Editor’s Note: NAWG’s Washington offices will be closed Monday, Oct. 14, for Columbus Day.
Shutdown’s Effects Seep into Ag Business, Farm Bill Debate
Two weeks into the government shut down, effects are beginning to become noticeable and notable across the agriculture industry. USDA remains virtually shuttered, with only minimal staff and a website that redirects to a page explaining that the full site is unavailable due to a lack of funding. The Department is also not issuing regular reports on crop production and exports that are considered essential to the continued functioning of ag markets and to accurate business decisions by farmers and other market participants. The House passed a bill on Monday to fund Food and Drug Administration (FDA) operations, though the Senate has refused to consider it or other such measures to fund only part of government operations. Import and export approvals for various goods have been stopped, and negotiations with European countries on a much-anticipated trade agreement have been put on hold. There have been fears of shortages of animal vaccines because the regulatory agency that approves them before they go to the marketplace is not operational. There are also widespread concerns about the state of weather data gathering and forecasting without government workers all on the job, and about recovery from weather-related disasters in Colorado, Wyoming, South Dakota and elsewhere.
With federal spending and the debt ceiling dominating all action (and inaction) on Capitol Hill, the farm bill debate has been publicly set aside even while private negotiations and conversations continue. The Senate has reappointed its farm bill conferees, while the House has yet to name its negotiators. Word is that discussions among staff and ag leaders are continuing with sticking points on the commodity and nutrition titles and an eye toward hitching a ride on a larger budget deal if that path becomes available. A one-year extension of the 2008 Farm Bill expired on Oct. 1 along with government funding, leading farmers and consumers alike into a never-never land of no farm policy. This has had an immediate effect on some programs but will become more critical at the first of the year and as winter crops, including wheat, are harvested. NAWG strongly encourages approval of a new, long-term and comprehensive farm bill as soon as possible.
Debt Ceiling Deadline Day Approaches Next Week
Current estimates peg the date by which the ceiling on the U.S. government’s $16.7 trillion debt must be raised as next Thursday, Oct. 17. At press time, Republican Leadership in the House has offered a six-week extension of the debt ceiling in exchange for substantive negotiations on other fiscal matters. However, this proposal would not impact the current partial government shutdown. The White House and the Democrats appear to be holding firm on a “clean” resolution to restore funding to government operations and raise the debt ceiling, though a substantial block of conservative Republicans continue to insist that any temporary spending measure include changes to the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare. If the debt ceiling is not raised, the federal government will run out of authority to borrow money to pay its creditors. This would almost certainly lead to a default on the government’s debt, which economists warn would have severe and persistent negative repercussions on the global economy.
Reports: Gary Gensler Stepping Down As CFTC Chairman
Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) Chairman Gary Gensler plans to step down and leave the agency by the end of the year, according to news reports. Gensler, who has been chairman for the past five years, has often been criticized for the CFTC’s handling of high-profile issues during his tenure, including the collapse of the commodity brokerage firm MF Global in 2011. Gensler played an intimate role in crafting the Dodd-Frank legislation in 2010 that was designed to prevent future market collapse by making the derivative market more transparent. There is no word yet on Gensler’s likely replacement, but several people, including current Commissioner Mark Wetjen are rumored to be considered possible successors.
NAWG and USW Submit Comments on Export Procedures for Sanctioned Countries
NAWG and U.S. Wheat Associates submitted joint comments last week regarding the effectiveness of the Office of Foreign Assets Control’s (OFAC) licensing procedures for the exportation of agricultural products to Sudan and Iran. The comments offered general support for the current OFAC procedures that allow some customers in sanctioned countries to keep receiving food. They also emphasized that U.S. wheat producers believe food should not be used as a weapon and that any new sanctions must not hinder the export of humanitarian goods and agricultural exports. Roughly half of the wheat produced in the U.S. is exported overseas, and while Sudan and Iran do not represent large markets for U.S. wheat, they have purchased a combined 2.6 million metric tons (MMT) of U.S. wheat, valued at about $736 million, over the past ten years. The full comments can be read at www.wheatworld.org/trade.
America’s Heartland’s Ninth Season on the Air Now
The ninth season of America’s Heartland, the public television series celebrating U.S. agriculture, is now running on public TV stations around the country and RFD-TV. The new set of episodes launched last month, though each public TV station sets its own schedule and may choose to run them in any sequence. The new season has an increased focus on consumer topics, with each episode aiming to address consumers’ questions and concerns about food safety, animal welfare and environmental sustainability. As part of the consumer-focus of the new season, the show welcomes the return of CNET celebrity Sharon Vaknin as a guest chef. The half-hour weekly series is seen on more than 240 public television stations as well as three times per week on RFD-TV, which is available to 40 million households. The show is generously sponsored by Farm Credit and CropLife America and provided in-kind support from associations including NAWG. More from the show is at www.americasheartland.org.
Thoughts and Prayers with Victims of South Dakota and Wyoming Blizzard
Occasionally, we take a few lines in this update to offer particular notes of thoughts and prayers to our fellow agriculturalists facing the worst Mother Nature has to offer. South Dakota and Wyoming recently suffered unusual and devastating snow storms that killed an estimated 20,000 head of cattle. The physical, economic and emotional recovery from this disaster will be a long time coming, as with many farm disasters. Wheat growers hope for the best to their rancher brethren in the coming days.