What a week in Washington! The farm bill is finally gaining traction and hopes are high new farm policy will be finalized this summer. Here’s a quick update on happenings in the capital. Please also join us online at www.facebook.com/wheatworld and www.twitter.com/wheatworld.
House and Senate Ag Committees Complete Farm Bill Mark-Ups
Both the Senate and House Agriculture Committees marked up and approved their versions of a new, five-year farm bill this week. The Senate Committee began the rare mark-up double header on Tuesday, passing its bill on a 15 to 5 vote after just more than three hours of debate. The House Agriculture Committee’s mark-up spanned most of the day Wednesday, finishing up just before midnight with a 36 to 10 vote on final passage. NAWG applauds the leaders of both committees for their efforts to move the process forward. For more, visit http://www.wheatworld.org/news-events/2013/05/wheat-farmers-ready-for-farm-bill-floor-action/.
Floor Action Starts Monday in the Senate; Likely June in the House
Indications are that legislators will waste no time in taking up the farm bill drafts on both the Senate and House floors. The version approved by the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee on Tuesday was introduced later that day on the Senate floor as S. 954. The Senate could begin farm bill debate on Monday, with votes on amendments beginning as early as Tuesday and passage as early as late next week. Ag leaders in the House have said their bill will likely come to the floor of that chamber in June. If both schedules stick – and the bills avoid serious problems during floor debate – conference could begin by mid-summer and a new law could be in place before the extension of the 2008 Farm Bill expires on Sept. 30.
Watch the (Smart)Phone: Your Participation Is Needed in Farm Bill Debate
With farm bill floor action beginning early next week, NAWG encourages all wheat farmers to pay careful attention to farm policy news and be prepared to call legislators as needed to express amendment priorities. NAWG staff will be reporting to state offices and Board members via e-mail and, when quick action is needed, text message. Farmers can follow the debate while in their fields through farm radio, C-SPAN on satellite radio and on Twitter by following @wheatworld and farm reporters including @farmpolicy, @agripulse and @hagstromreport.
Water Resources Bill Passes Senate with SPCC Measure Included
The Senate overwhelmingly approved the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), S. 601, on Wednesday with an 83 to 14 final vote. The bill provides funding for waterways development, including work on harbors, ports and locks and dams. The final bill also included an amendment to revise the Spill Prevention, Control and Countermeasures (SPCC) rule for farms and ranches, which relates to storage of oil that could conceivably reach a body of water if leaked. The amendment would create an exemption for farms with up to 6,000 gallons aggregate of aboveground oil storage pending the completion of a study looking at permanent exemption options and allow most farms with less than 20,000 gallons of capacity to self-certify. The House of Representatives has yet to take up its version of WRDA, though reports are that leadership of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee is committed to passing a bill this year.
Supreme Court Affirms Patent Rights in Pivotal Biotech Seed Case
The Supreme Court ruled unanimously on Monday that patents on traits within seeds are valid even as they carry into future generations, a decision crucial to continued investment in a wide array of bioscience research. Bowman v. Monsanto focused on the actions of farmer Vernon Bowman, who purchased Roundup Ready soybeans at a local elevator and used them for seed, avoiding licensing fees for the patented trait. Bowman’s attorney asserted Monsanto did not have the right to carry the patent two or three generations after the seed was originally planted, an argument soundly rejected by the Court. NAWG and other agriculture organizations filed briefs asserting the rights of patent holders and hailed the Court’s ruling, which will safeguard investments made in agricultural research by both public and private entities. Continued investment in the development of better crop varieties is essential to farmers’ livelihoods and continued ability to meet agronomic challenges while producing more food. The Court’s full opinion is available at http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/12pdf/11-796_c07d.pdf.
NAWG and USW Assert Priorities for Pending U.S.-EU Trade Talks
NAWG and U.S. Wheat Associates submitted joint comments to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) late last week, asserting priorities for the wheat industry as USTR formulates its strategy for upcoming trade negotiations between the U.S. and European Union. The wheat organizations urged the elimination of all duties on U.S. wheat imports; asked that the EU agree to implement the least restrictive sanitary and phytosanitary measures; and expressed concerns about the EU’s unpredictable biotechnology approval process, which could prove problematic when biotech traits are commercialized in wheat in an estimated seven to 10 years. The full comments are available directly at http://www.wheatworld.org/wp-content/uploads/trade-wheat-comments-US-EU-trade-negotiations-20130510.pdf.
USDA Announces CRP General and Continuous Sign-Ups
USDA said this week it will conduct a four-week Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) general sign-up beginning May 20 and ending on June 14. The Department is also restarting the sign-up for continuous CRP, which will run through Sept. 30. CRP is a voluntary program in which enrolled producers plant long-term, resource-conserving cover crops to improve water and soil quality and cultivate wildlife habitat. CRP contracts currently cover 27 million acres across 49 states and Puerto Rico. More about CRP participation is available online at www.fsa.usda.gov.
From USW: USDA Estimates Global Wheat Production to Reach New Record
Following a year with unfavorable weather that reduced the wheat production of several major suppliers, USDA estimated this week that global production would rebound to surpass the record set in 2011/2012, an increase of 7 percent. Of the five traditional major wheat exporters, USDA expects production to increase in each country except the United States, which it estimates will see a 9 percent drop in production from last year. USDA also estimates global wheat consumption to reach a new record high. More about the USDA estimates is available from U.S. Wheat Associates’ Wheat Letter, at http://bit.ly/107ABpq.