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.

Dairy farmers discuss current events

March 13th, 2008 Janelle Skrinjar

WOOSTER, Ohio — Dairy farming is about more than just milking cows. Today’s producer has to keep an eye on everything from labeling issues to renewable energy.

Ohio dairy farmers gathered March 4 in Wooster for updates on these topics and others. The Ohio Dairy Producers Association conference brought together state and national experts to answer several important questions.

Q. Is anything new happening with Ohio’s dairy labeling debate?

A. This topic continues to be hot, but no legal action has been taken since the Ohio Department of Agriculture released its ruling Feb. 7.

The department has proposed a rule to ban dairy labels from using phrases like “rbST-free” or “hormone free.” But labels can contain a statement saying the milk was produced from cows not supplemented with rbST if that statement is followed by a disclaimer noting there’s no significant difference in milk, whether or not cows are given rbST.

“We tried to be as transparent and as fair as we could with our proposed rule,” said Doug O’Brien, assistant director of the Ohio Department of Agriculture.

While many dairy farmers are upset that they’ve been asked to sign affidavits promising not to use rbST, O’Brien said that’s not something the department can control. The department’s authority lies within labeling laws, he said.

Jamie Jonker, National Milk Producers Federation regulatory affairs director, said it’s probably too late to change the labeling situation. But the industry should continue working to position itself better for future arguments against approved technologies.





Q. What do consumers expect from dairy farmers?

A. Consumers have always expected safe, high-quality food. But now they expect proper animal welfare and sustainability, too, according to Shawn Althauser of Wendy’s quality assurance department.

The recent animal abuse allegations at a slaughterhouse in Chino, Calif., have drawn even more public attention to farm practices, Althauser said.
“The dairy industry hasn’t changed, but the way people look at it will,” he told producers.

And it doesn’t take much to tarnish the cattle industry’s historically good image.

“Unfortunately, it only takes a couple of hiccups by poor performers to change that,” he said.

Althauser said proper welfare practices and sustainability begins with a careful self-evaluation.

Q. How do I keep my farm profitable as feed costs rise?

A. With recent increases in corn prices, farmers have found themselves paying more and more to feed their cattle. But Normand St-Pierre, an extension dairy specialist at Ohio State University, said there’s an important question producers should ask before handing over their cash: Do cows require corn?

According to St-Pierre, the answer is no.

Studies have shown that cows produce as well on a barley-based diet as they do on a corn-based ration.

Also, St-Pierre said it’s important to give cattle the right amount of feed. Don’t over-feed and hope for the best. Consult a nutritionist and provide the proper nutrients without buying or feeding more than necessary.

And finally, don’t be afraid to question the need for every feed ingredient. St-Pierre said it’s OK to alter cows’ diets based on the price of milk and feed inputs.

Q. What are lawmakers doing for dairy farmers?

A. Federal lawmakers have a variety of ag-related topics on their hands right now, according to NMPF’s Jonker. The most notable topic is the farm bill, which is facing a March 15 deadline for action.

Other hot topics in Washington D.C. include immigration reform, federal order issues, animal care, cloning, National Animal Identification, environmental issues and sustainability.

Q. Can carbon credits increase revenue on my farm?

A. Absolutely, according to Jim Jensen, vice president of development at Environmental Credit Corp.
Jensen’s company designs, finances and installs lagoon covers to capture methane and other emissions. Those emission savings are then used to create carbon credits on the Chicago Climate Exchange and other global markets.

Farmers are not required to pay any start-up costs through this program, but the carbon credits are shared with the company.

The money for the program comes from private investors. Any farmer who stores liquid manure for long periods of time is eligible to participate.

Q. What do I need to know about renewable energy?

A. Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland has proposed an initiative called Building Ohio Jobs, which could create 80,000 new jobs in the Buckeye State during the next four to five years.

If voters decide to back the $1.7 billion bond proposal on the ballot in November, it will pump $250 million into the state’s renewable energy development.

ODA’s O’Brien said Ohio is well-positioned to help meet the demand for corn.

He added there’s been a lot of interest in biomass and methane and the state is carefully assessing its next move.

“We’re trying to determine, at the department, where we go from here,” he said.

O’Brien called renewable fuel sources the “new reality” and encouraged dairy farmers to move forward as technology advances.

(Reporter Janelle Skrinjar welcomes feedback by phone at 800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at jskrinjar@farmanddairy.com.)

Ohio farmers featured in national natural resources conservation effort

February 21st, 2008 Farm and Dairy Staff

COLUMBUS — Scott Stoller and his family were recognized for their conservation commitment as part of a national conservation campaign recently launched by the U.S Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service, said Terry Cosby, state conservationist for Natural Resources Conservation Service in Ohio.

