NAWG Weekly Update: May 4, 2017

Late Season Blizzard Demonstrates the Importance of Crop Insurance
A late season blizzard tore through the Midwest this weekend, bringing as much as twenty inches of snow in some areas. Western Kansas was one of the areas hit the heaviest which had devastating impact on the wheat farmers. 43% of the state’s 7.5 million planted wheat acres for the 2017 crop year was hit with more than a foot of snow – NAWG’s President David Schemm’s wheat farm included. Events like this show the important role that the Farm Bill plays in the livelihoods of farmers by creating such programs as federal crop insurance. The federal crop insurance function is the most important risk management tool available to farmers and the current structure, including the current cost-share levels, has functioned very effectively. It provides a certainty to farmers (and their lenders) who know any given year what their crop insurance coverage is going to be. If a farmer has a loss, they will typically receive a crop insurance payment within 30 days of a claim being finalized through an efficient private-sector delivery system. NAWG supports a strong and fully funded #FarmBill18. Ultimately, farmers need a safety net and an effective risk management system, particularly when prices are low and when disaster strikes.

Update from Kansas Wheat on the Results from the 2017 Wheat Tour
The 2017 Wheat Quality Council’s Hard Winter Wheat Tour across Kansas wrapped up on May 4, as scouts traveled from Wichita to Manhattan. The three-day average over the fields that were calculated was 46.1 bushels an acre. While an estimated 7.4 million acres of wheat were planted in the fall, tour participants saw many areas where disease, damage from snow and freeze damage may eliminate those fields. This was accounted for in the final estimates. Continue to read here.

Update on FY 2017 Omnibus Appropriations Bill Deal
On April 30, 2017, Congressional leaders reached an agreement to fund the government through the remainder of FY 2017 (through September 30, 2017).  The full bill text of the agreement can be found here, and the report language for the Agriculture Appropriations bill (which provides explanations and some more details about the funding bill than is in the bill text) can be found here.  The agreement includes $20.877 billion in discretionary spending for USDA, which is below the FY 2016 enacted level of $21.75 billion.

It also includes an increase of $1.6 billion in farm operating and ownership loan levels from the FY2016 levels to help meet the growing demand for those programs. For agricultural research, the bill cites a $25 million increase for the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) competitive grants program, and it maintains level funding of $243.701 million for the Hatch Act formula fund program for the land grants and of $300 million for the Smith-Lever Extension program.  Included is also report language indicating increases in funding for small grains genomic and the U.S. Wheat and Barley Scab Initiative – a $1 million increase for the Small Grains Genomic Initiative and a $2 million increase for the Wheat and Barley Scab Initiative, no doubt a result of NAWG’s and NWIC’s advocacy efforts.

The bill includes a $5 million pilot program for the Agriculture Risk Coverage County program for the 2016 crop year to address disparities in yields between comparable counties in a state.  This pilot program would set up an alternate calculation method with FSA employees in the state having some flexibility if there is insufficient NASS data in a county or if the available NASS data is significantly disparate. McGovern-Dole Food for Education program would be funded at $201.6 million, which is level with FY 2016.  The Food for Peace program would be funded at $1.6 million, which is $112 million below the FY 2016 level, and included a onetime increase of $134 million to address famine crises around the world. There is $3 million included for the FDA and USDA to promote the acceptance of biotechnology through consumer outreach on “agricultural biotechnology and biotechnology-derived food products and animal feed.” For conservation, the overall Conservation Operations account is funded at $864.474 million.  The Watershed Rehabilitation program is limited to $9 million and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) is limited to $1.35 billion (which is a reduction from the $1.65 billion provided in the Farm Bill for FY 2017).  The bill also includes $4 million for the Water Bank program.

The bill was approved by the House of Representatives on Wednesday on a 309-118 vote and the Senate voted on Thursday to adopt the measure on a 79-18 vote.  It now heads to President Trump for his signature.  Moving forward, NAWG will continue to advocate for these and important programs during the FY 2018 budget and appropriations process.

