Happy Valentine’s Day from America’s wheat farmers! We hope this quick update helps keep you informed on the happenings in agriculture policy and the world of wheat. Remember, updates are always available at www.facebook.com/wheatworld.org and www.twitter.com/wheatworld.
Sequestration Could Hit Meat Inspection While Effort to Avert Would Slash Baseline
The budget sequestration debate’s effect on farm and food programs is becoming clearer as the deadline to avoid the $85 billion in planned cuts draws near. The cuts are set to go into effect on March 1 unless Congress acts to revert or modify them. This week, USDA said it could be forced to furlough meat inspectors – effectively shutting down meat production – if the cuts go into effect. Late Thursday, word surfaced that a proposal in the Senate to avert the cuts would eliminate direct payments to farmers beginning in 2014, which would dramatically reduce the baseline funding available to write a new farm bill.
Senate Hearing on Ag Disasters Highlights Breadth of Wheat Country Drought
Nearly 60 percent of the U.S. winter wheat growing area is under drought conditions, with 43 percent located in areas of extreme or exceptional drought, USDA Chief Economist Joe Glauber testified Thursday before the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee. Glauber spoke at a hearing called to examine drought conditions facing much of the country, expanding on both the impacts of agricultural disasters to farmers and the efficacy of government programs during this time of crisis. Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) said at the hearing that last year’s drought affected more square miles than any since the end of the Dust Bowl era in 1939. She called on Congress to pass disaster assistance and a new, five-year farm bill. A webcast of the hearing and full written testimony are at www.ag.senate.gov.
Senators Introduce Bill to Place Hard Caps on Farm Payments
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Tim Johnson (D-S.D.), Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) introduced a bill this week that would place a hard cap on the amount of farm payments an individual can receive in a year. The Farm Program Integrity Act of 2013 is similar to provisions included in the Senate-passed farm bill in 2012. The legislation would establish a per-farm cap of $50,000 on all commodity program benefits, except those associated with the marketing loan program, which would be capped at $75,000. The combined payment limit would be $125,000 for an individual and $250,000 for married couples. The legislation also includes language to apply a cap of $50,000 in payments to whatever type of program is developed in a new farm bill this Congress. The full bill text is at http://www.grassley.senate.gov/issues/upload/Agriculture-02-12-13-Payment-Limits-bill-text.pdf.
Trade Negotiations with EU, Pacific Rim Countries Supported in State of the Union
President Barack Obama announced during his State of the Union address Tuesday that he plans to pursue a comprehensive, high-standard trade agreement with the European Union. He also reaffirmed his commitment to the ongoing Trans-Pacific Partnership talks. A strong trade agreement with the European Union could have a positive impact on American agriculture if it eliminates tariffs and other barriers to trade and includes measures such as enforceable sanitary-phytosanitary (SPS) provisions that go beyond normal WTO commitments, known as “WTO-plus.” The Administration hopes to finish the trade agreement by the end of 2014. TPP negotiations are ongoing between the U.S. and 10 other Pacific Rim countries, aiming to produce an agreement that would improve market access, address SPS and other challenges and improve trade enforcement mechanisms. More on the EU and the TPP negotiations is at http://www.ustr.gov/. The full State of the Union address is at http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2013/02/13/president-obamas-2013-state-union.
House and Senate Ag Committees Continue Organizational Work
The House and Senate Agriculture Committees both made announcements Thursday solidifying their membership for the 113th Congress. House Democrats named Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.) to fill the open slot on their roster. Meanwhile, Senate Ag leaders announced membership of that panel’s subcommittees. The full lists are available at http://www.ag.senate.gov/newsroom/press/release/chairwoman-stabenow-ranking-member-cochran-announce-final-subcommittee-assignments-for-senate-agriculture-committee. The House Agriculture Committee met this week to approve an oversight and work plan for the new Congress. More on that meeting is at http://agriculture.house.gov/press-release/agriculture-committee-approves-oversight-plan.
Von Bergen and Shupe Represent NAWG at Annual Crop Insurance Conference
NAWG First Vice President Bing Von Bergen and Manager of Government Affairs for Risk Management Brooke Shupe represented NAWG this week at the annual American Association of Crop Insurers (AACI) convention. On Tuesday, Von Bergen participated in a farmer panel about crop insurance needs and concerns. Von Bergen stressed how important crop insurance is to farmers, particularly producers who are highly leveraged including many younger farmers. Von Bergen also voiced the Association’s concerns with proposals to tie conservation compliance to crop insurance, which could impact the stability of the program. On Wednesday, Shupe participated in a panel discussion with farm policy staff from the American Farm Bureau, National Farmers Union and Western Growers, as well as organizations representing corn, soy, cotton and rice farmers. The panel reaffirmed that crop insurance is a top priority as Congress works to write a new farm bill. Shupe pointed out that crop insurance is the top risk management tool for wheat growers, with more than 80 percent of wheat acres covered.
Major Study Shows Folic Acid Supplementation Reduces Risk of Autism
A study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association this week showed mothers who took folic acid supplements prior to and early on during pregnancy had up to a 40 percent lower risk of having a child who developed autism. The study was conducted in Norway and looked at more than 85,000 children. The findings provide further support for folic acid supplementation for women of childbearing age, who should consume at least 400 micrograms of folic acid daily. In the U.S., grain millers fortify grains with folic acid specifically to help prevent neural tube defects. Since the Food and Drug Administration first required folic acid fortification of enriched grains in 1998, the number of babies born in the U.S. with neural-tube birth defects has declined by approximately one-third. More about folic acid enrichment is available from the Grain Foods Foundation at http://www.gowiththegrain.org/nutrition/enriched-grains.php. The study out this week is available at http://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1570279.
Classic Launches Mobile App for 2013 Attendees
Commodity Classic begins in less than two weeks, and there’s a new mobile app available to help attendees plan their experiences. The Classic convention and trade show mobile app gives show-goers the ability to make their own schedules, take notes on activities, lookup session and event times, navigate with maps and more. It’s available for download at www.commodityclassic.com/app. Classic is set for Feb. 28 until March 2; NAWG meetings at Classic begin Feb. 26. For more information about the wide range of learning and networking opportunities at the convention and registration details, visit www.commodityclassic.com.