The Stollers are featured in the service’s national campaign called “Conservation … Our Purpose. Our Passion.”

Stoller joins eight landowners and their families nationwide who are being honored for stellar conservation achievements. The campaign’s educational outreach materials include a five-minute video, web site, exhibits and a brochure.

Good example

On their farm in Sterling, Ohio, the Stollers serve as an example of producers who have chosen to farm with excellent conservation practices. Scott and Charlene Stoller and their seven children operate a 250-acre certified organic dairy farm where they raise corn, soybeans, wheat, barley and alfalfa.

They milk 90 Holsteins and market all of their milk through Organic Valley Co-op. Their initial conservation work began as they transitioned from a conventional to a rotational grazing system.

They currently manage about 50 acres of permanent pasture, divided into 11 paddocks for grazing, to reduce mechanical harvesting and the need for manure spreading.

Efforts

They have used farm bill programs, such as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, to complete a number of best management practices such as: developing a Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plan; constructing a 250,000-gallon manure storage structure; installing fencing to keep cattle out of streams; practicing woodland management; and adding 7.5 acres of riparian buffers with approximately 3,700 trees through the Conservation Reserve Program.

Schafer named U.S. secretary of ag

February 7th, 2008 Farm and Dairy Staff

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate confirmed former North Dakota Gov. Ed Schafer as the country’s next secretary of agriculture Jan. 28.

Schafer gained experience with agricultural issues during two terms as North Dakota’s governor from 1992-2000.

Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, said Schafer’s experience with grain and livestock import issues, as well as his understanding of ethanol and biodiesel, are among his many strengths.

“As trade negotiations on farm goods continue, we offer our support for his efforts to open important new markets,” Stallman said.

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Experience

In 1999, Schafer served as the co-lead on agriculture for the National Governors Association, and in 2000 led an agricultural trade mission from North Dakota to China to help open new markets for his state’s farm products.

Schafer, who holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of North Dakota and a master of business administration from the University of Denver, most recently was CEO of Extend America, a start-up wireless communications firm.

He also was president of the Gold Seal Co., a household products company founded by his father, and he founded Fish ‘N Dakota, a fish farming business near Beulah, N.D.

One of Schafer’s first tasks as the secretary of agriculture will be to help get a farm bill through a House-Senate conference committee that’s trying to work out differences in competing bills.

Showing support

The National Pork Producers Council has expressed strong support for the new secretary of agriculture.

“America’s pork producers will strongly support Secretary Schafer as he tackles issues of importance to the U.S. hog industry, including trade agreements, animal identification and the farm bill,” said Jill Appell, National Pork Producers Council president.

R-CALF USA members were also enthusiastic about the new secretary of agriculture.

“We’re hoping he’ll help independent cattle producers help their communities by making the necessary reforms in the farm bill that would restore competition and transparency to the marketplace,” said Max Thornsberry, President/Region VI director.

Tom Buis, National Farmers Union president, said Schafer worked closely with North Dakota Farmers Union during his tenure as governor.

“His time as governor of North Dakota, a state with a large agriculture economy, has given him an understanding of the challenges and opportunities facing family farmers, ranchers and consumers in the countryside,” Buis said.

President Bush announced Schafer’s nomination Oct. 31. He is replacing former secretary of agriculture Mike Johanns, who resigned Sept. 20 to run for a seat in the U.S. Senate.

Ohio Farmers Union elects Wise as president

February 7th, 2008 Farm and Dairy Staff

COLUMBUS — Roger Wise was elected by Ohio Farmers Union delegates to lead the grassroots advocacy organization.

Wise, Sandusky County, succeeds Joe Logan, Trumbull County, who had served as president for the three two-year terms, the maximum allowed.

“My goals will be to expand membership, encourage more member involvement and promote the policy of our organization.”

Wise said the current concerns of the farm organization’s members include renewable energy, inclusion of Community-Based Energy Development in Senate Bill 221, reregulation of public utilities and public policy that will address manure waste management from concentrated animal feeding operations.

Brian Wolfe, Ashtabula County, who ran against Wise for the presidency, was subsequently elected vice president by delegates.

Annual meeting

Hundreds of family farmers and rural residents attended the organization’s 74th annual meeting, which was held Jan. 31 through Feb. 2 in Dublin.

Delegates supported the Ohio legislature’s overall actions to pass SB 221. The bill maps out future energy development incentives and goals. Delegates also recommended that SB 221 include Community-Based Energy Development language as well, as benchmarks and penalties relating to renewable energy goals.

