Farm Bill Conference Unlikely Before August Recess
A group of House Members aiming to find a compromise on a nutrition bill before a farm bill conference has met twice, but with time short, it appears unlikely movement toward formal negotiations on a bill will start before August recess. The House GOP plan is to move a nutrition bill before going to conference with the Senate, which is ready to appoint conferees. After the nutrition working group’s latest meeting Wednesday, however, it is clear such a bill is unlikely until September. With only nine legislative days in September, and many other items on the docket, the delay has many lawmakers and agriculture groups concerned about getting a five-year farm bill done before the current extension expires on Sept. 30. House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) said this week that an extension would be his “least favorite option,” but that we are “heading in that direction.” NAWG will continue to push Congress to complete a comprehensive five-year bill before the existing extension expires.
House Ag Subcommittee Holds Two Hearings on CFTC Reauthorization
The House Agriculture Committee’s General Farm Commodities and Risk Management Subcommittee met twice this week to hear testimony related to the reauthorization of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC). At a hearing Tuesday, the panel heard from CFTC Commissioners Scott O’Malia and Mark Wetjen; at a hearing Wednesday, the panel heard from a variety of end users representing trade associations and companies. Congress is in the process of reauthorizing the regulatory agency, including writing new rules and regulations now required of the CFTC under the Dodd-Frank law. Members echoed concerns expressed in a Senate Agriculture hearing last week on the topic, urging that new rules not burden businesses. As in the Senate, House Members addressed funding for CFTC, which is facing new budgetary pressures with the additional regulations. More from the hearings is at http://agriculture.house.gov/hearings.
Ag Organizations Voice Support for USDA Review of Proposed EPA Rules
NAWG and more than 20 other ag organizations wrote Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.) this week, voicing support for his legislation that would require USDA review of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposals affecting agriculture. The bill, H.R. 2776, would establish a formal review panel and ask USDA to conduct economic impact statements on EPA proposals including by seeking farmer and ag industry input. Citing examples related to the treatment of milk spills, release of farm operation information to the public and the ongoing debate about the definition of “waters of the United States,” the groups wrote that “it is quite clear the EPA does not fully understand the impact these types of policies have on the nation’s agricultural industry.” The full letter is available online at www.wheatworld.org/environmentalregulation.
Farm and Supplier Groups Express Concern about Biotech Crop Delays
Farm and agriculture supplier groups submitted comments last week to USDA describing their concerns that the preparation of full-scale environmental impact statements (EISs) for certain herbicide-tolerant biotech crops will delay their deregulation with no additional benefit to the environment. The crops in question are herbicide-resistant corn, soybean and cotton varieties developed by Dow AgroSciences and Monsanto. The groups told regulators the delayed review process, which will last until summer 2014 at the earliest, would hurt farmers working to combat weeds and weed resistance using crop traits as part of environmentally-sustainable practices such as no-till and low-till farming. Signatories of the comments included NAWG, the Agricultural Retailers Association, the American Farm Bureau Federation, the American Seed Trade Association, the Biotechnology Industry Organization and commodity organizations representing growers of soybeans, sugar beets, corn and cotton. The full comments are available online at www.wheatworld.org/biotech.
USDA Accepts 1.7 Million Acres into CRP, Though Overall Acreage Continues to Shrink
USDA announced this week it will accept 1.7 million acres into the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) following the most recent general sign-up. The Department received nearly 28,000 offers on more than 1.9 million acres of land; currently, there are more than 26.9 million acres enrolled on 700,000 contracts. USDA said CRP remains popular and beneficial to the environment, reducing nitrogen and phosphorous losses from farm fields by 605 million pounds and 121 million pounds respectively in 2012 alone. Currently, CRP is authorized for up to 32 million acres. This will almost certainly be reduced in the next farm bill, however, with the Senate-passed version of the farm bill calling for 25 million acres in the program, and the House-passed, farm-only farm bill calling for 24 million acres. More about the program is at www.fsa.usda.gov.
EPA Administrator, Labor Secretary Confirmed; USDA Nominees Examined
Late last Thursday, the Senate confirmed Gina McCarthy as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Thomas Perez as Secretary of Labor. McCarthy, who was previously an EPA official, was approved on a 59 to 40 vote. Perez, a Justice Department official, was approved on a 54 to 46 vote. The Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee met Tuesday to consider and approve nominations of Krysta Harden as deputy agriculture secretary and Robert Bonnie as USDA’s undersecretary for natural resources and the environment. Both nominations are accepted without objections. NAWG and other agriculture groups wrote a letter strongly supporting Harden’s nomination, available at http://www.wheatworld.org/issues/othercorrespondence/.
Bills Reintroduced to Establish Tax-Exempt Agriculture Research Organizations
Members have reintroduced legislation to establish a new type of charitable tax-exempt 501(c)3 non-profit organization meant to foster public-private partnerships within the agricultural research community including USDA research agencies, academia, private corporations and non-profit organizations. The Charitable Agricultural Research Act would establish the legal structure for “agricultural research organizations,” or AROs, a concept that builds on existing models for Congressionally-mandated foundations focused on medical research, natural resources and other priorities. The goal would be to increase funds going to agriculture research in a time of declining public funding but increasing food needs. The bill was introduced in the House by Reps. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) and Ron Kind (D-Wis.) and in the Senate by Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.). NAWG and many state wheat associations signed on to a letter voicing support for an identical bill last year. More information about the ARO concept can be found at http://nunes.house.gov/uploadedfiles/charitable_ag_research_act_2013.pdf.