Senate approves farm bill, ag groups react

February 7th, 2014 Chris Kick

(Updated Feb. 4, 2014)

SALEM, Ohio — The U.S. Senate approved a new five-year farm bill in a floor vote today (Feb. 4) by a vote of 68-32.

Sen. Ag Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow praised the $1 trillion bill for balancing the interests of agriculture, conservation and nutrition programs.

She called it “a farm bill that works for all of America, for families and farmers, for consumers, for those who care so deeply about protecting our land and our water.”

Republicans and and Democrats have debated a new bill for more than three years, and Stabenow said it’s been 491 days since the last five-year farm bill expired.

“It’s time to pass it, it’s time to get it to the president for his signature,” Stabenow said, adding “our constituents need us to get this done.”

Note: Farm and Dairy watched the Senate and House votes via C-SPAN.

The House passed the same bill Jan. 29, following a bipartisan conference report that cut overall spending by $23 billion, cut $8 billion from food stamps, and ended direct payments to farmers, while providing farmers new insurance and risk management options.

Both Ohio Senators, Sherrod Brown, D-Cleveland, and Rob Portman, R-Cincinnati, voted in favor of the bill, which will now be sent to the president, where it is expected to be signed into law.

(Update: The U.S. House of Representatives approved the farm bill 251-166 in a floor vote today (Jan. 29).

SALEM, Ohio — Top negotiators for the Agricultural Act of 2014 — better known as the farm bill — said Jan. 28 in a call with reporters that they expect swift action by the House and Senate.

Senate Ag Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow said the Senate will act as quickly as it can, and the White House will most likely sign the bill into law.

Related: House and Senate reach farm bill agreement.

What they’re saying

The farm bill agreement has set off a long list of reactions from farm and conservation groups — most who say they are in favor of the bill — with some, including the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association — strongly against.

Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation

The bill will provide farmers and ranchers certainty for the coming year and allow the Agriculture Department to begin planning for implementation of the bill’s provisions.

We appreciate the hard work of the conferees to get the farm bill to this point. They had many tough decisions to make, but were able to move forward with a solid bill that includes many Farm Bureau-supported provisions. We are particularly pleased with provisions to provide risk management to fruit and vegetable farmers and to support livestock farmers during disasters.

Roger Johnson, president of National Farmers Union

The bill includes fixed reference prices to provide assistance to farmers only when truly necessary. It provides a strong crop insurance title and approximately $4 billion in livestock disaster assistance. The bill increases funding for the Farmers Market and Local Foods Promotion Program and related initiatives.

We are also encouraged by the inclusion of robust mandatory funding levels for renewable energy programs. We’re also very happy that the bill preserves the ability of American family farmers and ranchers to distinguish their products in the marketplace through the existing Country-of-Origin Labeling (COOL) law.

Against COOL

On the flipside, The COOL program is partly why the NCBA opposes the bill, saying that Country of Origin Labeling has hurt producers financially and has created trade prejudices against other countries.

Scott George, NCGA president:

We are disappointed in all members of Congress and especially the members of the Conference Committee for allowing this process to go this far without a solution. Failure to fix MCOOL at this juncture will lead to retaliatory tariffs on a host of commodities and it is only a matter of time before the World Trade Organization rules in favor of Canada and Mexico. Once that happens, producers will realize the full costs of this failed legislation.

This farm bill is foundationally flawed and the livestock sector is standing shoulder-to-shoulder in opposition of a farm bill that will only serve to cause greater harm to rural America.

Livestock support,

However, not everyone in the livestock sector is “shoulder to shoulder” in opposition.

Jim Mulhern, president and CEO of the National Milk Producers Federation

Despite its limitations, we believe the revised program will help address the volatility in farmers’ milk prices, as well as feed costs, and provide appropriate signals to help address supply and demand.

The program that we have worked to develop establishes a reasonable and responsible national risk management tool that will give farmers the opportunity to insure against catastrophic economic conditions, when milk prices drop, feed prices soar, or the combination. By limiting how much future milk production growth can be insured, the measure creates a disincentive to produce excess milk. The mechanism used is not what we would have preferred, but it will be better than just a stand-alone margin insurance program that lacks any means to disincentivize more milk production during periods of over-supply.

Importantly, the program doesn’t discriminate against farms of differing sizes, or preferentially treat those in differing regions.

Support for produce farms

United Fresh, the nation’s largest produce organization, said the bill does many good things for fruit and vegetable growers.

United Fresh:

The bill contains the most significant government investment ever in the competitiveness of the fruit and vegetable industry, with support for research, pest and disease prevention, state block grants, child nutrition, trade and more. In all, the Farm Bill contains a 55 percent increase in new resources dedicated to these important industry priorities.

Key provisions of this legislation include increased access to fresh produce in federal nutrition programs, expanded research opportunities to enhance our food safety efforts, stronger efforts to address ongoing pest and disease threats, and targeted programs to help us expand trade opportunities.

New farm bill less than ‘miraculous’

February 6th, 2014 Alan Guebert

House Ag Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, a fast talker by birth and trade, spared few superlatives when describing, in a telephone press conference Jan. 28, the finally finished, modestly named Agricultural Act of 2014.