In addition, delegates called for urgency in responding to global climate change by reducing the emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

Ohio’s first lady, Francis Strickland, told delegates, members and guests that “agriculture will be a huge part of where our economy has to go.”

Katy Ziegler, National Farmers Union’s vice president of legislative affairs, offered a Washington insider’s look at the farm bill debate. She said the U.S. House and Senate have passed overall farm bills that offer much for the nation’s rural farmers, ranchers and rural communities.

She credited Farmers Union members for their legislative fly-ins to Capitol Hill. Due to those efforts, the farm bill proposals include implementation of country-of-origin labeling, a permanent disaster title and a livestock competition title.

Speakers

An array of speakers addressed convention attendees including Ohio Department of Agriculture Director Robert Boggs, National Farmers Union President Tom Buis, Ohio Treasurer Richard Cordray and National Farmers Union Education Director Laura Monchuk.

In addition, educational break-out sessions were held on farm record keeping, a program to develop a sustainable food system and bio-char and bio-energy coproduction.

Seated on the Ohio Farmers Union Executive Committee were Marvin Thompson of Paulding County and Walt Streber of Clinton County.

Elected as member delegates to the National Farmers Union convention March 2–4 in Las Vegas were Gerry Landon of Williams County and Andy Remillard of Knox County.

Senate confirms next Secretary of Ag

January 31st, 2008 Other News

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Senate confirmed former North Dakota Gov. Ed Schafer as the country’s next secretary of agriculture Jan. 28.
Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, said Schafer’s experience with grain and livestock import issues, as well as his understanding of ethanol and biodiesel, are among his many strengths.
“As trade negotiations on farm goods continue, we offer our support for his efforts to open important new markets,” Stallman said.
Experience. Schafer gained experience with agriculture issues during two terms as North Dakota’s governor from 1992-2000.
In 1999, he served as the co-lead on agriculture for the National Governors Association, and in 2000 led an agricultural trade mission from North Dakota to China to help open new markets for his state’s farm products.
Schafer, who holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of North Dakota and an master of business administration from the University of Denver, most recently was CEO of Extend America, a start-up wireless communications firm.
He also was president of the Gold Seal Co., a household products company founded by his father, and he founded Fish ‘N Dakota, a fish farming business near Beulah, N.D.
One of Schafer’s first tasks as the secretary of agriculture will be to help get a farm bill through a House-Senate conference committee that’s trying to work out differences in competing bills.
Showing support. The National Pork Producers Council has expressed strong support for the new secretary of agriculture.
“America’s pork producers will strongly support Secretary Schafer as he tackles issues of importance to the U.S. hog industry, including trade agreements, animal identification and the farm bill,” said Jill Appell, National Pork Producers Council president.
R-CALF USA members were also enthusiastic about the new secretary of agriculture.
“We’re hoping he’ll help independent cattle producers help their communities by making the necessary reforms in the farm bill that would restore competition and transparency to the marketplace,” said Max Thornsberry, President/Region VI director.
Tom Buis, National Farmers Union president, said Schafer worked closely with North Dakota Farmers Union during his tenure as governor.
“His time as governor of North Dakota, a state with a large agriculture economy, has given him an understanding of the challenges and opportunities facing family farmers, ranchers and consumers in the countryside,” Buis said.

