A Week After Floor Defeat, House Farm Bill Still in Limbo
Agriculture leaders and stakeholders remain in limbo after the failure of the House’s version of the farm bill on the floor last week. Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) continues to be optimistic that the House will finish its work, but a path forward on completing a farm bill this year before the current extension expires on Sept. 30 is unclear. Members of House Leadership also continue to weigh their options on the best way to get a bill off the House floor, including the possibility of splitting the bill into two measures, taking up the nutrition portion separate from the rest of the bill. This idea is reportedly gaining traction with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), but comes with strong objections from Lucas and many in the farm community who feel the best way to kill the farm safety net is by splitting up the farm bill provisions. Across the Hill, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said this week his chamber will not consider any more farm bill extensions, a contention Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack seems to agree with. NAWG will continue to work with House Leadership and the House Agriculture Committee to work toward House passage of a product that can lead to enactment of a long-term, comprehensive farm bill this year. An interesting and wide-ranging interview Lucas gave to the Oklahoma Farm Report on the future of the farm bill is at www.oklahomafarmreport.com/wire/news/2013/06/media/06105_FrankLucas06262013.mp3.
APHIS Investigation Ongoing As PNW Harvest Nears
USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) continues to investigate the appearance of a few Roundup Ready wheat plants in a field on a farm in Oregon as harvest in that region is set to begin as early as next week. NAWG, U.S. Wheat Associates and the grower-leaders from the region remain in contact with USDA officials at all levels to urge their active conversation with export market customers, with indications that government-to-government messages are going through. There have been no further updates from APHIS on its findings since June 14, when the agency said all information it has indicates the detection was an “a single isolated incident” with no indication of genetically modified wheat in commerce. NAWG and U.S. Wheat Associates continue to answer media and other inquiries about the situation, with the latest information updated online at www.wheatworld.org/aphisinvestigation/. More from the Capital Press about ongoing government-to-government communications is at http://www.capitalpress.com/content/mw-Vilsack-letter-062613.
Senate Passes Immigration Reform Bill Including Ag Provisions
The Senate passed its version of immigration reform, S. 744, Thursday by a vote of 68 to 32. The bill contains provisions that will allow for increased labor availability in the agricultural sector, particularly benefiting specialty crop farmers, meat processors and other labor-intensive sections of the industry. The Senate bill differs significantly from what is being debated in the House of Representatives. A House bill, which has been referred to the Judiciary Committee, would allow ag workers to enter the United States under temporary visas and would reduce the costs incurred by employers by not requiring on-site housing or reimbursement for transportation costs. More information about ag priorities in immigration reform is available through the Ag Workforce Coalition at www.agworkforcecoalition.org.
Obama Unveils Broad Plan to Curb Carbon Emissions
In a much-anticipated speech Wednesday, President Barack Obama outlined a broad plan aimed at limiting carbon emissions in an attempt to restrict the effects of global warming. While not calling for new legislation, the President is calling for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to establish carbon pollution standards for new and existing power plants. Among other things, the directive proposes $8 billion in loan guarantees for fossil fuel reduction projects and sets a goal of reducing carbon pollution by at least 3 billion metric tons by 2030 through efficiency standards set for appliances and federal buildings. The plan directs USDA to create seven new regional climate hubs to deliver tailored, science-based knowledge to farmers, ranchers and forest landowners. The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation will also be providing grants and technical support to agricultural water users for more water-efficient practices in the face of drought and long term climate challenges. More detail on the plan is available at www.whitehouse.gov/share/climate-action-plan.
House Ag Appropriations Bill Gets a Rule But No Floor Time Yet
The House of Representative’s agriculture appropriations bill was approved by the House Rules Committee on Tuesday but has yet to receive time on the House floor schedule. The bill provides funding for USDA, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC). Ag appropriations bills also contain funding for many trade and research programs that are vital to the wheat industry, including the Market Access Program (MAP), Foreign Market Development (FMD) program, international food aid and ag research programs. President Barack Obama has threatened to veto the bill if it is passed, citing the failure to adequately fund the CFTC to implement Dodd-Frank reforms and food aid language that differs from the Administration’s proposals. The Senate’s ag appropriations bill has been approved by the Appropriations Committee but is also not yet scheduled for floor time.
Supreme Court Refuses to Take Case Challenging Renewable Fuels Standard
The United States Supreme Court has refused to hear an appeal of a lawsuit brought by the oil industry challenging the renewable fuels standard (RFS) mandate requiring refiners to blend in 15 percent of ethanol into the fuel they sell. Renewable fuel advocates, including NAWG, hailed this as a vindication for the RFS generally. More about the RFS is available from the Renewable Fuels Association at www.ethanolrfa.org/pages/renewable-fuel-standard.
Food Dialogues Discussion on Transparency and Food Available Online
An archived webcast of the latest Food Dialogues event focusing on transparency and food is now available online at http://www.fooddialogues.com/. The discussion was taped live last week in Chicago and included a wide range of perspectives on the type of information consumers are looking for when making food-purchasing decisions. The Food Dialogues are a project of the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance, which aims to engage consumers in conversations about how today’s food is grown and raised. NAWG is an affiliate member of USFRA.