“Historic in many ways,” Lucas said of the pending law as he shared the call with his Senate counterpart, Debbie Stabenow, a Democrat from Michigan.

What’s more, he continued, the three-years-in-the-making legislation was “amazing” and, in fact, “a reform bill.”

Caught up in his expansive rhetoric, Lucas finished describing the law’s bigger elements with a flourish: “This is not just a good farm bill, it’s almost a miraculous farm bill!”

Not miraculous

Truth be told, the 950-page bill is not a near-miracle, not amazing, not very reforming and, most definitely, not historic. It is a very late, very dense, and very status quo law that further institutionalizes scale over substance and insurance over economics.

On the face of it, there’s nothing wrong with either growth or insurance. Under this law, however, the two are tied tightly together; growth is all but guaranteed by heavily subsidized revenue insurance.

The market is, well, in there somewhere. How that policy will work is certain to be tested in 2014. Right now corn is scraping along at $4 per bu., ethanol is poised to lose some of its government-mandated demand, the export market is increasingly crowded and competitive and U.S. farmers will grow between 13.9 billion and 14.3 billion bu. of corn this year, or about 2 billion bu. more than forecasters predict will be needed.

Dropping prices

As such, Iowa State University economist Robert Wisner estimates cash corn prices will drop from an already-thin average of $4.40 per bu. in 2013-14 to a well underwater season average of $3.75 to $3.90 in 2014-15. The new farm law, with its higher insurable levels and fatter insurance subsidies, makes this corn-choking outcome quite likely.

So likely, in fact, that the Jan. 29 Wall Street Journal editorialized that the cost of this new “shallow loss” insurance program could “balloon to $14 billion a year” if overproduction results. (Visit the editorial and all supporting documents).

Likely to pass

Implementation, however, hinges on whether the bill will clear Congress and be signed into law by the president (a near-slam dunk since the House passed it Jan. 29 on a solid, 251-166 vote) and if the rules to administer it can be done in — what — no more than 60 days?

Good luck on the second thing, says a well-placed farm bill watcher.

“The operating language of what will be allowed under this insurance program is very complicated,” the friend offers, “and writing the rules for it will be even more complicated.”

Complicated, yes. Different, no.

No excuses

And that’s the biggest irony to this whole, bloody bill: There’s nothing in it that might have required the best part of three years to write or provided all the fuel to the fierce, bitter partisanship that dogged its every agonizing step.

After all, this bill never got within a mile of very difficult discussions on whether ethanol still holds a place in America’s renewable fuels future or how a farm bill might address the nation’s increasing health problems. Moreover, Congress didn’t convene one public hearing or one ag committee meeting over what the United States and its farmers and ranchers can do to ensure sustainable food production in a world steeply challenged by expanding population, increasing climate change and tougher, narrower economics.

No, this farm bill was the easy one — despite the delays and politics — so we took the easy way out. The hard farm bill — the one that tackles more than subsidized insurance and government-supported markets like ethanol and sugar, the one that views consumers and agribusiness as equals, the one that makes soil and water as important as corn and soybeans — lies ahead.

That’s the one that will be historic, reforming, amazing and a near-miracle.

Farm, food and wildlife groups react to Senate farm bill vote

February 5th, 2014 Chris Kick

SALEM, Ohio — The U.S. Senate approved a new five-year farm bill in a floor vote Feb. 4 by a vote of 68-32.

The House passed the same bill Jan. 29, following a bipartisan conference report that cut overall spending by $23 billion, cut $8 billion from food stamps, and ended direct payments to farmers, while providing farmers new insurance and risk management options.

Here are some of the top reactions to the Senate vote:

Jack Fisher, executive vice president of Ohio Farm Bureau Federation:

“The bill demonstrates considerable fiscal responsibility while providing security to farmers and the public.

We appreciate the bill’s strengthening of crop insurance as a risk management tool. We support its provisions that allow farmers to act on market signals for planting decisions and its programs aimed at assisting livestock farmers. We also appreciate its strong conservation measures, and its commitment to feeding programs for children, the elderly and poor.”

Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, R-Cinn.:

“I am pleased that this bill helps restore the integrity of the SNAP entitlement program, which is riddled with loopholes that have allowed the program to grow faster than economic conditions would have otherwise allowed. By reducing the LIHEAP loophole and terminating SNAP benefits to lottery winners, this farm bill will work to reduce abuse in the program — but more needs to be done.

In addition, this bill takes another commonsense step by eliminating the direct payments, which provides subsidies to farmers regardless of how much a farmer grew or profited in a given year.”

Robert Guenther, United Fresh Produce Association’s senior vice president for public policy:

“Even though the overall bill took many unexpected twists and turns, one thing was consistent: strong, bipartisan support in the House and Senate for fresh fruit and vegetable policies. Throughout the long process, Farm Bill programs for fruits and vegetables were maintained or strengthened. This is a clear sign that policymakers recognize the importance of our industry to the nutritional well-being of all Americans and to the overall U.S. economy.”

Ohio Farmers Union:

“It is good that agreement has been reached on a final bill.  More than two years in the making is too long.  Most of what National Farmers Union advocated for is in total or in part in the final bill.  That increased farm market funding and livestock disaster relief is included is vital.

