Anti-ethanol effort led by grocers

May 29th, 2008 Alan Guebert

According to two documents posted on Sen. Charles Grassley’s, R-Iowa, congressional Web site, the “grassroots” anti-ethanol media blitz that’s hitched today’s climbing food prices to farmer-backed biofuels is as fake as astro-turf.

Indeed, Grassley explained to Senate colleagues during his May 15 endorsement of the new farm bill, “It turns out that a $300,000, six-month retainer of a Beltway public relations firm is behind the smear campaign, hired by the Grocery Manufacturers Association.”

True, the grocery gang — a wealthy lobby of over 300 food and beverage makers and marketers like Kraft Foods, Miller Brewing, Dean Foods and ConAgra — made, then marketed, today’s highly believable, highly fake food vs. fuel debate.

Public relations

And how they did it, according to the Grassley-posted documents, was as simple as hiring a Washington public relations firm, The Glover Park Group, and writing a check. (Grocery Manufacturers Association’s call to arms can be read at http://grassley.senate.gov/public/releases/2008/05152008.pdf and Glover Park’s 26-page battle plan is posted at http://grassley.senate.gov/public/releases/2008/051520082.pdf.)

Taken together, the revealing memos are today’s tried-and-true recipe for public policy: A wealthy special interest cooks up a batch of anti-whatever Kool-Aid through careful and creative use of facts.

Then media experts like Glover Park carry the Kool-Aid to “elite” opinion shapers — newspaper editors, pundits, Internet bloggers — who dispense it to the thirsty public for free.

The masses, looking for a cure to $4 milk and $5 corn flakes, take a sip and, presto! Their tired eyes light up with clear understanding and ethanol becomes the worst idea since the pockets in underwear.

Money

Why would 300 of the world’s largest, richest food companies (many of which are foreign-based) have their Washington hired gun take aim at ethanol? The answer is, of course, money.

The higher prices Grocery Manufacturers Association’s members are now paying for basic inputs like corn, soy, wheat, milk and rice have moved their cost curves up and their profit curves down. It’s an intolerable trend, and something needed to be done.

“ … the grocery gang … made, then marketed, today’s highly believable, highly fake food vs. fuel debate.”

Since the grocery gang cannot influence global commodity production and prices, the easiest “influence” path to take is public policy: Undermine “the primary reason” for today’s higher food prices, explains the March 4 association memo, the mandated “2007 Energy Bill requiring gasoline refiners to blend 15 billion gallons of corn ethanol in the nation’s gasoline supply by 2015.”

Tricky business

Doing so, however, is tricky business. The gang prefers to be seen as white hats fighting for lower food prices, not black hats protecting profits and marketshare. That means someone else must carry the fight. And, as its memo explains, it knows just the right folks.

“Develop a global center-left coalition of environmental, hunger, food aid, poverty, development, senior, children, business, nutrition, farm, consumer and labor groups” movement to “amplify the links between (biofuel) mandates and food prices.”

Within 48 hours, Glover Park, a public relations firm with tight links to Congressional Democrats, answers the call with an extraordinary media plan to sell “a federal agency-level or legislative solution to the economically, environmentally and socially untenable ethanol policies now in place … ”

Within weeks, anti-ethanol seeds, bought by Grocery Manufacturers Association and planted by Glover Park, take root. Everyone from the New York Times to World Bank President Robert Zoellick is linking American ethanol to starving Sudanese children or worse.

Market forces

But wait. Aren’t other, more powerful market forces — global grain demand outpacing production seven of the last nine years, crude oil prices 500 percent taller than 10 years ago, inclement weather — propelling grain prices more than U.S. ethanol?

Sure, but don’t tell the grocery gang. Falling profit margins, not honesty, is behind their nasty, divisive campaign. Even worse, these truth-challenged food giants are using the poorest of the poor, “ … hunger, food aid, poverty, development, senior, children,” to reclaim their fat margins.

In a town long-known for its shameless demagogues, these folks take the cake.

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May 19th, 2008 Jordan Roberts

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Deadline extended to May 30 for Conservation Security Program

May 9th, 2008 Farm and Dairy Staff

COLUMBUS — The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) recently extended the deadline to apply for the Conservation Security Program to May 30.