Ohio farmland preservation in limbo

January 31st, 2008 Contributing Writers

REYNOLDSBURG, Ohio – The economy of Ohio depends on the $93.7 billion industry of agriculture with its employment of hundreds of thousands of workers. But, according to the Ohio Department of Agriculture, Ohio loses about 200 acres of farmland each day to roads, stores, factories and homes. While ideas and proposals abound on ways to preserve the disappearing open lands, the largest obstacle is paying for them.
The question of how to finance future farmland preservation efforts was the main topic of a meeting Jan. 25 at the ODA headquarters in Reynoldsburg, hosted by the Farmland Center of the Countryside Conservancy.
Approximately 45 people attended, including landowners and those representing soil and water conservation districts, county commissioners, the Farm Bureau, planning commissions, land trusts and farmland preservation offices.
History. The Clean Ohio bond issue passed by voters in 2000 provided some funding for efforts to preserve remaining open lands. Of the $400 million from that issue, farmland preservation received $25 million for a pilot project.
The first year, the Ohio Agricultural Easement Purchase Program, coordinated by the Ohio Department of Agriculture, used $6.25 million. With matching federal grants and lower granted amounts, the remaining funds were stretched out to seven years, with $3.125 million left for the 2008 grant round.
Kristen Jensen of the ODA’s Office of Farmland Preservation presented the “good news, bad news” situation of the program.
Despite its initial skeptics, the Ohio Agricultural Easement Purchase Program has drawn 1,603 applications for 251,961 acres, with a potential easement value of $355 million. The bad news is that the limited dollars from the Clean Ohio bond issue or federal programs allowed only 117 applicants’ contracts to be approved, with a total of 23,615 acres and a value of $28.8 million, to date.
“The Clean Ohio Agricultural Easement Purchase Program was established as a pilot program and has been successful in preserving portions of the state’s most valued resource,” said Mark Forni, executive director of the department’s Office of Farmland Preservation.
“Although the Clean Ohio funds are in their final year, we will have some federal funds to support preservation efforts in 2009,” Forni added.
Still planning. Jill Clark, director of the Ohio Center for Farmland Policy Innovation at Ohio State University, listed new options for the program.
Clark, who also serves on the ODA’s advisory board, said the board is seeking input on how to have farmland preservation efforts sustainable. The goal is to increase local involvement with programs, funding, and monitoring, using the state framework.
Back to ballot? Bill Demora, executive director of the Ohio League of Conservation Voters, discussed a measure being drafted to reissue some of the Clean Ohio bonds that have been repaid. If passed by the legislature, $5 million could be used for farmland preservation in 2009.
Efforts are also under way to have a proposal similar to the Clean Ohio issue on the ballot in November of 2008. If voters approve the issue, then the legislature would still have to authorize the funding, which would not be available before 2010.
Gene Krebs, former Ohio state representative, offered insight on how the legislature works and suggestions on getting the support of elected officials. Krebs currently is affiliated with Greater Ohio, a citizens’ network promoting the smart growth concept.
Brian Williams, Ohio state director for the American Farmland Trust, relayed that there is optimism for increased farmland preservation funding with the pending farm bill, but that the final details are very indefinite.
Williams also said there is a possibility of having a five- or six-year recoupment of CAUV taxes for land taken out of agriculture. The different beyond the current three years would be used for farmland preservation at local levels.
After the official meeting and lunch, many attendees stayed for an information discussion on funding and other related topics.

Happy cotton pickin’ New Year

January 10th, 2008 Alan Guebert

While other prophets and forecasters fill the first week of January – and endless inches of newspaper space – with predictions of what will happen this year, permit me 600 or so words to predict what won’t happen in 2008.
First, let’s get the tough calls out the way. The Chicago Bears will not win the Super Bowl.
Sure, both forecasts are blindingly obvious today, but neither was a month or so ago when I offered them to my very smart office mate, Maggie the Aggie Dog.
Second, I will not embark on another two-week binge of butter, beef and beverage like the one just (successfully) completed until, oh, a week or so before Christmas 2008.
Farm bill. Third, the 2007 farm bill, when completed 2008, will be the last commodity-based, farm group-driven farm bill.
Indeed, the ever-narrowing coalition of big farm groups-big agbiz barely beat back the ever-broadening trinity of food, faith and consumer groups in 2007, which demanded more reform and more accountability in farm policy.
The reformers, not farmers, will drive the next farm bill fight.
Also, the Senate’s inclusion of a meatpacker ban on cattle feeding prior to slaughter in its farm bill likely will not be in the final version Senate and House conferees will hammer out when they return from their four-week winter nap.
Bold prediction, eh? Not really. In 26 years of reporting on agriculture, I’ve yet to see the packer-lackey (to quote Iowa’s Republican Sen. Charles Grassley) lobby – livestock groups whose nests are well-feathered with meatpacker cash – get beaten in the Washington influence game.
Cowboys. While the giant meatpackers uniformly hate the ban, Congress won’t toss it for that reason alone. So, enter the vote-roping, packer-owned cowboys of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association who will – are, in fact – arguing that the ban will be costly (“billions, sir”) to the current market-strangling “alliances” between packers and cattlemen.
Costly to packers and their lackeys, yes; fair to hundreds of thousands of nonlackey cattlemen, no.
Similarly, slam-dunk predictions of Democrats adding to their congressional majorities while waltzing to an easy White House win in 2008 should be balanced against the party’s dismal performance in 2007.
Congress, under the Dems, saw its approval ratings skydive nearly 50 percent, from 70 percent to just 20 percent, in but 10 months last year.
On the other hand, if a chicken can learn to type, perhaps Democrats can yet learn that stepping on their collective tongue is a poor way to inform a badly split nation on ways all might unite to face a very uncertain future.
Then again, it just could be that some chickens are innately smarter than most Democrats. (That’s an observation, not a prediction. I reserve the right, however, to convert it into a prediction sometime in, say, mid- to late October.)
Best for last. And now for my boldest prediction for the coming year: Energy prices, unlike home prices, will not go down in 2008.
There are a dozens of reasons for this unparalleled gutsiness, but one, seldom-cited fact should scare the carbon out of all Americans: the two most populous nations in the world, China and India, currently posses the fastest-growing economies as well as the fewest cars per thousand drivers in the world.
That means that when enriched (by us) Chinese consumers boost their car ownership from today’s eight cars per 1,000 eligible drivers – India has 11 per thousand; America an incredible 1,020 per thousand – to, maybe, 10 or 12 or 16, there will never be enough ethanol anywhere to ease your and my pain at the pump.
Happy cotton pickin’ New Year.
(Alan Guebert’s Farm and Food File is published weekly in more than 75 newspapers in North America. He can be contacted at agcomm@sbcglobal.net.)