It supports family farmers, ranchers and fishers and most importantly consumers.  It is unfortunate that the National Cattleman’s Beef Association is so opposed to the outcome.  They are willing, in their opposition, to Country of Origin labeling (COOL) to jettison disaster relief and throw family farmers under the bus in favor or corporate packers, multinational interests and profit.

Carol Goland, executive director, Ohio Ecological Food & Farm Association:

“Senator Sherrod Brown recognizes the diversity of agriculture in Ohio. The vital role he played in reinstating funding for programs like the National Organic Certification Cost Share Program, Value Added Producer Grants, and the Farmer’s Market and Local Foods Promotion Program will bolster local food and farm economies throughout Ohio,”

Brent Hostetler, President, Ohio Corn and Wheat Growers Association:

“This day has been a long time coming as farmers from all corners of Ohio have spent years tirelessly advocating for a new farm bill to ensure a safety-net is in place for those years we are faced with circumstances far beyond our control. I join my fellow farmers in thanking Ohio’s Congressional delegation who supported a bill to help protect one of Ohio’s greatest resources, our agriculture industry, which helps to maintain the most secure and affordable food supply in all of the world.”

Jerry Bambauer, President, Ohio Soybean Association and Auglaize County soybean farmer:

“It’s been a long road, but today we’re celebrating the Senate passage of the 2014 Farm Bill. OSA thanks Senator Brown for his support of this vital piece of legislation.  Soybeans are a big part of Ohio’s economy and the top agricultural export for Ohio.  The farm bill will provide market stability and certainty for Ohio’s 24,000 soybean farmers.”

Larry Schweiger, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation:

“With so many competing interests, it is a huge victory for wildlife that the conservation of our nation’s natural resources was prioritized and included in the final bill. By re-linking conservation compliance to crop insurance, funding key conservation programs, and including a sodsaver provision in key states to protect grasslands, this bill will help wildlife from across our prairies to our oceans.

We congratulate the agriculture committee leaders on forging a bipartisan bill that will serve the interests of wildlife and farmers.”

Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, executive director, Ohio Association of Foodbanks:

“As Ohio’s largest charitable response to hunger, we cannot emphasize enough how important federal nutrition programs are, not only to food insecure Ohioans, but to our state’s economy as a whole. While we are thankful that more severe cuts to SNAP have not been included in this Farm Bill, we know that current SNAP benefits are inadequate for the millions of children, adults, seniors and people living with disabilities that struggle to provide nutritious food for themselves and their families.

“Our emergency food assistance network is grateful for the increase in TEFAP funding, which will help our foodbanks come closer to meeting record-high demand for help with the basic necessity of food. But most of all, we want to see Ohioans moving out of our emergency food pantry lines and into grocery store lines, where their SNAP benefits are infused back into local economies.”

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett:

“Farmers and agribusinesses drive Pennsylvania’s economy, with $68 billion in total economic impact annually,” said Corbett. “I commend Pennsylvania’s congressional delegation, especially Congressman Glenn G.T. Thompson, for their leadership on behalf of agriculture and the many citizens who depend on the farm bill.

“I urge the president to sign this bill as soon as possible, because it helps ensure our farmers remain competitive.”

Gildo Tori, a director of public with Ducks Unlimited:

“The 2014 Farm Bill is a real victory for all who care about clean water, healthy soils, and abundant fish and wildlife. Key programs like the Regional Conservation Partnership Program, Agricultural Easement Program, CRP and CSP will provide landowners key provisions to ensure our Great Lakes watershed stays healthy and productive. Our Senators and members of Congress did a fine job of negotiating through a difficult bill that yields great benefits for everyone – farmers, ranchers, hunters, anglers and every citizen that makes their home among the Great Lakes.”

Members share farm bill and food policy concerns at annual meeting

February 5th, 2014 Other News

WISCONSIN DELLS, Wis. — At National Farmers Convention 2014 in the Wisconsin Dells Jan. 28, food policy and the farm bill were standout topics.

National Farmers Organization President Paul Olson spoke to member producers about the lack of a farm bill, as well as conditions in the food production industry. He underscored that the foreign ownership of dairy processors, as well as consolidation of America’s food industry continues unabated. And, he cautioned that trade agreements need to be critically reviewed for their negative effects on producers. Regarding the lack of new farm legislation for the past two years, Olson said farmers deserve the respect of Washington D.C. representatives by passage of a new farm bill.

“I’m disappointed that farmers are being treated with such recklessness,” said Olson. “Farmers livelihoods are at stake.”


Olson said consumers are more educated about food and are becoming producers’ allies. He noted that consumers should be very concerned about where their food is coming from, and what’s in it. Echoing Olson on consumer food issues, Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter, said a surprising percentage of food in America is now produced overseas.

China is now the third largest producer of processed vegetables, she said.

“We need to do something about food policy in America,” said Hauter.

Author of the book Foodopoly, Hauter reviewed the history of food production in America, and changes in government farm policy through the post World War II years.

“Food is one of the most concentrated industries in America,” Hauter said.

Food policy

She said in the beginning of the 1980s, corporations begin to have undue influence over government policies. And, therefore food policy.