Farmers in Ohio’s Sandusky Watershed, encompassing 12 counties in northern Ohio, are encouraged to take advantage of this extension. These counties include: Crawford, Erie, Hancock, Hardin, Huron, Marion, Ottawa, Richland, Sandusky, Seneca, Wood and Wyandot.

Two weeks

“This extension will allow two additional weeks to gather the proper documentation and make an appointment for an interview with the NRCS staff,” said Terry Cosby, Natural Resources Conservation Service state conservationist.

The Conservation Security Program, a voluntary program, encourages and rewards producers who practice outstanding stewardship on working agricultural land by offering financial incentives that increase with the level of conservation effort.

In the Sandusky Watershed, the average farm practicing the highest level of conservation could qualify for payments as high as $15,000 per year for a five-year period. Payments may be more or less depending on farm size and may be subject to annual enhancement and contract payment caps.

Limited sign-up

This may be the only sign-up for many years available to farmers in the Sandusky Watershed.

As outlined in the 2002 farm bill, the Conservation Security Program is offered on a rotational basis nationwide, with all watersheds in the country scheduled to offer the program at some point in an eight-year time frame, beginning with 2004.

To learn more about the Conservation Security Program, visit
www.oh.nrcs.usda.gov/programs/csp_2/csp_home_2008.html or contact your local USDA Service Center.

There’s no bailout for pork producers

April 8th, 2008 Farm and Dairy Staff

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — The pork industry must take responsibility for its own problems, said a Purdue University Extension marketing specialist.

“That means aggressive liquidation, most likely based on financial attrition,” said Chris Hurt. “That is not a pretty solution, but it is the market solution and markets can be brutal.

“As those producers go down one by one, many of them may lament the crazy times they were caught up in as the biofuels era and the unusual macroeconomic events changed agricultural market relationships in 2008.”

Hurt’s comments came as he reviewed the precarious state of the U.S. pork industry.

Help

“Who is going to bail out the pork industry?” he said. “The Federal Reserve Bank of the United States has recently been in the news helping to assure that a well-known investment bank would remain liquid. The Congress of the United States is considering potential assistance for homeowners caught up in subprime mortgage problems.

“Farm-state politicians in the upper Great Plains hope to add billions of dollars for disaster assistance in the next farm bill, even before there is a disaster. Perhaps they need only to look to the pork industry to see a financial disaster in progress.”

Pork industry-wide losses may total $3.5 billion in 2008, a devastating amount that represents about 25 percent of the total value of production, Hurt added. Hurt noted that there is plenty of blame to go around, including producers who overexpanded production.

Herd levels

The USDA reports that the hog breeding herd on March 1 was unchanged from the year-earlier level. Producers intend to farrow the same number of sows in the spring quarter as one year ago and 2 percent fewer in the summer quarter.

Fall production can be expected to rise by about 1 percent, followed by a decrease of 2 percent next winter.

Hog prices averaged only $39.50 on a live-weight basis in the first quarter of the year. Given the 10 percent increase in production, that price may be higher than would have been expected.
“Prices are going to improve seasonally in coming weeks, but they will remain disappointing for all of 2008,” he said.

“Producers do indicate further cuts in the herd this spring, but that will just modestly reduce farrowings this summer. A much more aggressive liquidation will be needed.”
Chris Hurt
Purdue University Extension

marketing specialist

Prices

Second-quarter prices are expected to average only $47, with third-quarter prices at about $48, several dollars lower than had been expected. Fourth-quarter prices may average near $45, with winter prices moving up about $2, he said.

For the entire year of 2008, prices may average about $45, which is the lowest level since 2003.

Unfortunately, Hurt added, there has not been enough sow liquidation yet. In the first quarter, sow slaughter was up about 8 percent from a year ago, but this was only enough to drop the size of the breeding herd by less than 1 percent as of March 1.

“Producers do indicate further cuts in the herd this spring, but that will just modestly reduce farrowings this summer,” he said. “A much more aggressive liquidation will be needed. The magnitude of that liquidation can be debated, but likely needs to be on the order of at least 6-8 percent.

“The sooner that gets under way, the better.”

Feed costs

Feed costs are to blame, as well. With hog prices averaging a mere $5 this year, costs are expected to be near $57 per live hundredweight.

