Congress Returning, But Hope for Farm Bill Fades With Rise of Syria Debate
Both chambers of Congress will be back in session on Monday, but with just nine Congressional working days in September and a new issue – potential military action in Syria – added to the already exhaustive list of things to tackle, it’s unlikely a new, long-term farm bill will be approved any time soon. The Senate passed its version of the legislation in June, and the House passed a “farm-only” farm bill in July. House leaders have said they will seek a nutrition bill to marry with the farm-only bill before a conference committee convenes. Word is that the process of taking up a nutrition package, which will reportedly include up to $40 billion in cuts to food stamps, will be discussed mid-next week within the Republican caucus, pushing any action until the week of the 16th, at the earliest. However, President Barack Obama called this week for a Congressional resolution regarding striking Syria’s chemical weapons capabilities, a debate that will occupy most of next week’s Congressional schedule.
USDA Launches #MyFarmBill Campaign to Push Bill’s Completion
With Members of Congress headed back to Washington and the farm bill end-game theoretically drawing near, USDA is urging farmers to speak up about why the farm bill matters on social media using the hashtag #MyFarmBill. The Department said Wednesday it is launching an account on photo-sharing website Instagram, www.instagram.com/usdagov, to highlight photos and videos from rural Americans. This social media outreach will complement USDA’s presence on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, where officials have been pressing the case in recent weeks for a new farm bill. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack did several interviews this week calling for completion of a new bill and rejecting ideas of an extension.
Continuing Resolution All But Certain With New Fiscal Year Fast Approaching
As Congress returns to an agenda crowded with fiscal issues, a long-pending farm bill and now debate over action in Syria, a continuing resolution to fund the government after the current fiscal year ends Sept. 30 seems all but certain. Easy passage of such a measure is unlikely, though, with highly political decisions to be made about the length of the CR, any changes it will make to policy or funding priorities, and if it will or will not address the also-looming debt ceiling. The federal government has operated on a series of continuing resolutions in recent years as the political willingness to complete a full budget and appropriations cycle has waned. Continual CRs make it very challenging for ongoing programs funded with discretionary money, which is allocated every year, to operate efficiently because administrators often do not get information about their funding levels until late in the year and, even then, it is only partial information about the total budget picture. For long-term projects that require consistency like agriculture research, this uncertainty and short-term mindset can be particularly detrimental.
NAWG Officers, Staff Attend Ag Rail Business Council Meeting in Denver
The Ag Rail Business Council met this week in Denver to continue dialogue between growers and rail executives and promote mutual education of both groups. Topics of discussion included perennial rail-related issues like rail rates and service; interactions with the Surface Transportation Board (STB), the railroads’ regulator; and changes to ag production trends and rail capacity. The coalition was established by ag groups and BNSF Railway several years ago to promote dialogue between rail companies and shippers. It includes representatives from the major commodity organizations for growers of wheat, corn, soybeans and more. NAWG President Bing Von Bergen, a farmer from Montana; Second Vice President Brett Blankenship, a farmer from Washington; and Manager of Government Affairs Will Stafford attended the meeting on behalf of the Association.
Farm Income Up 6 Percent from 2012, A Sign of “Resilience” and Strong Farm Policy
USDA is estimating net farm income will be $120.6 billion in 2013, up 6 percent from 2012’s estimate of $113.8 billion and, after adjusting for inflation, the second highest since 1973, according to a report released last week. However, net cash income, measuring the difference between cash expenses and the combination of commodities sold during the calendar year and other sources of farm income, was forecast at $120.8 billion, down just over 10 percent from 2012. In both nominal and inflation-adjusted dollars, 2013 production expenses are expected to be the highest on record, leading with rent, labor and feed increases. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said the overall positive forecast is “a testament to the resilience and productivity of U.S. farmers and ranchers.” Of course, it is also a testament to crop insurance and the importance of strong farm policy in a time of historic drought and other weather-related production problems. In 2012, farmers spent an estimated $4.1 billion on crop insurance premiums. Highlights from the 2013 Farm Income Forecast are at www.ers.usda.gov/topics/farm-economy/farm-sector-income-finances/highlights-from-the-2013-farm-income-forecast.aspx.
America’s Heartland Online Offers Students, Teachers Info About Ag, Careers
As the school year begins anew across the country, America’s Heartland is prominently offering students and teachers extensive resources to learn about where their food comes from and hot agriculture-related careers. Heartland is a nationally-televised public television show reaching an estimated 44 million viewers per season. Preparing to launch its ninth season, Heartland is also online on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. For teachers, Heartland offers a dozen free lesson plans that connect to show episodes. For middle- and high-school students, Heartland offers watch-along guides for segments on 11 topics. The show also has short, two-four minute clips on ag careers, the origins of common foods and the history of crops and foods as diverse as wheat, horseradish and hot dogs. These resources are all available online at http://www.americasheartland.org/education.
Bread Bites: Commissions Offer Local Resources to Help Farmers Talk About Wheat
Wheat farmers’ dollars help support a variety of programs at the national and state levels, including consumer education activities undertaken by wheat commissions across the country. Wheat checkoff programs, often called commissions or boards, are established on a state-by-state basis to support variety development, market development and consumer education. Commissions’ public-focused programs vary widely from work with educators or directly in schools to demonstrations of bread baking and wheat development. Goals typically include helping kids and adults understand where wheat comes from and how it contributes to a range of healthy, grain-based products. Many wheat commissions offer a wealth of information for farmers and consumers on their websites; a list of commissions affiliated with U.S. Wheat Associates is available at http://www.uswheat.org/usWheat/commissions.