“We all need to take back our democracy and help ensure a vigorous economy,” Hauter said.
Also at the National Farmers Convention,agriculture technology came on the scene in three major ways. Cattle marketers from Nexus Marketing introduced a new smart phone app featuring a reverse break-even production cost calculator that easily helps producers identify what they can pay for feeders.


The smartphone and tablet application also features fed cattle cost of gain and compound interest calculators, as well as futures prices and weather. The role of cloud and mobile computing in agriculture was featured in the opening session of the organization’s annual ag business meeting.

Presenters from Farmeron spoke about how cloud computing will become the new alternative to personal computers and on-premise software for farmers.

Dave Saunders, Farmeron, vice president for business development, talked about the changing role of technology on ag operations. He said farmer cloud computing will become the norm for producers, because of the benefits of continual software updates, automatic backups of files, data sharing and analytics.

Saunders said ag apps are growing fast and that means massive implications for workflow and processes. Sharing data derived from herd management software, soil sensors and other sensing devices can deliver real-time information directly to producers’ smartphones and tablets.

BouMatic’s Kelsey Fink focused on overall industry trends toward automation and robotics in dairying. She outlined issues today’s dairy producers face, including animal management, markets and labor management, along with social media and consumer issues.

Vilsack and Sherrod Brown team up to push farm bill as economic driver

February 5th, 2014 Susan Crowell

By Susan Crowell

COLUMBUS — U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack highlighted the 2014 farm bill in a sweep through Ohio Jan. 31 that included the Ohio Farmers Union annual meeting in Columbus.

The House approved the conferenced farm bill Jan. 29 in a 251-166 vote. The Senate vote is expected late afternoon Feb. 4 or Feb. 5 (UPDATE: The Senate approved the farm bill Feb. 4 by a 68-32 vote.).

Before speaking to the Ohio farmers, Brown and Vilsack visited Plastic Suppliers, a Columbus-based company that makes plastic film from biobased materials, to outline how passage of the 2014 farm bill will create manufacturing and agriculture jobs through increased biobased procurement and promotion.

“Finding ways to create new markets and investments is key to creating jobs and promotion economic growth,” Brown said. “Biobased products also give Ohio’s small towns and agricultural communities new opportunities for their agricultural byproducts.”

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (right) talks to Clermont County farmer Roger Winemiller during the Ohio Farmers Union annual meeting Jan. 31.

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (right) talks to Clermont County farmer Roger Winemiller during the Ohio Farmers Union annual meeting Jan. 31. (Scroll down to see more photos.)

Ohio has an emerging biobased-manufacturing industry, with nearly 130 companies already producing biobased products.

COOL was hot

Vilsack extended thanks to the OFU members and members of the National Farmers Union for their advocacy on issues in the new farm bill.

“There are some folks who absolutely wanted to gut COOL (country-of-origin labeling) legislation.” Vilsack said. “But you all injected yourself in the process at the 11th hour, and I will tell you that without your advocacy, without your voice, things could have been fundamentally different on that issue.”

The National Pork Producers Council and National Cattlemen’s Beef Association claim their members could face economic retaliation in the form of tariffs if the World Trade Organization finds the country-of-origin labeling law doesn’t comply with U.S. tradition obligations.

Brown also voiced his support of COOL, saying, “We shouldn’t back off on this.”

“The trade people I know think we’ll be fine on this.”


Vilsack said the Grain Inspection Packers and Stockyards Act, better known as GIPSA, faced a similar set of challenges.

The Conaway-Costa amendment to the House bill, which would’ve directed the USDA to refocus its efforts on GIPSA regulations, was not included in the conference farm bill.

More opportunities

Vilsack said the new farm bill gives farmers additional opportunities on the credit side, and that farm credit needs to go to the people who need it, specifically beginning farmers and socially disadvantaged farmers.

This month, the USDA also created a new microloan that allows new farmers, particularly returning veterans, to get start-up credit, in a simplified process.

Safety net

Vilsack pointed out the new farm bill eliminates direct payments, which was hard to explain to nonfarm residents, especially why it was needed at a time when prices were high. It’s replaced with a reliance on crop insurance, “which is easily explained,” and revenue protection plans.

Vilsack said that urban or nonfarm connection is critical for farmers to make.

“I honestly don’t think folks fully appreciate the risks associated with farming,” Vilsack said. “You could be the best farmer in the world, you could make every decision correct, you could plant at the right time, you could get the right chemical mix, and then Mother Nature could decide to rain for 40 days or not rain for 40 months, and your crop’s gone.”

Safety nets reduce the risk of farming to a reasonable level, “so people can stay in the business.” And, he added, that’s important because the U.S. doesn’t want to depend on others outside this country to raise our food.

Importance of farming

Vilsack said the success of the nation is rooted in agricultural productivity and efficiency, which is something nonfarm audiences also don’t realize.

Back four or five generations, “everybody had to farm, everybody had to work the ground and the land,” the secretary said.

Then, as agricultural practices became more efficient, “we were able to produce a whole lot more with fewer farmers, and that freed up people like me and my sons and my grandchildren to be able to have a whole array of opportunities in this country, because somebody else was taking care of their basic need.”

That efficiency also lets Americans spend less on food than any other country.

