Gridlock: Federal Budget and Farm Bill Expire, Government Closed for Business
As readers of this publication doubtless know by now, laws authorizing both federal appropriations and farm programs expired at the end of the federal government’s fiscal year Monday. As of 12:01 a.m. Tuesday, large portions of the U.S. government shut their doors for business for an indeterminate amount of time, sending 800,000 government workers home and stopping operations deemed non-essential. Much of USDA, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other agencies that work regularly with wheat growers were included in this work stoppage, which affects normal operations down to website pages. To the agriculture community, Oct. 1 also meant the second time in two years the 2008 Farm Bill expired, a sign of the challenge facing lawmakers seeking to reauthorize important parts of the federal farm safety net, conservation programs, trade promotion efforts, research funding and more. In a statement issued early Tuesday, NAWG leaders urged policymakers to come to compromise on both issues as soon as possible, and NAWG staff and grower-leaders will continue assessing the impacts of developments in both debates. The NAWG statement is available in full at http://www.wheatworld.org/news-events/2013/10/nawg-leaders-urge-congress-to-fund-government-pass-farm-bill/.
Market Development Cooperator Groups Again in a Lurch with Shutdown, No Farm Bill
Like other federal agencies, USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Services (FAS) has ceased nonessential operations following this week’s government shut down. FAS’s closure however, means the Department has immediately discontinued administering market development programs such as the Market Access Program (MAP) and Foreign Market Development program (FMD), which effectively cuts off new funds to industry cooperators, including U.S. Wheat Associates, that use those monies and checkoff dollars to market American goods abroad. With USDA staff out of operation, cooperator organizations are also forced to curtail some of their activities, which many in agriculture are worried will ultimately affect exports and the U.S. ag economy. Adding to the uncertainty, the legislative authority to fund market development programs expired on Sept. 30 with the 2008 Farm Bill extension. USDA can continue to fund cooperators as approved in the 2013 fiscal year. However, no additional funding can be allocated to these efforts until the programs get new authorizations.
20 Senators Sign Letter Opposing Direct Payments
Twenty Senators wrote Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) recently demanding that any farm bill extension brought to the floor eliminate direct payments. In a letter sent last week, they emphasized this standard applied regardless of support for the farm bill as a whole, saying, “without regard to whether we supported the Senate farm bill or opposed it, we all agree that Congress should not consider another extension of the 2008 Farm Bill that continues direct payments.” Both the House and Senate approved bills earlier this year that eliminated direct payments, and agriculture groups across the board have accepted that reality. Both bills replace the longstanding program with new and more politically palatable safety net options. However, with the 2008 Farm Bill now expired for the second time, the chance of an extension of existing farm programs yet again is somewhat greater. NAWG strongly supports completion of a new, compromise farm bill as soon as possible and will continue to work toward that goal as the situation in Washington develops.
FAPRI Report Compares House and Senate Farm Bill Provisions, Costs
The Food and Agriculture Policy Research Institute (FAPRI) at the University of Missouri-Columbia released a new report this week comparing the House and Senate farm bills. The analysis examined possible policy changes including the elimination of the direct payment and ACRE programs, common features of both bills, and the establishment of new programs intended to provide safety net coverage for growers in different regions and of different crops. The report makes assumptions about participation and payment per acre for new programs proposed in both drafts. Of particular note, the FAPRI analysis concluded that the Senate bill would save $5.5 billion more than the House version, which is contrary to Congressional Budget Office (CBO) analysis predicting a less than $1 billion difference between the two bills. The report also briefly considered the impacts of Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) caps, impacts to the renewable fuels standard (RFS) and World Trade Organization (WTO) concerns. It is at http://www.fapri.missouri.edu/outreach/publications/2013/FAPRI_MU_Report_06_13.pdf.
Monsanto Acquires Weather Data Company The Climate Corporation
Monsanto announced Wednesday it has acquired The Climate Corporation for $930 million. Climate Corp, as the company formerly known as Weatherbill is now often called, offers insurance against weather-related catastrophes direct to farmers and others online. The company uses data to measure temperature, rainfall and other factors, the information and expertise highlighted by Monsanto’s chairman and CEO Hugh Grant in a statement on the purchase. “The Climate Corporation is focused on unlocking new value for the farm through data science,” he said, noting that, “everyone benefits when farms are able to produce more with fewer resources.” Climate Corp had been working in recent months to get language in the pending farm bill to create a pilot program that would subsidize their product but still give Climate Corp exclusive control of it and rates once approved. This had many in the agriculture community, including NAWG, concerned such a provision would undermine the proven process for a new crop insurance product being approved and made available to growers. More on the acquisition is at http://news.monsanto.com/press-release/corporate/monsanto-acquire-climate-corporation-combination-provide-farmers-broad-suite.
Reminder: Housing Deadlines Approaching for Fall Wheat Meetings
Wheat grower leaders and state wheat organization staff planning to attend the 2013 Fall Wheat Conference in Portland, Ore., should complete their travel plans as soon as possible. The Conference is an annual joint meeting of NAWG and U.S. Wheat Associates, where both organizations hold committee and board meetings and the two boards meet jointly. The housing block for the conference is open until Oct. 10. All attendees should also complete a free registration for the meetings, accessible via http://www.wheatworld.org/meetings-events/fallconference/. Members of the public and media that do not have an affiliation with NAWG or USW but who wish to attend should be cognizant that some meetings will be closed to non-members. NAWG allows media attendance at its committee and Board meetings subject to the NAWG Media Access Policy, accessible at http://www.wheatworld.org/meetings-events/media-access-policy/.