Lawmakers Discuss Farm Bill Issues

After a two week break, lawmakers returned to Washington, D.C. this week to face a variety of issues, including a Senate confirmation vote for Sonny Perdue to be the new Secretary of Agriculture, as well as a looming federal budget deadline on Friday.  While on Easter recess, several lawmakers had the opportunity to discuss the next Farm Bill and agricultural policy issues with constituents.  Topics included: cotton support, dairy, trade, crop insurance, and conservation policy.

Cotton, Other Oilseed

House Ag Committee member Jodey Arrington (R., Tex.) discussed Title 1 cotton issues during a radio interview on KFYO 95.1 (Lubbock) on April 14th (three minute discussion available at the MP3 link below).

Rep. Arrington referred to a House Ag Subcommittee hearing earlier this month that focused on commodity policy, including cotton, that he participated part in.  During that hearing, Rep. Arrington noted that, “I want to implore my colleagues to please get cotton back into the farm bill.”

During the radio interview, Rep. Arrington reiterated his desire to get cotton “back in the Farm Bill” by explaining that a near-term mechanism through the appropriations and the budget process pertaining to the Continuing Resolution for FY2017 and FY2018 may provide an opportunity to accomplish this goal.  (For additional detail on this legislative instrument, see this National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition blog update from Friday, “A Big Week Ahead for Agriculture: Decisions will Shape the Landscape for 2018 Farm Bill.”).

However, Rep. Arrington added that the best path forward, and the easiest way to facilitate a change in cotton policy, is to let newly confirmed Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue list cotton as an “other oilseed,” an action that would provide the safety net the Texas Republican is advocating for.

And Tamar Hallerman reported on the front page of Monday’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution that, “Grappling with low demand and foreign competition that have tamped down prices, cotton growers asked President Barack Obama’s agriculture chief Tom Vilsack to change the federal definition of oilseed in order to include cottonseed, a move they said would give them access to more government money. Vilsack denied their request, saying he did not have the authority to do so.

“‘That will be a decision that Sonny Perdue will have presumably early on as to whether he will make that move that Secretary Vilsack didn’t,‘ said [Ferd Hoefner, a senior strategic adviser at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.]”

A more detailed overview of the cottonseed oil request, and former Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack’s denial of that request is available here, “Backgrounder: Cotton oilseed and the 2014 Farm Bill.”

Recall also that a recent update at the farmdoc daily blog (“Beneath the Label: A Look at Generic Base Acres“) pointed out that:

Estimates of payments on attributed generic base combined with Federal outlay data demonstrate that cotton producers and farmers with generic base acres have received substantial assistance from the 2014 Farm Bill.

An article last week at KLVT News (Levelland, Tex.) Online indicated that Rep. Arrington spoke at an event in Levelland and stated again that, “We must get cotton back in the farm bill or we are in real trouble in America.”

Cotton harvest. In December of 2015, a bipartisan coalition of 100 lawmakers urged the Secretary of Agriculture to take action on cottonseed.

Meanwhile, Matt Dotray reported back on April 8th at the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal Online that, “[Speaking at the Plains Cotton Growers’ 60th annual meeting at the Lubbock Memorial Civic Center (House Ag Committee Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Midland)] said there will be difficult decisions to make in the upcoming farm bill, and discussions over the spending bill are starting now.

As it relates to cotton farmers, Conaway said he intends to get cottonseed under the commodities title for income support for farmers.

“‘It will get in the 2018 farm bill itself if I don’t get it done sooner rather than later,’ Conaway said. ‘I’ve got to get that piece done.’

“This proclamation was met with a round of applause at the PCG meeting.”

Powell Cobb reported on April 14th at The Post-Searchlight (Bainbridge, Ga.) Online that Rep. Sanford Bishop (D., Ga.) recently met with local farmers and agribusiness professionals and reported that, “Bishop also addressed cotton producers in the area,” and quoted Rep. Bishop as saying: “Simply put, at current price levels, cotton production in the U.S. will not be sustainable without some kind of permanent relief and support.”

Dairy

Maureen McMullen reported last week at the Republican Eagle (Red Wing, Minn.) Online that, “U.S. Sen. Al Franken [D, Minn.] ranked dairy farmers’ struggles among his top priorities for a new federal farm bill.”

“Franken, a Democrat, met Tuesday with Minnesota Farmers Union members from six southeastern Minnesota counties to discuss priorities for a new federal farm bill,” the article said; adding that, “Dairy farmers with the union say shaky trade relations with Canada have contributed to a shrinking number of companies that will buy their milk to use in their products.”

Trade

Robert Pore reported late last week at The Grand Island Independent (Neb.) Online that, “About 50 people attended U.S. Rep. Adrian Smith’s Farm Bill listening tour stop in Aurora on Thursday.

“Joining Smith was Nebraska Department of Agriculture Director Greg Ibach.”