“It all ultimately goes back to the farmer,” Vilsack said. “This farm bill gives us an opportunity to educate the rest of America of why we are so blessed, and why we have the freedoms and the opportunities we have.”

Vilsack said the problem now is we have great farmers, “but there’s too few of you.”

He said the goal is to use the economy and the farm bill in programs that overlap and encourage smaller farms to stay in business, and gave an example of trying to use GIPSA programs that give smaller farms access to a marketplace and not necessarily have to compete “in a market that is stacked against them.”

Vilsack said new trends like a biobased economy, value-added enterprise, or local and regional food systems, creates more market opportunities where producers are dealing directly with a customer.

“This farm bill gives us an opportunity to do that.”

“This is the first farm bill that I’m aware of that actually creates opportunities that are specifically designed for smaller sized operations,” Vilsack said.

Vilsack said the farm bill also creates a research foundation to leverage public resources with private, university and nonprofit resources to increase the amount of research that’s being done to create new products and new businesses, for example products using biomass.

The farm bill, he added, is not simply about SNAP (food stamps) and farm programs — it’s a jobs bill, it’s an infrastructure bill, it’s a energy bill.

“It’s really up to the USDA to aggressively market this bill and utilize this bill to create opportunities.”

“The country continues to need people like you in this room.” Vilsack said,

“If you ever doubt, if you ever get weary, if you ever get tired, if you ever wonder, well, does it make a difference, it damn well does make a difference.”

But the ag secretary also challenged the OFU members to continue to build coalitions within agriculture.

“Ag fights too much against each other,” Vilsack said. “They should be figuring out how to work together.”

Farm bill creates second land-grant university in Ohio

February 3rd, 2014 Chris Kick

WOOSTER, Ohio — Since 1870, Ohio has had one land-grant institution: Ohio State University.

But a provision found within the 2014 farm bill, passed Jan. 29 by the U.S. House of Representatives could soon add a second school to that list: Central State University, near Dayton.

“There are a few dates in history that define Central State University; this will now be one of them,” said Central State University President Cynthia Jackson-Hammond in a released statement.

The designation will become official if the Senate passes the same farm bill, and if the president signs it into law. If so, Central State will be eligible for new federal funding to advance its agricultural education and research.

Related: The 2014 farm bill dairy policy change

“This status allows Central State University to increase educational programming and partnership opportunities within Ohio’s agriculture industry,” Jackson-Hammond said.

This act also requires that the states provide matching funds in order to receive the federal monies.

About Central State

The historically black school, located in the town of Wilberforce, east of Dayton, actually was on track to be named a land-grant school in the 1890s, when a second Morrill Land Grant Act was approved — this time to extend federal funding for existing land- grant colleges, and to extend educational opportunities for African Americans.

According to a statement from Ohio Senators Chris Widener, R-Springfield; and Eric Kearney, D-Cincinnati, states with a policy of segregation or discrimination in their higher education system could not receive funds under the 1890 act unless they designated a second land-grant school open to black students.

Ohio did not have a segregation policy and therefore was free to choose where the funds went. The state ultimately chose to send those funds to Ohio State University.

But not everyone in the legislature was on board. According to records obtained by Widener’s office, the Ohio Senate passed legislation in 1892 that would have given Central State the funding.

However, the Ohio House, at the urging of former president and OSU Trustee Rutherford B. Hayes, reversed course and gave the funds to OSU instead.

Ohio legislature

Widener and Kearney both introduced a similar resolution in the Ohio Senate, to give Central State its long-awaited land-grant status. That legislation was approved by the Ohio House in June of 2012, opening the door for the federal amendment found in today’s farm bill.

By the numbers

Widener said schools that received the 1890 designation have lived up to expectations.

“By naming Central State as Ohio’s second land-grant university, we are reaffirming our commitment to the university while bringing exciting new opportunities to its students,” Widener said. “Nationwide, the 1890 land grant schools have a reputation of excellence, and Central State’s history and impact here in Ohio make it an excellent addition to that network.”

Central State was founded in 1887 and has an enrollment of a little more than 1,800. Ohio State was founded in 1870 and has a total enrollment of almost 64,000, with more than 3,700 listed as African American.

Central State offers students a College of Business, College of Education, College of Science and Engineering, and a College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences.

A date for the presidential signing of the legislation, which will make the amendment official, will be announced in the near future.

The 2014 farm bill brings dairy policy change

January 30th, 2014 Chris Kick

SALEM, Ohio — After three years of discussion and debate, the U.S. House of Representatives approved a new five-year farm bill Jan. 29 by a vote of 251-166.

The Senate is expected to vote on the bill any day, and the White House is prepared to sign it into law, said Senate Ag Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich.

Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., the House Ag Committee chairman, said while the process was cumbersome, the result was almost “miraculous.”

“This is almost a miracle, but that’s what farmers and ranchers and consumers needed.”

What’s included

The near-miracle ends direct payments, increases producer insurance options, provides a safety net for dairy farmers, and a safety net for livestock producers.

The bill — estimated at about $1 trillion in funding — also reduces spending by about $23 billion. About $18.4 billion is cut from farm programs, $6.1 billion from conservation and $8 billion from food stamps (over 10 years), according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Related: Ag groups react to farm bill agreement

In an interview Jan. 30, Ohio State University Extension Dairy Specialist Cam Thraen spoke about what he feels the dairy provision will mean to producers.