While soybean meal prices have dropped nearly $50 per ton from their highs in early March, corn prices have risen more than 30 cents per bushel and largely offset the advantage of lower meal prices.

“Prospects for 2008 losses now are near $30 per head,” said Hurt.

Futures markets have not provided any comfort for pork hedgers as basis has been weak. In the first quarter, basis levels averaged $7.65 per carcass hundredweight under the nearby futures. This compares with $4 under for the first quarter average over the last five years.

“This means that producers who used futures to hedge their hog production have received about $3.65 per carcass hundredweight less this year than they might have expected from the historical record,” he said.

No bailout

Ultimately, there will be no bailout for hog producers, Hurt said.

“Maybe their losses will not create a financial panic as was the concern if Bear Stearns were to fail,” he said. “Maybe they do not represent enough votes in an election year as do those with mortgage problems.

“In addition, the pork industry is no longer dominated by millions of small independent family farmers as it once was.”

A sap shouting into the hurricane

April 3rd, 2008 Alan Guebert

One fine spring evening 35 or so years ago, I rang the doorbell of the home of the young lady I intended to ask to a high school dance. After a short pause, the front door opened to frame her father, his bare feet and a can of refreshment in the doorway.

Momentarily stunned at the sight of his domestic bliss, I stood like stone. He didn’t. Turning in the direction of the kitchen he yelled, “Golly, Honey, it must be spring because the sap’s here!”

Shouting

The sap’s here? Recent events, however, have proven him more accurate today than cutting then. I mean, who but a sap would spend so much effort shouting into a hurricane of bad public policy when so little ever changes?

For example, within days of my writing last week that the Federal Reserve’s bailout of investment banks is terrible policy that carries unforeseen costs, J.P. Morgan, the white knight the Fed picked to buy sinking, stinking Bear Stearns, unmistakably pointed to one of those costs when it raised its $2 per share offer for Bear to $10 to ward off other would-be buyers.

The quintupling of price came 48 hours after investment banks like Morgan, according to the Wall Street Journal, tapped the Fed’s new line of credit — credit that nonbank banks like Morgan never had access to before the Fed moved to save Bear — for an average $13.4 billion of taxpayer money per day in the first three days of the new policy.

The tab

So, who is picking up the tab for Morgan’s increased offer? Only a sap would believe a Wall Street titan is bankrolling the deal out of its own back pocket when every shred of evidence clearly points to the taxpayers’ pocket.

That fact becomes even more rotten when compared to the farm bill impasse in Washington. By most accounts, the five-year legislation remains undone because of a $4 billion difference in proposed spending — or about one-tenth the money you and I promised Wall Street in three days last week — between Congress and the White House.

If that sticky, sappy feeling hasn’t spilled over you yet, here’s an item that may help you gain the glow: On March 17, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange Group, Inc., the now-combined Chicago Mercantile Exchange and Chicago Board of Trade, announced its purchase of NYMEX Holdings, Inc., formerly known as the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Price signals

That means today’s barely functioning cash grain and livestock markets will soon be getting their price signals from the world’s largest single, for-profit, around-the-clock money, grain, meat and metals futures trading operation.

Is this a good idea? Farmers and ranchers likely won’t get to say because the Merc, in announcing the all-but-done deal, noted that “We greatly appreciate the statements of support made this morning by our Congressional leaders … ”

In short, the antitrust, regulatory fix is in so don’t be a sap and inquire if this massive marriage of market-makers is good for actual producers — hedgers — or if this is all about speculators’ hot pursuit of cold cash.

The Chicago Mercantile Exchange’s reassuring words, however, were not taken to heart by the biz writers at the New York Times who, March 20, wondered if these new, shareholder-owned mega-markets are becoming too big to be regulated by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the usually napping government watchdog.

Too late

Most futures market experts already believe they are, reported the Times, but “despite widespread agreement that these regulatory gaps are bad for investors and consumers, they have not yet been repaired.”

Why? I could tell you, but I think you already know. Besides, I’m hoarse from shouting into last week’s hurricane.
© 2008 ag comm

A sap shouting into the hurricane

April 3rd, 2008 Alan Guebert

One fine spring evening 35 or so years ago, I rang the doorbell of the home of the young lady I intended to ask to a high school dance. After a short pause, the front door opened to frame her father, his bare feet and a can of refreshment in the doorway.

