Congress has been out this week for a spring recess, but the NAWG office has been staying busy preparing for the work period ahead. Here’s a quick update on wheat happenings and crucial policy issues. Please also join us online at www.facebook.com/wheatworld and www.twitter.com/wheatworld.
NAWG Names Soybean Exec Palmer As New CEO
NAWG announced this week that longtime soybean industry executive Jim Palmer has been selected as the Association’s next chief executive officer. Palmer will officially begin work on June 1 with the Association and the National Wheat Foundation, NAWG’s affiliated charitable organization, though he will meet with NAWG grower-leaders and staff throughout the month of May. Palmer has worked in administrative roles for national and state agriculture organizations for the past 30 years, most of that time in the soybean industry. He grew up on a large, multi-generational family farm in northeast Missouri, near Hannibal, and attended the University of Missouri-Columbia. More on the announcement is at http://www.wheatworld.org/news-events/2013/05/soybean-executive-named-nawg-ceo/.
Reports: Farm Bill Mark-Ups in Both Committees Coming Soon
The next two weeks could be critical to the effort to pass new, long-term farm policy this year, with Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) saying this week the Senate Agriculture Committee could consider a bill as early as next week and House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas planning a mark-up on May 15. Neither timeline has been confirmed, but Hill staff and the ag community have been working diligently to gear up for the formal legislative process. Several sticking points remain, most of which center around the budget. Lucas said to reporters this week that he plans to offer a bill cutting $38 billion from baseline spending, including $20 billion in cuts to the food assistance programs that make up 80 percent of the bill’s total spending and $18 billion in cuts to the other parts of the bill, which make up 20 percent of the bill’s total spending. Details are not yet available for total projected savings from the Senate version the bill. Changed assumptions in the newest federal budget estimates reduced the projected savings of last year’s Senate-passed and House Agriculture Committee-passed bills, meaning lawmakers will have to find both more and new sources of savings in this year’s efforts.
Water Resources Development Act Set to Move in the Senate
The Senate is set to take up the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), S. 601, next week. Sponsored by Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), WRDA supports investment in the nation’s waterways and ensures funds in the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund will be spent for port maintenance. The bill would also make reforms to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to increase flexibility for certain Corps projects to accelerate project completion. Waterways are a major transport route for U.S. agricultural commodities, carrying 60 percent of the volume for grain exports while supporting more than 400,000 jobs. The bill was unanimously approved by the EPW panel in April. A companion bill in the House, H.R. 1149, has also been introduced.
Obama Nominates USTR, Commerce Picks; More Moves at USDA
President Barack Obama announced this week he intends to nominate Michael Froman as the next U.S. Trade Representative (USTR), the country’s top trade negotiator. Froman is an assistant to the President and a deputy national security advisor for international economic affairs. Froman was involved in negotiating free trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea and previously worked for the Treasury Department and Citibank. As the new USTR, he will be in charge of managing ongoing Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations and free trade agreement negotiations with the European Union. Also on Thursday, Obama announced Penny Pritzker as his pick for Secretary of Commerce. Pritzker is a businesswoman involved in an investment firm and real estate and is part of the family that founded Hyatt Hotels.
USDA announced this week Michael Scuse, the current undersecretary for farm and foreign agricultural services, will take over as deputy secretary after Kathleen Merrigan departs that post on Friday. The change will create something of a domino effect, with Darci Vitter taking over as acting undersecretary and Suzanne Heinen becoming acting deputy undersecretary for farm and foreign agricultural services, Vitter’s current role.
USDA Leaders Participate in G-8 Ag Data Conference
USDA leaders participated this week in the G-8 Open Data for Agriculture Conference, touting the importance of sharing public agriculture data to combating world hunger. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack led the U.S. delegation to the conference, announcing in his remarks the launch of a food, agriculture and rural data community at www.data.gov that will catalogue America’s publicly-available agricultural data and provide applications, maps and tools to help farmers, scientists and policymakers with their work. The conference is a follow-up to the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition launched by G-8 leaders last year. More from the conference is online at https://sites.google.com/site/g8opendataconference/home.
NAWG Officers Head to Washington for Spring Meetings
The five grower-leaders who make up NAWG’s executive committee will travel to Washington, D.C., next week for their annual spring business meetings, Hill visits and to visit with newly-appointed CEO Jim Palmer. While in town, the officers will review NAWG policy priorities, meet with staff, visit key Members of Congress and, with any luck, be witness to a farm bill mark-up.
Extra Credit: Tweets from the Wheat Quality Council’s Winter Wheat Tour
Each spring, several dozen farmers, wheat buyers, millers, researchers, association representatives and reporters fan out across Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Colorado to check on winter wheat’s progress as part of the Wheat Quality Council’s Hard Winter Wheat Tour. This year’s tour ran from Monday through Thursday and was closely watched by many in the industry wondering how the famously resilient wheat is doing in the face of ongoing drought and many late freezes. Tour participants ultimate estimated an average yield of 41.1 bushels per acre, down from 49.1 bushels per acre last year, with an estimated 18 percent abandonment and a total production of 313.8 million bushels, down from 360 million bushels produced in 2012. See more from the tour on Twitter by searching for #wheattour13 at search.twitter.com and via the Facebook pages of many wheat organizations in the region.