Dairy predictions

Thraen said he and his colleagues are hesitant to say much about the bill — because it is not yet a law — but so far they see a lot of progress.

“I think they’ve done a really good job of trying to come up with a bill and a safety net that has good distribution properties, etc.,” Thraen said.

The new safety net allows dairy farmers to purchase margin protection depending on how much protection they want, and the amount of milk they produce. When margins go below what producers select for a margin, they will receive indemnity payments.

A “margin” in this case will be calculated monthly by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and is defined as the all-milk price minus the average feed cost.

“Its focus is to protect farm equity by guarding against destructively low margins, not to guarantee a profit to individual producers,” said the National Milk Producers Federation.

See the complete farm bill report here.

Margin options

Producers will be able to select margin protection coverage at 50 cent increments beginning at $4 per cwt. (100 pounds of milk) through $8 per cwt. Premiums will be fixed for five years, through 2018.

The premiums are higher for producers who produce more than 4 million pounds of milk, but Thraen said the majority of U.S. milk producers — about 85 percent — will be in the “under-four-million” category.

This is an important model, Thraen said, because it allows producers to participate voluntarily and gives consideration to producers of all sizes.

NMPF had originally sought something known as the Dairy Security Act, that would have sought new ways to prevent supply and demand imbalances, but the organization ultimately changed direction and went with margin protection.

NMPF President Jim Mulhern said the farm bill establishes a “reasonable and responsible national risk management tool” that will give farmers the opportunity to insure against catastrophic economic conditions, when milk prices drop, feed prices soar, or the combination.

“By limiting how much future milk production growth can be insured, the measure creates a disincentive to produce excess milk,” he said in a released statement. “The mechanism used is not what we would have preferred, but it will be better than just a stand-alone margin insurance program that lacks any means to disincentivize more milk production during periods of over-supply.”

Mulhern adds, “the program doesn’t discriminate against farms of differing sizes,” or give any preferences based on the region where a farm is located.

Dairy Donation Program

In addition to margin protection, the bill also forms a new system for USDA to purchase consumer-packaged dairy products during low-margin periods, which will stimulate demand and help dairy farmers when in need.

This is known as the “Dairy Product Donation Program” and would only activate if margins fall below $4 for two consecutive months and would require USDA to purchase dairy products for three consecutive months, or until margins rebound above $4.

The products purchased would immediately be distributed to food banks or related nonprofit organizations. USDA is required to distribute, not store, these products. Organizations receiving USDA purchased dairy products would be prohibited from selling the products back into commercial markets.

Thraen said the current bill is better, because it gives the secretary of agriculture more authority to act in times when margins are low and to make decisions that the previous, rule-based law would not have.

He said some of the rules in the Dairy Security Act were “automated” and “unflexible,” which didn’t match well with the realities of the dairy industry.

“The problem is the dairy industry is extremely complex,” he said. “It’s not a simple industry.”

Programs that were eliminated

In addition to creating the Margin Protection Program and the Dairy Product Donation Program, the new farm bill eliminates the Dairy Product Price Support Program and the Dairy Export Incentive Program.

According to NMPF, the Federal Milk Marketing Order Review Commission established in the previous farm bill is also eliminated. Also, once the Margin Protection Program is up and running, the Milk Income Loss Coverage (MILC) program will be eliminated .

Programs that were renewed

Three existing dairy programs will be renewed under provisions of the new farm bill: the Dairy Promotion and Research Program (“checkoff”), the Dairy Indemnity Program, and the Dairy Forward Pricing Program. The authority for all three programs is extended through 2018.

New farm bill was a shameful process

January 30th, 2014 Alan Guebert

According to most Capitol Hill sources, the once-2012, then-2013 and now 2014 farm bill should clear its final hurdle before the end of January so Congress — after three years of ugly fighting — finally can approve a new farm law.

Passage brings no glory

Golly, Abraham Lincoln got himself elected president, raised an army, built a navy, turned the tide in the Civil War and passed the Emancipation Proclamation in less time than this Congress finally agreed on nothing more threatening than how to spend $100 billion a year for the next five years.


By any standard, that record holds more shame than achievement.The failure to get a farm law before the old one expired in 2012 was tied to the presidential election that year. The rump caucus of House Republicans wanted to deny the Obama White House any legislative achievement to crow about during its reelection campaign.

And, it did

So a minority of the House majority sidetracked the farm bill and forced the nation to wait another year. The 2013 fight centered on how deeply Congress would cut SNAP, the nation’s biggest food assistance program, that had ballooned from 28.2 million recipients and $34.6 billion in 2008, to 46.6 million recipients and $74.6 billion in 2012.

The Senate and House both agreed on multi-billion-dollar cuts to, in part, finance an expansion of farmer-favored crop insurance.

The Senate thought $8 billion would do; the House wanted $40 billion and it voted to strip SNAP from the farm bill as proof of its seriousness. Today, however, the about-to-be-approved 2014 bill not only folds SNAP back into the farm bill, the House’s deep, $40 billion cut itself was deeply cut to close to the Senate’s 2013 figure of less than $10 billion.

