AG NEWS 12/12/2013

“Negotiators Reach Deal on Budget, House Expected to Vote Today”

House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan and Senate Budget Chair Patty Murray have announced an agreement to fund federal agencies through the fall of 2015. The deal would cancel half of the sequester cuts for the current fiscal year and includes 85-billion dollars in spending cuts and non-tax revenue. Ryan called the agreement a step in the right direction that protects the Pentagon from fresh cuts set to hit in January while trimming deficits by more than 20-billion dollars over the next decade. He said the package represents a clear improvement on the status quo by replacing one-time cuts to agency budgets with permanent savings from other programs. President Obama said it was a good sign that Democrats and Republicans were able to come together and break the cycle of short-sighted, crisis-driven decision making to get this done. The House is on track to vote on the deal Thursday – one day before the chamber’s scheduled adjournment for the year. The Senate is expected to vote on the package next week. President Obama has said he’ll sign it.

Under the agreement – fiscal year 2014 spending for the Pentagon and other federal agencies would be set at 1.012-trillion dollars. That’s right in between the 1.058-trillion sought by Democrats and the 967-billion championed by Republicans. Spending would increase slightly for fiscal 2015 to 1.014-trillion dollars – for a total of 63-billion in sequester replacement.

“NACD Has Concerns with Budget Agreement”

While pleased the budget agreement avoids a government shutdown and replaces sequestration for the next two years – the National Association of Conservation Districts is concerned about the unprecedented imposition of USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service technical assistance user fees. NACD President Earl Garber says the move is short-sighted – creating a burden on producers who are simply trying to be proactive and do the right thing for the land and water resources. According to Garber – user fees will discourage producers from implementing critical conservation practices at a time when they have the heavy burden of meeting the demand of a growing population. He says this will ultimately take a toll on the nation’s natural resource base. Garber says NACD cannot support user fees if they aren’t going toward the technical assistance that is necessary to do conservation planning. As the Budget Resolution reads – he notes there’s no guarantee that receipts collected from user fees would be allocated for future conservation planning and implementation.

Waivers are included in the resolution – but Garber says even the process of seeking a waiver creates an administrative burden for an agency already managing a large workload. The group argues the administrative burden of collecting these fees would potentially outweigh the dollars saved. Garber urges the House and Senate Appropriations Committees to prioritize conservation as they make allocations for the Agriculture Subcommittees. NACD is calling for an increase in Conservation Operations funding to help offset the budget cuts to conservation in relation to NRCS user fees for proactive conservation planning.

“Survey Conducted by AFT Demonstrates Need for New Farm Bill”

American Farmland Trust and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln conducted a survey of farmers and ranchers that shows the need for Congress to pass the farm bill. Farmers and ranchers who have benefitted from the Farm and Ranch Land Protection Program were surveyed. AFT President and CEO Andrew McElwaine says the program is one of many critical agriculture programs threatened by the inability of Congress to pass a five-year farm bill. According to McElwaine – the survey asked a critical question – is the federal Farm and Ranchland Protection Program delivering on its promise to protect farmland and encourage conservation practices. He says the overwhelming answer received was yes.

According to the survey – 96-percent of farmers and ranchers receiving help through the Farm and Ranchland Protection Program are continuing agricultural production on some or all of the land protected. Seventy-percent kept at least three-quarters in production. McElwaine says more than 68-percent of those surveyed implemented new management practices to prevent soil erosion and/or to protect water quality. The survey also found 84-percent of landowners who sold easements reinvested the proceeds to improve their farms by building structures, buying equipment, purchasing land or installing conservation practices.

The Farm and Ranchland Protection Program – according to McElwaine – delivers tremendous value to farmers and taxpayers by keeping farm and ranch land in production and attracting two-dollars in landowner, private or state and local matching funds for every dollar invested by the federal government. McElwaine says it’s vital for the conference committee to finish its work and pass a new bill that fully funds farm conservation programs.

“Coalition Urges Conferees to Maintain MAP, FMD Funding Levels”

Members of the Coalition to Promote U.S. Agricultural Exports are urging Farm Bill Conference Committee leaders to maintain authorization for USDA export market development programs in a new farm bill or – if one becomes necessary – in a short extension of the current farm bill. The Coalition members are specifically calling for maintaining Market Access Program funding at no less than 200-million dollars annually and the Foreign Market Development program at no less than 34.5-million dollars. Coalition Chairman Mike Wootton says U.S. agriculture can’t afford less support from MAP and FMD at a time when foreign competitors are planning huge increases in agricultural export promotion. With a documented 35-to-one return to the U.S. economy from MAP and FMD – Wootton says sensible observers have to see them as successful public-private programs that deserve to continue in the next farm bill. He notes more than 1.1-million Americans have jobs that depend on agricultural exports and the Coalition strongly supports the Administration’s commendable goal through the National Export Initiative of doubling U.S. exports. For U.S. agriculture – Wootton says MAP and FMD are key tools in making it a successful effort.

“Economist Says Farmland Prices Might Fall, But Won’t Crash”

Kansas State University Ag Economist Emeritus Terry Kastens believes we’ve reached a point where land values will quit rising so rapidly. According to Kastens – prices will likely flatten out and may even fall 10-perecnt or so in 2014. But Kastens says we won’t see a crash.