Momentarily stunned at the sight of his domestic bliss, I stood like stone. He didn’t. Turning in the direction of the kitchen he yelled, “Golly, Honey, it must be spring because the sap’s here!”

Shouting

The sap’s here? Recent events, however, have proven him more accurate today than cutting then. I mean, who but a sap would spend so much effort shouting into a hurricane of bad public policy when so little ever changes?

For example, within days of my writing last week that the Federal Reserve’s bailout of investment banks is terrible policy that carries unforeseen costs, J.P. Morgan, the white knight the Fed picked to buy sinking, stinking Bear Stearns, unmistakably pointed to one of those costs when it raised its $2 per share offer for Bear to $10 to ward off other would-be buyers.

The quintupling of price came 48 hours after investment banks like Morgan, according to the Wall Street Journal, tapped the Fed’s new line of credit — credit that nonbank banks like Morgan never had access to before the Fed moved to save Bear — for an average $13.4 billion of taxpayer money per day in the first three days of the new policy.

The tab

So, who is picking up the tab for Morgan’s increased offer? Only a sap would believe a Wall Street titan is bankrolling the deal out of its own back pocket when every shred of evidence clearly points to the taxpayers’ pocket.

That fact becomes even more rotten when compared to the farm bill impasse in Washington. By most accounts, the five-year legislation remains undone because of a $4 billion difference in proposed spending — or about one-tenth the money you and I promised Wall Street in three days last week — between Congress and the White House.

If that sticky, sappy feeling hasn’t spilled over you yet, here’s an item that may help you gain the glow: On March 17, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange Group, Inc., the now-combined Chicago Mercantile Exchange and Chicago Board of Trade, announced its purchase of NYMEX Holdings, Inc., formerly known as the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Price signals

That means today’s barely functioning cash grain and livestock markets will soon be getting their price signals from the world’s largest single, for-profit, around-the-clock money, grain, meat and metals futures trading operation.

Is this a good idea? Farmers and ranchers likely won’t get to say because the Merc, in announcing the all-but-done deal, noted that “We greatly appreciate the statements of support made this morning by our Congressional leaders … “

In short, the antitrust, regulatory fix is in so don’t be a sap and inquire if this massive marriage of market-makers is good for actual producers — hedgers — or if this is all about speculators’ hot pursuit of cold cash.

The Chicago Mercantile Exchange’s reassuring words, however, were not taken to heart by the biz writers at the New York Times who, March 20, wondered if these new, shareholder-owned mega-markets are becoming too big to be regulated by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the usually napping government watchdog.

Too late

Most futures market experts already believe they are, reported the Times, but “despite widespread agreement that these regulatory gaps are bad for investors and consumers, they have not yet been repaired.”

Why? I could tell you, but I think you already know. Besides, I’m hoarse from shouting into last week’s hurricane.

Crop honey producers can get help from FSA

April 2nd, 2008 Farm and Dairy Staff

COLUMBUS — The farm bill extension signed by the president Dec. 26, 2007, authorized the USDA’s Marketing Assistance Loans and Loan Deficiency Payments programs for the 2008 crop of graded and ungraded wool, mohair and unshorn pelts through March 15.

On March 14, the president signed into law S. 2745 which authorized Farm Service Agency to continue administering 2008 crop wool, mohair and unshorn pelt Marketing Assistance Loans and Loan Deficiency Payments through April 18.

Crop honey

Since the availability date for 2008 crop honey begins April 1, Farm Service Agency county offices are authorized to accept 2008 honey Marketing Assistance Loans and Loan Deficiency Payments requests from April 1-18.

Producers should visit their local Farm Service Agency office to apply for benefits for these programs.

More information is available at the local Farm Service Agency offices or online.

Restaurant entrepreneur steals the show at Sustainable Ag Day event

March 28th, 2008 Ann Swanson

PITTSFIELD, Pa. — Sustainable Ag Day in Warren County received high marks by the day’s participants. People came to learn and the speakers did not disappoint them.

One participant told others who asked about the day, “This is one that you should not have missed. There was something new for everyone.”