Waste of time

So what was that year really all about?Was it an impressive show of muscle by the tea party wing of a split Republican House majority or was it a display of collective ag group weakness to stay out of the SNAP budget fight in order to finance fatter government insurance schemes?

Whatever the reason, most major farm and commodity organizations — excluding the National Farmers Union — stared at their belly buttons when asked to take a stand against House cuts to not feed Americans even as they continued to lobby hard for more government subsidies to “feed the world.”

In the end, the restoration of SNAP to the Farm Bill and the likelihood of just $9 billion in SNAP cuts shows more about the political reality of farm bills than the Congressional partisanship and farm group wimpmanship that goes into ‘em.

According to the Nov. 29 Wall Street Journal, (view the story at seven of the top 10 states with the highest percentage of food stamp recipients (in descending order: Mississippi, Tennessee, Louisiana, Kentucky, Georgia, Alabama and West Virginia) “are some of the reddest states on the electoral map.

Eleven of their 14 senators are Republican and their House delegations are all Republican…”

So, what was this years-long delay about if Barack Obama was easily reelected president and one out of five citizens in the most solidly Republican states “on the electoral map” are the biggest beneficiaries of SNAP?

Part of it, so the story goes, was the adamant opposition by House Speaker John Boehner to a proposed change in dairy policy he described as “Soviet-style” supply management. But even that dog has fleas because the Speaker’s 2013 vote on that going-nowhere House farm bill, reported Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper, Jan. 9, “was the first such vote he’s taken on the issue since 1996.”

So why did it take so long?

The biggest reason is that Congress no longer resembles America. A mid-November Gallup poll found that only 9 percent of all Americans approved of “the way Congress did its job.”

Nine percent

What do those folks see that you and I don’t?

Breaking: House and Senate conferees agree on farm bill

January 27th, 2014 Other News

(UPDATE: 3:30 p.m. 1/28/14: The House has passed a rule to allow debate on the farm bill conference report on Wednesday.)

WASHINGTON – House and Senate agriculture leaders agreed Jan. 27 to a bipartisan, bicameral five-year farm bill that will reduce the deficit, grow the economy and provide certainty to the 16 million Americans whose jobs depend on agriculture.

The Agricultural Act of 2014 contains major reforms including eliminating the direct payment program, streamlining and consolidating numerous programs to improve their effectiveness and reduce duplication, and cutting down on program misuse. The bill also strengthens our nation’s commitment to support farmers and ranchers affected by natural disasters or significant economic losses, and renews a national commitment to protect land, water, and other natural resources. (The complete farm bill conference report can be read here, or you can scroll to the bottom of the page)

Direct quotes:

“I am proud of our efforts to finish a farm bill conference report with significant savings and reforms,” said Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee. “We are putting in place sound policy that is good for farmers, ranchers, consumers, and those who have hit difficult times. I appreciate the work of everyone who helped in this process. We never lost sight of the goal, we never wavered in our commitment to enacting a five-year, comprehensive farm bill. I ask my colleagues to join me in supporting its passage.”

“Today’s bipartisan agreement puts us on the verge of enacting a five-year Farm Bill that saves taxpayers billions, eliminates unnecessary subsidies, creates a more effective farm safety-net and helps farmers and businesses create jobs,” said Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee. “This bill proves that by working across party lines we can reform programs to save taxpayer money while strengthening efforts to grow our economy. Agriculture is a bright spot in our economy and is helping to drive our recovery. It’s time for Congress to finish this Farm Bill and give the 16 million Americans working in agriculture the certainty they need and deserve.”

“I am pleased that we were able to work together, putting aside partisanship to finally advance a five-year farm bill,” said Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., ranking member of the House Agriculture Committee. “Compromise is rare in Washington these days but it’s what is needed to actually get things done. While it’s no secret that I do not support some of the final bill’s provisions, I believe my reservations are outweighed by the need to provide long term certainty for agriculture and nutrition programs. This process has been going on far too long; I urge my colleagues to support this bill and the President to quickly sign it into law.”

“This bill reflects a lot of hard work and conscientious effort to help strengthen American agriculture and assure consumers of food and fiber that it is nutritious and affordable,” said Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., ranking member of the Senate Agriculture Committee. “The reforms, savings and other significant changes in this agreement will provide greater certainty to producers and rural communities, as well as American consumers. It deserves to be considered and enacted as soon as possible.”

Enacting the Agricultural Act of 2014 will reform agriculture programs, reduce the deficit, and help farmers, ranchers and business owners grow the economy.

The legislation:

  • Repeals the direct payment program and strengthens risk management tools
  • Repeals outdated programs and consolidates duplicative ones, eliminating nearly 100 programs or authorizations
  • Helps farmers and ranchers create jobs and provides certainty for the 16 million Americans working in agriculture
  • Strengthens conservation efforts to protect land, water and wildlife for future generations
  • Maintains food assistance for families while addressing fraud and misuse in SNAP
  • Reduces the deficit by billions of dollars in mandatory spending

Ends Direct Payments, Strengthens Risk Management
The Agricultural Act of 2014 reforms farm programs and saves taxpayer dollars by ending direct payments and other farm programs. The bill provides risk management tools that help American farmers and ranchers survive weather disasters and market volatility.

