Spring has not quite sprung in Washington, with a late-season snow fall here on Monday. We hope this quick update finds you with good weather for the week. Please join us between updates online at www.facebook.com/wheatworld and www.twitter.com/wheatworld.
Congress on Two-Week Spring Recess
Members of Congress are in their districts this week and next for a spring recess over the Passover and Easter holidays. The Senate is scheduled to be back in session on April 8, with the House back on April 9. NAWG encourages farmer-leaders to meet with their Members of Congress during recess to discuss priorities including the ongoing farm bill process.
Both Chambers Pass FY2014 Budget Resolutions; Obama Proposal Delayed
Both chambers of Congress passed budget resolutions before leaving town, with the Senate approving its first budget in four years early Saturday morning on a 50-49 vote. The House plan was passed 221-207 earlier in the week. As the vote totals indicate, both measures were largely partisan documents, though their passage is a step toward regular order for the Congressional budgeting and appropriations processes and a sign of some willingness to compromise on overall federal spending. Word came Thursday that the Obama Administration is planning to send its budget proposal to Capitol Hill on April 10. Typically, the president’s proposal goes to the Hill in early February, but this year’s product has been delayed in part because of uncertainty about sequestration cuts.
Study Shows Renewable Fuels Credits Not a Factor in Higher Gas Prices
According to a new analysis conducted by Informa Economics, the renewable fuel standard (RFS) and its renewable identification number (RIN) credits have not been a factor in higher retail gasoline prices this spring. The report concluded that the RFS and RINs, in particular, have not been a “demonstrable factor in the rise in retail gasoline prices that has occurred in early 2013.” The renewable fuels standard, which NAWG supports, has come under increasing criticism, largely from the oil and gas industry. The Informa Economics analysis concluded that ethanol-blended gasoline is saving consumers an average of 4 cents per gallon based on straight blending economics. The full study is online at http://ethanolrfa.org/page/-/PDFs/RIN%20Price%20Impact%20Whitepaper%203-25-13.pdf?nocdn=1.
Enforcement of Spill Prevention, Control and Countermeasure (SPCC) Rules Delayed
The recently-enacted continuing resolution contained language delaying enforcement of the Spill Prevention, Control and Countermeasure (SPCC) rules for agriculture for 180 days. As stated in the legislation, “No funds made available under this Act shall be used for a 180 day period beginning on the date of enactment of this Act to enforce with respect to any…the Spill, Prevention Control and Countermeasures rule, including amendments to that rule, promulgated by the Environmental Protection Agency under part 112 of Title 40 of the Code of Federal Regulations.”
Under the SPCC rule, farmers need spill prevention plans if an oil spill from their farms could reach a water of the United States and if they store oil (such as diesel, gasoline, hydraulic oil, lube oil, crop oil or vegetable oil) in aboveground quantities of more than 1,320 gallons or completely buried tanks of more than 42,000 gallons. More about ag-related SPCC requirements is at http://www.epa.gov/osweroe1/content/spcc/spcc_ag.htm.
Ag Groups Write to Support Japan’s Participation in TPP
More than 70 food and ag groups wrote President Barack Obama this week urging a warm welcome to Japan in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade negotiations. The country announced its intention to join the talks earlier this month, winning widespread support in the U.S., particularly the agriculture sector. “The addition of Japan to the negotiations will exponentially increase the importance of the TPP to U.S. farmers and ranchers, processors and exporters as well as other sectors of the U.S. economy,” the letter’s signatories said. Japan is the world’s third largest economy and the United States’ fourth largest ag export market. Japan is also often the biggest buyer of U.S. wheat in the world. The U.S. wheat industry strongly supports a successful TPP agreement. The full letter sent this week is at http://www.wheatworld.org/wp-content/uploads/trade-ag-japan-tpp-letter-20130326.pdf.
More Leadership Moves Announced for USDA Agencies
Leadership changes continue at USDA as the Obama Administration eases into its second term. USDA Undersecretary for Rural Development Dallas Tonsager announced Wednesday he will leave the Department in early May. USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan also recently announced she will be leaving in early May. Appointments announced this week include Cheryl Cook as USDA’s chief information officer; Johnie Jones as deputy chief of staff for rural development; Mike Schmidt as deputy administrator for farm programs at USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA); and Susan Keith as a deputy administrator within the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA).
Earlier this month, USDA announced appointments of two deputy chiefs of staff, Anne MacMillan and Oscar Gonzales, Jr. MacMillan will handle external affairs and policy while Gonzales will handle operational issues. They will replace Carole Jett, the current deputy chief of staff, who is leaving the Department early next month after 37 years in public service.
Extra Credit: USW’s Report on Wheat Conditions from Around the Country
U.S. Wheat Associates, the industry’s market development organization and a NAWG sister association, recently asked its state wheat commission members to share some information about local crop conditions. Conditions in Eastern soft red winter (SRW) states and the desert Southwest looked good, while much of the Southern and Central Plains continues to suffer from drought conditions. Farmers in Northern states are looking toward the beginning of spring for planting or for wheat to begin breaking dormancy. The full report is available in USW’s Wheat Letter from March 21, 2013, online at http://www.uswheat.org/newsEvents/wheatLetter/doc/A80D4BD529875F6F85257B35006C1267?OpenDocument.