Ag was a Top Topic Discussed at Branstad Confirmation Hearing  
On Tuesday, May 02, 2017, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a confirmation hearing for the nomination of Terry Brandstad to become Ambassador to China. Politico covered the hearing and stated that Branstad testified that he would promote American interests in Beijing on areas ranging from agriculture to currency. Branstad continued by acknowledging that “the U.S.-China bilateral relationship involves more than just trade, but his deep experience promoting agriculture around the world and the need to maintain a free and open market,” were two areas he returned to most often throughout the two-hour hearing. He first met Xi during the Chinese leader’s visit to Iowa as part of an agriculture delegation in 1985, and “he has also had ‘very frank discussions’ with China’s top agriculture minister.” Additional takeaways from Tuesday’s hearing include that 1) He thinks the U.S. needs to be “more vigorous and serious” about protecting intellectual property rights; 2) He wants to do “everything he can” to stop illegal Chinese practices in the steel industry; 3) He believes China has manipulated its currency but is not doing so now; 4) He respects the long-standing “One China” policy with respect to Taiwan; and 5) He recognizes the need to find ways to stop imports of the synthetic drug fentanyl from China.

Senate Agriculture Committee Holding Farm Bill Hearing This Saturday, May 6
On Saturday, May 6, 2017, the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry is holding a field hearing titled Growing Jobs and Economic Opportunity: Perspectives on the 2018 Farm Bill from Michigan. The hearing will feature sixteen witnesses over two panels as well as a separate welcome panel from Dr. Ronald Hendrick, Dean of Michigan State University College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. NAWG’s Board Secretary and Michigan native, Dave Milligan, will be submitting testimony on behalf of the organization.

BMJ Releases Study on Long Term Consumption of Gluten in  High-Risk Adults
This past week BMJ just released a study which examines the association of long term intake of gluten in adults without celiac disease but have a risk of coronary heart disease. Participants included 64,714 women in the Nurses’ Health Study and 45,303 men in the Health Professionals Follow-up Study without a history of coronary heart disease who completed a 131 item semiquantitative food frequency questionnaire in 1986 that was updated every four years through 2010. The study found that “long term dietary intake of gluten was not associated with risk of coronary heart disease. However, the avoidance of gluten may result in reduced consumption of beneficial whole grains, which may affect cardiovascular risk. The promotion of gluten-free diets among people without celiac disease should not be encouraged.”

H.R. 2321, the Cultivating Revitalization by Expanding American Agricultural Trade and Exports (CREAATE) Act Introduced
On May 3, 2017, Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-WA) and Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME) introduced the bipartisan H.R. 2321, the Cultivating Revitalization by Expanding American Agricultural Trade and Exports (CREAATE) Act. The CREAATE Act would reassert the importance of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Market Access Program (MAP) and Foreign Market Development Program (FMD) to America’s agricultural producers and economy as a whole, and provide the U.S. agricultural community with the tools needed to retain its edge in an increasingly competitive global economy. The legislation would also double funding for MAP and FMD, incrementally phasing in increases over five years. This increase, while a fractional portion of the USDA and the federal budget.

Doubling funding for the Market Access Program (MAP) and Foreign Market Development (FMD) program is one of several key priorities for NAWG. We appreciate the work that Representatives Newhouse (R-WA) and Pingree (D-ME) are doing on this issue and are looking forward to working with their staff. Additionally, we will continue to work with Congress on pursuing NAWG’s farm program, crop insurance, and conservation priorities as part of the upcoming Farm Bill reauthorization process.

National Wheat Foundation Extends Winter Wheat Deadline to May 15th for the National Wheat Yield Contest
The National Wheat Foundation announces an extension for Winter Wheat enrollment in the National Wheat Yield Contest to May 15thGrowers now have until close of business on May 15th to register a winter wheat variety. This is a two week extension from the original deadline of May 1st. Contest Director, Steve Joehl, reasons, “The spring has been delayed by over two weeks across the northern tier states and winter wheat is just coming out of dormancy. Extra time to assess the wheat crop’s yield potential will be beneficial to attract more entries to the Contest from these states. In addition, growers there are up against spring planting deadlines, and are trying to seed at every opportunity. This extension provides those interested in entering some valuable time to complete the process.” The registration process is all online at http://yieldcontest.wheatfoundation.org!