The bill also strengthens crop insurance, which is an essential cost-effective risk management tool. With crop insurance, farmers invest in their own risk management by purchasing insurance policies so they are protected in difficult times. Crop insurance also helps protect Americans from spikes in food prices.

Without crop insurance farmers would have no way to recover from disaster unless the government steps in and provides unplanned disaster assistance. The effectiveness of crop insurance was underscored during the historic droughts of 2012, which impacted more than 80 percent of the country. Crop insurance protected farmers without the need for an emergency disaster relief bill.

Additionally, the bill provides a permanent livestock disaster assistance program for producers affected by natural disasters, and also covers producers who were affected by recent droughts, winter storms that hit the Northern Plains last year, and spring freezes that affected fruit growers in the Midwest.

Streamlines Programs, Strengthens Conservation
The Agricultural Act of 2014 consolidates 23 existing conservation programs into 13 programs while strengthening tools to protect and conserve land, water and wildlife. By streamlining programs, the farm bill provides added flexibility and ensures conservation programs are working for producers in the most effective and efficient way – an approach supported by nearly 650 conservation organizations from all 50 states.

Protects SNAP for Families, Reduces Fraud and Misuse
The bipartisan farm bill conference agreement maintains critical assistance for families while stopping fraud and misuse to achieve savings in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The farm bill agreement closes a loophole being used by some states to artificially inflate benefits for a small number of recipients.

Additionally, the bipartisan agreement stops lottery winners from continuing to receive assistance, increases program efficiency, cracks down on trafficking, fraud and misuse, and invests in new pilot programs to help people secure employment through job training and other services. Savings in this section are reached without removing anyone from the SNAP program, and will ensure that every person receives the benefits they are intended to get under the current rules of the program.

Grows the Agricultural Economy
The Agricultural Act of 2014 reduces the deficit while strengthening top priorities that help to grow the agricultural economy. The bill:

  • Boosts export opportunities to help farmers find new global markets for their goods
  • Continues investments to meet growing consumer demand for fresh fruits and vegetables, local foods and organics by helping family farmers sell locally, increasing support for farmers’ markets, and connecting farmers to schools and other community-based organizations
  • Supports beginning farmers and ranchers with training and access to capital
  • Increases assistance for food banks
  • Reduces regulatory barriers
  • Invests in state-run pilot projects to encourage and incentivize employment and training opportunities for families in need
  • Creates initiatives to help veterans start agriculture businesses
  • Grows American bio-based manufacturing (manufacturing processes using raw agricultural products grown in America)
  • Expands bio-energy production, supporting non-food based advanced biomass energy production such as cellulosic ethanol and woody biomass power
  • Invests in research to promote productivity and new agricultural innovations
  • Strengthens rural development initiatives to help rural communities upgrade infrastructure and create a better environment for small businesses

The Agricultural Act of 2014

Farm bill 2014: National Milk says Dairy Security Act dead, looking at other options

January 20th, 2014 Chris Kick

SALEM, Ohio — The head of the National Milk Producers Federation said Jan. 16 that the organization is conceding its effort to get a Dairy Security Act passed in the new farm bill.

The DSA was approved by the House and Senate Ag Committees, and in the Senate farm bill of 2013, but it appears the act will go no further.

“Unfortunately, the (House) speaker’s threat that he would not allow a vote on a farm bill containing the market stabilization program (DSA) has effectively served to kill our proposal within the committee,” said NMPF President and CEO Jim Mulhern, in a released statement.

Biggest issue

The NMPF announcement highlighted congressional action on the farm bill, which has been in conference mode since Oct. 30, with very few details shared with media.

The Dairy Security Act sought to provide farmers a form of margin protection when the margin between the cost of feed, and the price paid to farmers for milk — became too narrow. The act also would have helped control supply and demand and prevent supply from out-pacing demand too heavily.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, was among the act’s biggest critics, calling the proposal “soviet-style.”

Another policy

With the setback, NMPF is trying to find a new way to ensure dairy producers have an effective safety net, and that they can avoid disasters like the dairy market collapse of 2009.

“We are now engaged in discussions with agriculture committee staff on an alternative approach to creating a dairy safety net that would contain inducements to help achieve a supply-demand balance and prevent catastrophic milk price collapses like we experienced in 2009,” Mulhern continued.

He said it is conceivable that an alternative dairy policy could be developed, relying upon adjustments to the DSA’s margin insurance payout structure and participant premium rates, among other options.

NMPF had worked on the DSA for four years. Mulhern argued the DSA provided an effective, voluntary safety net for all of the nation’s dairy farmers and said it protected taxpayers from the possibility of excessive costs.

Looking ahead

There had been rumors that the conferees were close to reaching an agreement last week (Jan. 18), but even at the earliest, it will still be a week or more before the full Congress could vote.

The House and Senate were both out for Martin Luther King Day and will not return until Jan. 27.

In other matters, Washington media continue to report that cuts to food stamps will likely be about $8-$9 billion.

This is double the $4 billion in cuts the Senate had approved in its 2013 farm bill, and is considerably less than the $39 billion in cuts that the House had approved.