“AMI Welcomes FDA Guidance 213 and Proposed VFD Rule”

The Food and Drug Administration has published the final Guidance 213 and proposed Veterinary Feed Directive rule – which establishes a three-year timeframe for phasing out growth promotion uses of antibiotics important in human medicine and phasing in veterinary oversight of these products. The American Meat Institute welcomed the publication of the Guidance and proposed rule. AMI strongly supports the prudent and judicious use of antibiotics in food animal production under the care of a veterinarian – as defined by the American Veterinary Medical Association – which is consistent with protecting both animal and public health, ensuring the ability to medically treat animals and maintaining the highest standard of animal welfare practices. According to Chief Scientist Betsy Booren – AMI believes Guidance 213 adheres to these principles. As this Guidance is implemented over the next three years – Booren says AMI is committed to working with the FDA. Beyond that – she says they’re committed to research for therapeutic options and further understanding how resistance is developed and transmitted among humans, animals and other living organisms. AMI will also work with groups throughout the industry and other allied stakeholders to achieve these objectives.

“PRRS the Focus of Recent Symposium Cosponsored by Pork Checkoff”

The Pork Checkoff recently cosponsored the 2013 North American PRRS Symposium in Chicago. Two-hundred participants from across North America and beyond were on hand to share the latest research and insights into PRRS – a disease that according to previous Iowa State University research – costs the U.S. pork industry 664-million dollars a year. Pork Checkoff Director of Swine Health and Information Dr. Lisa Becton says the main goal of the conference is the exchange of knowledge between some of the world’s most foremost authorities on PRRS so key research can move forward as quickly and efficiently as possible. She says the Checkoff’s ultimate goal is to see how research can be applied at the farm level to help curb this devastating disease.

The 2013 meeting specifically focused on the latest discoveries related to PRRS and associated disease syndromes – including porcine epidemic diarrhea virus. Becton says the Pork Checkoff is excited to continue to sponsor this kind of meeting that serves as a major venue for PRRS research. Because PRRS continues to harm the nation’s swine herds – Becton says the checkoff will continue to work on finding innovative solutions at every level of production.

“Organic Agriculture Research Gets Support through USDA Grants”

USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture has awarded five grants to support research, education and Extension programs that will improve the competitiveness of organic livestock and crop producers. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack says the organic industry is a rapidly growing segment of American agriculture. He says it’s important to continue to invest in sound science to support organic producers. Vilsack says the discoveries these grants enable can help farmers who are looking to adopt the best organic practices that will make their operations more competitive and sustainable. The grants awarded include more than three-million dollars through the Organic Transitions Program.

“USDA and Navy Announce Joint Farm-to-Fleet Venture”

The joint Farm-to-Fleet venture announced by USDA and the Navy Wednesday will make biofuel blends part of regular, operational fuel purchase and use by the military. The announcement incorporates the acquisition of biofuel blends into regular Department of Defense domestic solicitations for jet engine and marine diesel fuels. The Navy will seek to purchase JP-5 and F-76 advanced drop-in biofuels blended from 10 to 50-percent with conventional fuels. Funds from USDA’s Commodity Credit Corporation will assist the effort. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus says a secure, domestically-produced energy source is very important to our national security. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says the Navy’s intensifying efforts to use advanced, homegrown fuels to power our military benefits both America’s national security and our rural communities. He says America’s Navy shouldn’t have to depend on oil supplies from foreign nations to ensure our national defense – and rural America stands ready to provide clean, homegrown energy that increases our military’s energy independence and puts Americans to work. The National Farmers Union sees this as a forward-looking approach for the future of energy in the U.S. – and NFU believes this initiative will benefit rural America by encouraging the development of the next generation of biofuels – leading to job opportunities in local communities.

Farm-to-Fleet builds on the USDA/U.S. Navy partnership inaugurated in 2010. This announcement marks the first time alternative fuels such as advanced drop-in biofuels will be available for purchase through regular procurement practices. According to USDA – it lowers barriers for alternative domestic fuel suppliers to do business with DOD. The program gets underway with a bulk fuels solicitation in 2014, with deliveries expected in mid-2015.

“Partnership will Advance Commercial Potential of Cellulosic Nanomaterial from Wood”

The U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities and the U.S. Forest Service are partnering to rapidly advance the development of the first U.S. commercial facility producing cellulosic nanomaterial – a wood fiber broken down to the nanoscale. U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says the Department of Agriculture believes in the potential of wood-based nanotechnology to strengthen rural America by creating sustainable jobs and adding timber value – while also creating conservation opportunities in working forests. He says this public-private partnership will develop high-tech outputs from the forest products sector and promote the invention of renewable products that have substantial environmental benefits.

The three-year partnership will promote cellulosic nanomaterial as a commercially viable enterprise by building on work done by the Forest Products Laboratory in Madison, Wisconsin. The partnership seeks to overcome technical barriers to large-scale wood-based nanotechnology processing – while filling gaps in the science and technology that are needed for commercialization.