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Reports from House, Senate Indicate Farm Bill Movement in May
May movement of a farm bill is looking more likely in both chambers of Congress. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Thursday he would like that chamber to take up a farm bill next month, meaning the Agriculture Committee would have to mark-up immediately after Congress returns from a planned one-week recess on Monday, May 6. House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) has said his panel plans to mark up their bill on Wednesday, May 15, although neither the Senate nor House Agriculture Committees have made formal announcements on mark-up timing.
Crop Insurance Fight Ahead, Senate Considers Amendment Strategy
With consideration of another Senate farm bill in the near future, Senate Agriculture Committee majority staff members are discussing ways to avoid harmful amendments during the floor process, including a possible strategy of adding to the base bill two amendments approved during last year’s floor debate. The concept is to include the previously-approved amendments – which would tie conservation compliance requirements to crop insurance and reduce premium subsidies to farmers with adjusted gross incomes of more than $750,000 – with some modifications to make each more “farmer friendly.” While there is no doubt there will be floor threats to crop insurance, NAWG is firmly opposed to any parameters that would potentially reduce the crop insurance risk pool, including means testing or tying conservation compliance to the program. NAWG will continue to work with Senate staff as the Committee moves toward consideration of new farm bill language to ensure the crop insurance program completed this year provides the best possible coverage for all wheat growers.
House and Senate Introduce “Protect Our Prairies” Legislation
Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) introduced legislation this week that they said would protect the nation’s remaining native sod and grassland by reducing crop insurance subsidies for the first four years those acres are farmed. The Protect Our Prairies Act was first introduced earlier this month in the House by Reps. Tim Walz (D-Minn.) and Kristi Noem (R-SD). Members in both chambers believe this legislation would encourage conservation of grasslands that pheasants, ducks and other wildlife use as a habitat. Thune and Klobuchar said in a joint statement that their bill “makes common-sense changes to crop insurance saving taxpayers nearly $200 million,” and “in no way prohibits a producer’s right to convert sod or longstanding grasslands to cropland.” More from the release is at http://www.thune.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/press-releases?ID=2927674d-b003-4934-a915-4dcff5fa2cae.
Senate Finance Hears from Farmers on TPP Needs, Priorities
Two farmer representatives testifying at a Senate Finance Committee hearing this week voiced support for updated sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) measures and a “rapid response mechanism” to address SPS claims in an eventual Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement. The hearing focused on both the opportunities and challenges inherent in the ongoing TPP talks. A rancher representing the Montana Farm Bureau and the president of the U.S. Dairy Export Council both testified. Notably at the hearing, Committee Chairman Max Baucus said he wanted to see movement early this summer on the renewal of trade promotion authority (TPA), which allows trade agreements to be “fast tracked” through Congress once they are negotiated. More from the hearing is at http://www.finance.senate.gov/hearings/hearing/?id=03508528-5056-a032-526a-67ec511d1ced.
Court Dismisses Lawsuit Challenging Pesticide Registrations
A U.S. magistrate judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by the Center for Biological Diversity and the Pesticide Action Network North America claiming that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) violated the Endangered Species Act by not consulting with the National Marine Fisheries Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service about pesticides’ potential effects on protected species. Though the dismissal is a temporary victory, ongoing discussions with EPA continue to determine what, if any, actions the Agency may take to avoid further litigation or restrictions on the use of legally-registered crop protection products. The dismissed lawsuit alleged that some 382 crop protection products – all legally registered and scientifically examined for safety under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act – may have harmed protected species. More on the suit’s dismissal from CropLife America is at http://www.croplifeamerica.org/news/cla/42313-District-Court-Dismisses-Endangered-Species-Act-Mega-Lawsuit.
Bayer Announces Agreement With Dutch Company to Improve Wheat Traits
Bayer CropScience and KeyGene, a company headquartered in the Netherlands, announced this week they have entered into a multi-year agreement to work together on traits in key crops, beginning with wheat. The program is also likely to include work on canola, rice and cotton. The collaboration will give Bayer access to KeyGene’s discovery pipeline and mutagenesis process to identify and improve genes associated with novel traits such as drought tolerance. Bayer will then be able to introduce new wheat varieties based on the improved traits. Financial details about the agreement were not disclosed. More about the agreement is at http://www.cropscience.bayer.com/en/Media/Press-Releases/2013/Bayer-CropScience-KeyGene-enter-research-agreement-develop-improved-varieties-initial-focus-wheat.aspx.
Senate Finance Chair, Wheat Advocate Baucus Announces Coming Retirement
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) announced Tuesday he will not seek reelection in 2014, choosing to retire and return to his home state. Baucus said in a statement that “deciding not to run…was an extremely difficult decision” and that he wants to focus on the final year and a half of his long Senate service without the burden of a campaign. The Senator is a longtime advocate for federal farm policy and listed “passing a strong farm bill” among his priorities for the remainder of his term. Baucus has often been recognized for his work on behalf of the nation’s grain producers and is the only Member of Congress to have been named NAWG’s Wheat Leader of the Year three times.