Laura Agnew from the Natural Resources Conservation Service welcomed producers from around the area to a day focusing on the sustainability of agriculture.

The morning session featured Parker Bosley, founder of Parker’s New American Bistro in Cleveland.

Advocate

Bosley was a co-owner in the business until his retirement at the end of 2006. As a chef and local foods advocate, he practiced what he preached for more than 20 years.

Growing up on a dairy farm in Trumbull County, Ohio, he believes local, small-scale farming can flourish if farmers focus on the growing consumer base that is seeking quality food available only directly from producers.

In his mind, “Grass production has become as important to the consumer as organic production once was.”

Bosley provided a food history that addressed the sameness of the food offered by restaurants. No matter where you travel, the food offerings are the same.
The restaurant chains have perpetuated this.

How did we get there?

“A trip to France revealed a refreshing concept,” said Bosley. “In France, people put activities aside while they eat. The process of eating is worthy of its own time.”

Art of eating

Think about it, he said. How do you consume your meals at home? Do you eat in front of the television? Do you eat at your desk at work?

Do you eat while reading your favorite magazine? Eating is something that is done along with something else. The fine art of conversation during dining is gone, he said. The art of enjoying the food is not the prime purpose.

“What we eat, how we eat and where we eat and with whom we eat describes our values,” said Bosley.

At the table, we should be thinking of where the food came from, how it got to the table and the seasons of the region. Food should not have to be imported. People should be enjoying what is available at the time.

“What we eat, how we eat and where we eat and with whom we eat describes our values.”

Parker Bosley, Parker’s New American Bistro founder

Bosley pointed out that in the food history before 1945, only 25 percent of the beef on the market came from feed lots. People ate what they grew. Food was based on their ethnic background. Food was the reward, as well as the sustenance. Food was a celebration.

Technology

By 1947, Bosley told the audience, new technology entered the food sector. Industrial ag emerged. The use of technology became a measure of affluence.

Today, consumers seek quality food. They are going back to farmers who produce the food locally. The market is ripe for this type of niche production. People want to put a face on their food. They want to know how it is produced as well as who is producing it.

“Evil flourishes when good men do nothing,” said Bosley. “We need mass marketing to consume all that is produced with modern technological advances.”

Does that mean the food produced is of good quality? It does not. Technology does not make the food better, simply more plentiful, he said. The farmer is still the expert when it comes to food production.

Local food

“There is a waiting audience to buy food from the local farm. Local producers need to continue to grow quality fresh food and make it available through creative marketing ventures.

While spending time at the local farm market weekly may not be feasible, cooperating with another farmer to man the booth may be beneficial,” he said.

Bosley told the audience that the farm bill has, in the past, been dictated by large industrial producers.

“The next one just may be the food bill,” he said.

He recommended educating consumers. Once they know how good fresh food can taste and how good it is for them, they are hooked.

Bosley summed up his presentation saying, “Pay more, eat less. Cook your own food. Eat meals at tables. Eat deliberately and with pleasure.”

Local lunch

A local foods lunch was served featuring products of area farms. Meldick Farms, Stoney Creek Farm, Lazy J Bison and Sweet and Savory Farm provided the meats. Angove’s Farm and Bauer Family Syrup provided maple syrup. Tara’s Tasty Treats provided homemade rolls.

Phyllis Wright contributed cabbage and apple salad made from ingredients purchased from nearby farms. Penn Sate Creamery provided ice cream. The Shaw House was responsible for the catering.

The afternoon session featured veterinarian Susan Beal, a graduate of the Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph. Beal runs Big Run Healing Arts, a practice dedicated to providing care based on the philosophy and practice of homeopathy.

She addressed the appropriateness of animal diet in the overall health of the animal.

Ohio natives pushing policy in D.C.

March 27th, 2008 Susan Crowell

WASHINGTON — Graduated from Newton Falls High School. An undergrad degree in biology from Marietta College. A master’s from the University of Toledo in biology and a Ph.D. in microbial ecology from the University of New Mexico.

Her first job? Working on climate change, alternative energy and agricultural issues for U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn.

