Washington and the Nation Focus on Potential Government Shutdown
The nation and the world are watching anxiously to see if Congress approves a continuance of federal spending after the government’s fiscal year ends on Monday, Sept. 30. Many agencies in Washington are preparing to shut down if a deal cannot be reached over the weekend. The Senate is likely to reject a House-proposed continuing resolution on Saturday, while House leaders look at a CR lasting just a few days to allow for additional negotiations.
Debt Ceiling Bearing Down: Government to Run Out of Money On Oct. 17
Adding to the country’s fiscal uncertainty and the mound of political issues facing policymakers is the debt ceiling, which the Treasury Department has announced will be hit by Oct. 17. Secretary Jack Lew wrote Members of Congress this week warning that the “extraordinary measures” his department has been undertaking to shift money and continue paying the government’s bills would be exhausted by that date, at which point the government would have to stop fulfilling some obligations due to a lack of cash. Leaders in the House of Representatives plan to put forward a debt limit proposal including various priorities of its Republican majority, though such a measure would not meet approval in the Senate, necessitating a compromise over the next several weeks.
Farm Programs Likely to Expire Tuesday for the Second Time in Two Years
Barring some unforeseen, last-minute deal, the one-year extension of the 2008 Farm Bill currently in place will be expired as of Tuesday. That extension was put into place early in 2013 after Congress failed to enact a new farm bill before the existing law expired this time last year. At that point, the nation had not been without a functional farm policy in decades, and the farm bill’s expiration was met with shock and concern. Facing yet another expiration, the farm community’s reaction will likely to be more muted as they and the rest of the country wait for political representatives in Washington to find and accept compromises on a host of measures.
While the symbolic implication of the expiration will be damning, the effects of Congress’ inaction will be mostly indirect for several months. Crop insurance and nutrition programs are effectively permanent programs and will continue without specific reauthorization. Conservation program contracts will remain in place though new enrollments will not be accepted until a new farm law is in place. Commodity-specific programs run on a crop-year basis versus a fiscal year, so they will not be impacted until winter wheat harvest next spring. Dairy prices will not be affected until Jan. 1, 2014. Programs that lost mandatory funding in the extension will continue without new funding authorizations.
Two serious exceptions to the list of programs initially unaffected are the Market Access Program (MAP) and the Foreign Market Development (FMD) program, both of which provide funding for trade promotion work. NAWG’s sister organization, U.S. Wheat Associates, has been awarded both MAP and FMD funds and will face restraints on its work servicing international wheat customers in the near future.
Word late Thursday was that the House of Representatives would wait until next week to officially merge its farm-only farm bill, passed in July, and its nutrition package, passed last week. This step must be taken before the House can name conferees. The Senate passed its version of the farm bill in June and named conferees just before the August recess.
NAWG, Farm Groups Meet With New EPA Administrator
NAWG President Bing Von Bergen and representatives of eight other agriculture organizations participated in a meeting this week with Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to discuss ongoing regulatory issues. McCarthy organized the meeting to open dialogue with USDA and farmers and help ensure EPA hears from all sides before finalizing pending regulations that would directly affect agriculture. Von Bergen, a farmer in Moccasin, Mont., traveled to Washington for the meeting, speaking most forcefully on NAWG leaders’ hope for EPA to use common sense when regulating agriculture. Using his own farm as an example, Von Bergen also reviewed with McCarthy several ongoing issues that NAWG is currently concerned about related to environmental regulation, including the pending Spill Prevention, Control and Countermeasure (SPCC) rule for farms and ranches, which relates to storage of oil that could conceivably reach a body of water if leaked. NAWG appreciated the opportunity to participate in this meeting and looks forward to future dialogue with the Administration.
Kenya Debuts Two Stem Rust-Resistant Wheat Varieties
To counter the resurgence of wheat stem rust originating in neighboring Uganda, Kenyan plant breeders have introduced two new varieties resistant to this yield-robbing disease. The varieties were developed using a nuclear technique for crop improvement known as mutation breeding. By exposing seeds or plant tissues to radiation, scientists accelerate the natural process of mutation and are able to select and develop new varieties more quickly. This process was supported by the United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). The two Kenyan varieties are resistant to Ug99, the wheat stem rust fungus that has moved from Africa to the Middle East by the wind and can destroy almost all of a wheat crop if not prevented. FAO Director-General Jose Graziano da Silva said that wheat rusts are a major threat to food security, and called this international project a “major breakthrough,” showing the benefits of FAO/IAEA cooperation. For more about this development, visit http://www.fao.org/news/story/en/item/196127/icode/.
ICYMI: U.S. Wheat Arrives in Syria, Showing Soft Power of Food Aid Spending
A ship carrying enough U.S. wheat to feed 3.5 million people for a month docked in Syria this week, a gift of the American people carried by the United Nations’ World Food Programme (WFP). The ship of life-saving grain is the second to arrive in six months and is worth an estimated $15 million, appropriated by the U.S. federal government. This donation is a reminder that our farmers and our country have long contributed to efforts to win the peace not just through military might, but also by sharing our bounty with those who need it most. In the words of Dr. Norman Borlaug, whose work is estimated to have saved a billion lives through the development of better wheat varieties, “If you desire peace, cultivate justice, but at the same time cultivate the fields to produce more bread; otherwise, there will be no peace.” See a video describing the Syria donation at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r-9eFUtiVbs.