September will pack several punches

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In the summer’s waning warmth after Labor Day, my mother would order her child army into the big garden of my youth to gather the year’s final flush of vegetables.
Half-ripe tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, red beets, kohlrabi, green beans, zucchini, lima beans, broccoli, peas, cauliflower, carrots and whatever else had survived the family’s summer dinner plate was then peeled, podded, sliced, diced, cooked and canned into a concoction Mom called “the last of the garden.”
And, because each September brought a different mix of what remained in the garden, each winter brought a different combination of tastes and smells to what constituted Mom’s veggie mash.
No way. Its effect on me, however, never changed: I didn’t then, don’t now and never will raise a fork to it. Sorry, Mom, but your last of the garden tasted less like honest thrift and more like paint thinner every time we made it.
Like back then, Labor Day marks the beginning of Congress’ trek back to its weedy Capitol Hill patch.
What our political gardeners have left to do before the snow flies – the 2007 farm bill, immigration reform, an energy bill, extending presidential trade authority, to name the biggies – easily out-yields the low-hanging fruit both chambers picked this spring and summer.
The Senate’s version of the farm bill, guessed to arrive by the third week of September, remains on pasture.
Will its chief shepherd, Iowa’s Tom Harkin, get the additional $6 billion he wants for conservation programs – over half of which is for “working lands’ conservation” to replace the $4 billion in Conservation Security Program cash he said Republicans “cannibalized” from the 2002 farm bill?
Production. Harkin’s conservation plans, he explained in late July, foresees an estimated now-idled 4.6 million acres moving out of the Conservation Reserve Program and into crop production by 2010.
Since most of that marginal or fragile land will likely end up in corn and soybean production to feed the biofuels frenzy, Harkin believes a working lands conservation program is needed now more than ever.
The size of that single request, however – and how the completed Senate farm bill is welded onto the already-laden, already-passed House version – is sure to bring another veto threat from the White House.
Would the White House, given its barren legislative year and especially bloody August (so-long Karl, bye-bye Alberto), risk alienating two of its few remaining political allies, farmers and ranchers, over a few billion bucks in a farm bill?
No, but with the 2008 election already seen as a Republican wash-out, the White House may have little to lose to spotlight what it views as Democratic excess.
Preoccupied. As is often the case in agriculture, all this maneuvering will come when farmers have their eyes fixed on harvest rather than politics. And, according to early indications, harvest will be huge.
Southern-tier corn producers are shelling anywhere from 5 bushels to 15 more bushels per acre – at exceptionally low moisture levels – than estimated just a month ago.
If the trend holds across the broad buckle of the corn belt, USDA’s Aug. 10 record-shattering production estimate of 13.1 billion bushels will be topped and its forecasted seasonal price range of $2.80 to $3.40 per bushel will be dropped.
Those potentially lower market prices would likely slow the ethanol juggernaut because above-$3-corn would be a near necessity to cover corn’s fast-climbing seed, fertilizer, fuel and land costs for 2008.
Shock. Or, as one 20,000-acre crop consultant reported to me in late July, “Farmers will be shocked at anhydrous costs next year; think $600 a ton, not $500.”
Wow; that would be even more stomach-churning than Mom’s September brew.
(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.)

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Alan Guebert was raised on an 800-acre, 100-cow southern Illinois dairy farm. After graduation from the University of Illinois in 1980, he served as a writer and editor at Professional Farmers of America, Successful Farming magazine and Farm Journal magazine. His syndicated agricultural column, The Farm and Food File, began in June, 1993, and now appears weekly in more than 70 publications throughout the U.S. and Canada. He and spouse Catherine, a social worker, have two adult children. farmandfoodfile.com

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