2007 top stories in review

January 3rd, 2008 Other News

Egg farm
Ohio Fresh Egg farm owners were slapped with fines for drinking water violations at the farm’s Croton facility in February.
The operation also continued its fight with the state department of agriculture, which revoked the farm’s permits earlier in the year. In August, the state’s review board sided with the egg farm, and by the end of September, ODA had filed an appeal to keep the farm from getting the permits back.
In November, the unrelated Hi-Q egg farm filed with ODA for permits to build and operate an egg farm in Union County.

Court cases
Wayne County hog farmer Ken Wiles, his son and an employee were cleared of all but one of 10 animal cruelty charges in June. National attention was drawn to the farm after an undercover animal rights investigator videotaped farm conditions, including employees euthanizing hogs.
Esbenshade Egg Farms in Mount Joy, Pa., was found not guilty of the animal cruelty charges filed against it in 2006.
The state dismissed 13 counts of animal cruelty against Tom Skelton in June and returned horses taken from his Mahoning County farm. Skelton pleaded no contest to two other charges.

Dairy labeling/rbST
Many U.S. dairy farmers faced a dilemma when they were asked to sign affidavits binding them to the production of rbST-free milk.
In Pennsylvania, the department of agriculture said rbST-free and other similar labels were “misleading.” The state announced a ban on those labels in October, but later postponed the ban.
Pennsylvania’s move prompted Ohio to examine its dairy labeling laws, but officials have not made any official ruling yet.

Raw milk
After six months in court, the Ohio Department of Agriculture dropped its case against Darke County dairy farmer Carol Schmitmeyer.
Schmitmeyer had been providing raw milk through herd share agreements when the department took her Grade A milk producer license. The ODA dropped the case after Gov. Ted Strickland said herd shares are not problematic.

Horse slaughter
There was a lot of arguing about legislation to ban horse slaughter in the U.S. Although the legislation never left Congress, the last U.S. horse slaughter facility closed in September.

MWCD
Less than four months after a controversial assessment fee was approved in the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District, Ohio lawmakers voted to stop collection of the fee until 2009.

Record corn
U.S. farmers were expected to produce the largest corn crop in history, according to USDA. Corn production was forecast at 13.1 billion bushels, 10.6 percent above the previous record of 11.8 billion bushels set in 2004.

New leaders in ag
Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland appointed Ashtabula County’s Robert Boggs as the new director of the Ohio Department of Agriculture.
Strickland also appointed Columbiana County’s Sean Logan as the director of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

Farm bill
Though both the House and Senate each approved a version of the farm bill, no new national program was approved before year’s end. Negotiations between the two will carry over into the 2008 session.

Johanns resigns
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns resigned his post abruptly Sept. 19 and revealed plans to run for a seat in the U.S. Senate. President George Bush appointed Deputy Agriculture Secretary Charles Conner as acting secretary, then nominated North Dakota Gov. Ed Schafer as the next secretary. Schafer has not yet been confirmed by the Senate.

Deer disease
An outbreak of epizootic hemorrhagic disease killed hundreds – or perhaps thousands – of deer in Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania. In Greene Township in Beaver County, Pa., there were more than 200 deer carcasses decaying throughout the area in September.

Renewable energy
Renewable energy was a regular topic in news reports this year.
In April, Tyson Foods and ConocoPhillips announced a new alliance to use beef, pork and poultry byproducts to create a renewable diesel.
At Farm Science Review in September, visitors saw the first public demonstration of a solid oxide fuel cell system operating on vegetable oil made from soybeans.
Fairview Swiss Cheese Plant broke ground in October on a $2.2 million anaerobic digester that will convert cheese whey and ice cream cone batter waste into renewable energy.