation stalls and open pens can be successful. But when it comes to health – Dritz says there is no question gestation stalls protect animals and prevent injuries. He says that point is missing in many of the messages surrounding the gestation stall conversation.

According to DeRouchey – it’s easy to draw quick conclusions without understanding all the facts – including the long-term implications, the history behind the move to this system and why producers are reluctant to go back to the old way of doing things. He adds that sow housing affects small producers as well as the largest ones. He says the economics and history show that the idea moving from stall operations to pens will favor small operations is far from the truth. In fact – DeRouchey says there’s concern that mandating the move to pens will force many small producers out of business because of the capital costs associated with converting existing facilities. He says the mandates could lead to further consolidation of the industry. DeRouchey says we have to understand this debate is being influenced by organizations with another agenda beside animal welfare – the majority of the changers or big influencers want to abolish animal agriculture and end the consumption of meat.

“NPPC, NCBA Pleased with Decision on Ractopamine”

The Codex Alimentarius Commission – established by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and its World Health Organization to promote food safety and fair practices in trade – has approved an international standard for ractopamine. It was the fifth time the body considered setting a maximum residue limit for the feed ingredient used to promote leanness in pork and beef. National Pork Producers Council President R.C. Hunt says NPPC is pleased the commission finally approved this scientifically proven safe product. He says the commission fulfilled its mandate to base standards and guidelines on science. National Cattlemen’s Beef Association Chief Veterinarian Kathy Simmons called the move a victory for U.S. cattlemen and women. She says the Codex Commission proved they are willing to trust science and make decisions based on the facts rather than politics.

NPPC notes ractopamine was evaluated and approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and has been approved for use in 26 countries. A Codex panel of international scientists has confirmed the safety of ractopamine three times. According to NCBA’s Simmons – the issue of ractopamine has historically caused unnecessary trade disruptions. She says the lack of international MRL standards caused confusion. NPPC notes the EU, China, Taiwan and Thailand currently ban imports of pork from pigs fed ractopamine.

Hunt says U.S. pork producers are disappointed with the continued opposition to ractopamine for non-scientific reasons. He says Russia is set to join the WTO this year – and the WTO requires member countries to abide by international trade standards. Given the country’s intransigence on ractopamine – he says NPPC is concerned about its commitment to WTO principles. NCBA expresses hope the Codex decision will bring science back to the forefront of policies set by U.S. trading partners.

“Bring on the Rain”

Mother Nature has not been kind to corn fields across much of the Midwest. Hot temperatures and drought conditions are threatening the crop. Some farmers have had to give up on parched and stunted fields. Parts of five corn-growing states are experiencing severe or extreme drought conditions. Nearly half of the corn crop is rated very poor to poor in four states – with more than a quarter rated very poor to poor in an additional five states. Overall – as of Monday – just 48-percent of the nation’s crop is rated good to excellent – with 22-percent rated very poor to poor. Just 14-percent of the crop was rated very poor to poor one week ago.

Some crop insurance agents and ag economists are comparing the current situation with the devastating drought of 1988. Some farmers are alluding to the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. With the pollination phase fast approaching in many states – a lot is resting on the weather of the coming days. Even if it does start raining – Illinois farmer Don Duvall says growers won’t harvest the bumper crop everyone talked about. He says the situation has gone from ideal to tragic. He has watched two of his fields dry up and die – and with every day that passes – Duvall says more corn will be abandoned.

There are some more optimistic outlooks. Some experts say it’s difficult to know what the final crop will look like until later in the summer. In some states – like Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and western Iowa – the crop appears healthy and strong. The corn crop is rated 82, 81, 66 and 62-percent good to excellent respectively.

“Be Careful What you Do with Drought-Damaged Corn”

Those corn growers that have seen severe damage to their fields as a result of the heat and lack of rain may want to salvage the damaged corn for livestock feed. An Extension Educator at the University of Illinois is reminding these producers to do so carefully – as there could be high nitrate levels in the forage. U of I Extension’s Robert Bellm says nitrate levels will be highest in fields that received high nitrogen fertilizer or manure applications – and in plants that are severely stunted and did not form an ear. One way to reduce the potential for nitrate toxicity – he says – is harvesting or grazing only the upper two thirds of the plant.

Bellm advises testing drought-damaged corn that is going to be green-chopped and fed prior to harvest. Hay made from drought-damaged corn and silage made from high-nitrate forages should be tested prior to feeding. Bellm notes safe feeding levels vary from state to state and are usually given as a range.

Areas that are lucky enough to get some rain need to keep one other point in mind. There is a rapid uptake of nitrate by the plants immediately after rainfall. As a result – harvesting drought-damaged forage should be delayed at least five days following a rain event. This allows the plants to metabolize the nitrate and reduce the nitrate concentrations within the plant.