Mahoning Valley native Marcy Gallo envisioned a career in scientific research, in a lab or out in the field, surrounded by instruments, microscopes and computers. But she landed on Capitol Hill, surrounded by politicians, lobbyists and pressure.





Unique role

Gallo is one of those unique scientists — the kind who can see the complexities of the scientific world, but translate them for the rest of us. The kind who can take the narrow vision of a specific research study and put it into a larger context and tell us what it means for society.

Gallo wrapped up a year-long Congressional Science Fellowship in Lieberman’s office in December 2007 and now serves as a policy associate with The American Geological Institute, which represents 44 geoscientific and professional associations.

Close to action

As a Congressional science fellow, she provided the scientific background for public policy, met with constituents and served as a staff resource for all things science.

The first week in Lieberman’s office, Gallo was reviewing hot issues and upcoming legislation with one of the legislative aides when he said, “You’re going to have the ag policy stuff, too.” And so Gallo became a quick study of ag programs, a rather large responsibility in the Year of the Farm Bill.

“I was really surprised at the diversity of people who were interested in the farm bill,” she said. “It’s about the crops and the people and the food.”

More specifically, Lieberman’s farm bill attention focused on the conservation and nutrition titles of the farm bill, and the addition of specialty crops to farm programs.

And back home in Newton Falls, parents Pam and John Gallo starting tuning in to C-SPAN to catch glimpses of their daughter during committee hearings and briefings.

The big time. As a scientist who has worked on ecological and environmental research, Gallo is most proud of the small role she played in a comprehensive bill Lieberman and Sen. John Warner, R-Va., co-sponsored to address global warming.

The bill, slugged as the Climate Security Act, was the first climate change legislation to make it out of committee and to the full Senate.

“I was there in the room,” Gallo said, adding that the day last December was like a “JFK moment” she will always remember.

“You kind of know you’re a part of something,” she added. “It was really exciting to be in the room.”

Don’t discount staffers

Gallo said the average person would be surprised to learn “how much work the staffer does,” and the impact a legislator’s staffers can have.

The aide formulates a first opinion of an issue or a bill and can convey that interest (or lack of interest) to the legislator.

“They’re definitely a force to be reckoned with.”

But she also said many would be surprised to learn how hard the members of Congress work, too.

“The members are unbelievably scheduled,” she said, with appointments or meetings starting at 9 a.m. and often running into 12-hour days.

Giving back

It was a high school chemistry teacher who triggered Gallo’s interest in the sciences and she modestly says, “I found I really had a knack for it.”

But two months before her fellowship ended, Gallo realized she wanted to continue to use her science in the public policy world. A job search turned up the position with the American Geological Institute.

Her current efforts include lobbying for more funding for basic geoscience research and the national geomapping program, and to increase awareness of the role science research plays in just about everything.

“Scientists are reluctant to come up here and ask for money,” Gallo said.

It’s not their strength. But it is hers. She’s discovered that bridging the knowledge gap between scientists and the general public, including lawmakers, is her forte.

“I just knew this was the right place to be,” she said of her work in Washington. “I think I can be a more effective scientist here.”

Plus, she admitted, “It’s sort of an addictive place to be.”

* * *
Allison Specht

WASHINGTON — Allison Specht looked around the meeting room. There sat J.B. Penn, former USDA undersecretary for farm and foreign agricultural services and now chief economist at John Deere. And there was Joe Glauber, newly seated chief economist for the USDA.

“I should not be here,” the 26-year-old thought to herself.

But as trade economist for the American Farm Bureau Federation in Washington D.C., Specht sat at the table as a peer, as a person with something to offer. And that’s heady stuff for the woman who has a copy of Holstein World on her bedside table.

Farm foundation

Working in the nation’s capital is a long way from living on a dairy farm in Tuscarawas County, Ohio, but Specht’s mind is never far from home, where she still owns cows. The walls and shelves of her office are lined with photos of dairy cattle, the home farm and trophies from the show ring.

That farm foundation and the calls to home keep her rooted outside the Beltway, and lets her see the downstream effects of the policy she reviews.

On the phone with her dad, Steve, “we talk cows and bulls.” On the phone with her mom, Michele, who’s the Ohio Farm Bureau organizational director for Tuscarawas County, “we talk constantly about policy.”