The article noted that, “Trade was one of the topics both Smith and Ibach addressed…’With renegotiation with NAFTA, that makes a lot of ag producers nervous because of the successes we have seen in increasing ag exports since that passage,’ Smith said.

‘We reminded the (Trump) administration recently that, if they want to renegotiate certain trade agreements, don’t forget about agriculture and the many successes that have come about because of that.’

Also this month, Sen. Jon Tester (D-Montana) participated in a Q&A with NBC Montana where he noted that, “…[W]e’re working on making sure that this president understands that those trade agreements that we have had in the past are critically important, and we can’t lose those markets to Australia or Argentina or Brazil or any other country. We’ve got to have them. We export nearly all our products that we raise in Montana.”

And on the same forum, Montana’s other Senator, Republican Steve Daines, indicated that, “We’re struggling right now with agriculture in Montana with low commodity prices. In fact I (just) sent a letter with 39 other senators, (including) Sen. Tester, urging President Trump to discuss reopening Chinese markets to U.S. beef. (Agriculture) is Montana’s No. 1 economic driver.”

Writing last week at the The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, Wa.) Online, Kip Hill indicated that Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R., Wa.) met with a group of Whitman County wheat growers and reported that, “Farmers also questioned McMorris Rodgers about Trump’s trade proposals, following the president’s decision to nix the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal and his stated preference for bilateral agreements rather than multinational compacts. The industry estimates up to 90 percent of the wheat grown in Washington is shipped overseas.

“The congresswoman, in a tongue-in-cheek moment channeling the businessman president’s lofty campaign promises, said Trump had assured her ‘we’re going to have lots of trade agreements, we’re going to have so many trade agreements.’

But I think we need to get some people in place, that can start the process on trade, start negotiating,” she said.”

DTN Ag Policy Editor Chris Clayton reported on Thursday that, “Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst told cattle producers she has her own concerns about the Trump administration’s trade agenda as producers highlighted topics they would like to see addressed in the next farm bill.”

Mr. Clayton explained that, “Sitting down with local cattle producers in southwest Iowa on Wednesday, Ernst expressed concern about renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement. She noted NAFTA ‘has been very beneficial’ for Iowa, mainly due to agricultural exports. Farm-state senators want to encourage the Trump administration when it comes to agriculture, ‘for lack of a better term, not throwing agriculture under the bus.’

“Some bilateral trade deals likely can be worked out, but they won’t come quickly given that President Donald Trump’s full trade team isn’t in place. That requires getting [USDA Sec. Nominee Sonny Perdue] and U.S. Trade Representative nominee Robert Lighthizer on the job.

Ernst told the cattle producers she has concerns about Lighthizer’s knowledge and background when it comes to agricultural trade.

“Lighthizer is more comfortable dealing with manufacturing issues, she said.

“‘I will just be very blunt about this,’ Ernst said. ‘I don’t know he’s as well-informed about agriculture as I think he should be in promoting those products overseas. So we will have to be vigilant and make sure that is top-line when he is engaging in trade. We will have to make sure the people working under him know how important this is for us.'”

Crop Insurance

In his DTN article, Mr. Clayton also pointed out that, “Ernst told DTN briefly afterward that the biggest topic she has heard in most farm bill discussions around Iowa is the need to protect crop insurance and keep it in the farm bill.”

Andy Eubank reported on April 16th at Hoosier Ag Today that, “During the Easter recess Indiana Senator Joe Donnelly made the trip to West Lafayette for a Donnelly Days visit to the Indiana Corn and Soybean Innovation Center. Following a staff and student led tour Thursday, Donnelly addressed a couple of pressing farm issues.”

Mr. Eubank added that, “Fresh off a farm bill listening tour stop in Knox County earlier in the week, the Indiana Democrat and member of the Senate Agriculture Committee said it’s clear what farmers’ top farm bill priority is.

‘How important crop insurance is. Probably more than anything else I’ve heard, I’ve heard all of our ag community say we have to have a strong crop insurance section in there. And we will…’

Conservation

Heather J. Carlson reported last week at the Post Bulletin (Rochester, Minn.) Online that House Ag Committee member Tim Walz (D., Minn.) hosted a round table forum focused on beginning farmers on Tuesday at Rochester’s People’s Food Co-op.

Walz said he wants to see more federal dollars put into programs that encourage conservation. That includes boosting funding for the Conservation Reserve Program, which provides farmers with yearly rental payments for environmentally sensitive land that is removed from agricultural production. The Mankato Democrat said it is unfair to criticize farmers for not engaging in those environmental practices if there is no federal financial support available.

“‘If they have to make a choice between making money to keep their farm or choose those programs, that’s a very hellish position to put them in,’ Walz said. ‘We need to ask for the budgeting dollars to compensate fairly so they can make those decisions.'”

Keith Good

Keith Good is the social media manager for the farmdoc project at the University of Illinois. He is well known in agricultural circles for the daily FarmPolicy.com News Summary.