Crunching numbers

As trade economist, Specht analyzes international trade agreements and foreign policies, and also provides a monthly dairy outlook and analysis for the farm organization.

She’s currently studying the Colombian Free Trade Agreement, analyzing some food safety legislation, and preparing responses to the anti-NAFTA barbs thrown by Democratic presidential candidates.

She also travels the country to brief state Farm Bureaus on trade issues.

“I do work on behalf of farmers,” Specht explained of the member-driven policy that directs the national lobbying efforts. “The farmers tell us what they want us to do.”

She draws on her own farm background to keep it real.

“It is quite a different world here,” Specht said. “But I have to remember my parents are on the clock all the time. The people who are farming are farming all the time.”

Not glamorous

People are easily intimidated by the political process and life in Washington, Specht said, although she’s found it’s actually a pretty friendly place.
“Everyone’s from somewhere else,” she said, so people are willing to lend a hand because they’ve been there, too.

Still, the process of making laws and public policy is a lot of hard work, Specht said. “I can’t see too much glamor to it.”

And even though she’s seen the inside story, Specht still insists the system works.

“We’re actually in control of our destiny. Laws are actually made by humans.”

“And you can see change,” she added. “One voice really matters, and that opinion can influence change.”

Knowing the ropes

Specht wasn’t a total stranger to D.C. when she took the Farm Bureau job, because she interned two summers with the USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service. She also served as a legislative aide to then-U.S. Sen. Mike DeWine.

Specht, who holds a bachelor’s degree in agricultural business and a master’s in ag economics, both from Ohio State University, joined other Buckeye faithful as a member of the local OSU alumni affiliate. She even took to the football field (the Washington Mall) in an alumni flag football team last fall.

And beyond Ohio State, the Ohio legions are strong in Washington, she said.

“The Ohioans really stick together,” she added. “Everyone has an Ohio connection.”

Uncommon economist

When she’s not preparing briefings or crunching numbers, Specht heads back home as often as she can.
“Going home lets me breathe,” she said.

She also hits the tanbark trail with her show string, including Trealayne OA Genevieve-ET, the reserve junior champion at the Mid-East Summer National Show last August in Columbus. Genevieve, who just freshened, is the daughter of one of Specht’s last 4-H cows.

In fact, talking to Specht you wonder if she’s more dairy farmer than she is economist, and she’ll agree.

“If I can’t be a dairy farmer, I would be doing what I’m doing right now.”

But that doesn’t stop her from admitting, “If I could do my job from Dover, Ohio, I would.”

(Editor Susan Crowell can be reached at 800-837-3419 or at editor@farmanddairy.com.)

Prices are just too good for payments

March 13th, 2008 Farm and Dairy Staff

WASHINGTON — According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, because market prices are high, producers with corn, grain sorghum, soybeans and/or other oilseed base acres enrolled in USDA’s Direct and Counter-Cyclical Program will not receive partial 2007-crop-year counter-cyclical payments.

Projections

Average market price projections are above levels that would trigger these payments.

The 2002 farm bill requires that, if triggered, these payments be made for the 2007 crop after the first six months of the marketing year, which began Sept. 1 for these commodities.

Producers enrolled in the Direct and Counter-Cyclical Program may receive counter-cyclical payments when “effective” prices for eligible commodities are less than their respective “target” prices specified in the 2002 farm bill.

USDA calculates counter-cyclical payments based on historical base acreage and payment yields, not current production.

Final calculations

For the 2007 crop, USDA is to make the final calculation after the end of the marketing year. The average price for the marketing year will be available Sept. 29.

Current market price projections for the 2007 crop are above the price levels that trigger these payments by 70 percent for corn, 76 percent for grain sorghum and 94 percent for soybeans.

USDA calculated counter-cyclical payment rates for these commodities using the February World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates, which was released Feb. 8.

USDA’s World Agricultural Outlook Board issues the estimate reports, which provide the most current supply-and-demand forecasts available.

USDA said Dec. 3, 2007, that producers who are enrolled in the direct and counter-cyclical program and have wheat, barley and/or oats base acres would not receive partial counter-cyclical payments because average market price projections for those commodities exceeded levels that trigger these payments.

Overpayments

The 2002 farm bill requires that any overpayments to producers must be repaid.