The National Cotton Council (NCC) is pleased with the farm bills out of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees this week that make some pretty significant changes in the cotton program to hopefully provide final resolution of the longstanding Brazil WTO case.
“The focus has been to try and come up with farm policy for cotton in the new farm bill that will resolve the case,” said NCC vice president for Economics & Farm Policy Gary Adams. “We believe that STAX, which would be a new area-wide revenue insurance option for cotton, is a way to resolve the case.”
Adams says the provisions for Stacked Income Protection Plan (STAX) are “very similar” in both bills, while the House also includes transition payments to assist growers and their lenders until STAX can be fully implemented, “so that’s a difference that has to be worked out.”
Bottom line, Adams says producers need a farm bill this year. “The one thing we hope is we can see Congress complete its action this summer so we can get a multi-year farm bill in place and give producers some certainty about what policy is going to be for the next few years,” he concluded.
Interview with NCC VP Gary Adams
The Senate Agriculture Committee voted 15-5 today to approve their version of a 2013 farm bill.
“The Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act includes an even stronger commitment to conservation, one borne out of the efforts by environmental and agricultural groups who sat down together to find a way to protect our soil and water resources necessary to keep agriculture strong in America for generations to come,” said Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich).
The bill includes an agreement between agriculture and conservation organizations to ensure that basic soil and wetland protection requirements were extended to apply to crop insurance premium subsidies. “We’ve come up with what we think is a very workable alternative which would not limit eligibility and which would have crop insurance tied to making sure you weren’t breaking up highly erodible land or plowing up wetlands. But if you did have an accident and something happened, maybe you drained a ditch a little bit deeper than you should have, you would have two years to mitigate that problem,” said Mary Kay Thatcher with the American Farm Bureau Federation of the framework agreed to last week by 32 groups.
Several conservation-related amendments were approved for the bill in committee, including one by Senator Thune (R-SD) to ensure tracking of conversion of native prairies to crop production and another by Sen. Heitkamp (D-NV) to allow the Natural Resources Conservation Service to have more say over how to allocate technical assistance programs among programs.
The bill is expected to move to the Senate floor next week.
The USDA has named the recipients of 110 Value-Added grants for agricultural producers and rural businesses. This agency news release says the grants include biomass-based products and is hoped to spur the rural economy:
“This support will benefit rural businesses and the communities where the recipients are located,” Vilsack said. “These awards also will advance USDA’s goals to develop a bio-based economy and support local and regional food systems.”
In today’s announcement, 110 awardees are being selected for USDA Rural Development Value-Added Producer Grants (VAPG). The grants help agricultural producers increase their income by expanding marketing opportunities, creating new products or developing new uses for existing products.
The awards announced today include 11 projects involving bio-based products. They include grants to convert: corn stover to anhydrous ammonia; miscanthus fiber, wood and goat manure into biochar and enhanced compost; and sorghum to electricity and fertilizer.
Value-Added Producer Grants are part of USDA’s Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative, supporting local and regional food systems.
The complete list of Value-Added Producer Grant award recipients is available here.
Data, data, data. I wonder how many times that word was used at this week’s G-8 International Conference on Open Data for Agriculture? A lot I’m sure. Well, I was not there but Paul Welbig, Raven Industries was.
Here’s a photo of Paul on the left with Dr. Aboubacar Diaby, Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa. They are holding an African corn planter.
The conference concluded after participating countries created some action plans for what to do next. You can find those on the website and even more information. A focus of the efforts being made to make more agricultural data sets available to the world wide community is to create resources that will help people in developing countries and where there is a real need for advanced food production. So you might like an example of how this has already been done in other areas. Paul shares a couple of examples that were given at the conference like GPS which exists because of data shared and now used in so many beneficial ways which includes precision agriculture.
Learn more about what was discussed in this week’s conference in my weekly ZimmCast podcast with Paul: Open Data for Agriculture
At the kickoff of the G8 Open Data for Agriculture conference this week, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced a new virtual community to give increased public access to food, agriculture, and rural data.
“This new online community is a big step toward opening information for agriculture, making it public in useable formats,” said Vilsack. “This will increase the value of the investments U.S. taxpayers make in agricultural research, it will create a data ecosystem that will fuel economic growth, it will help drive that innovation to meet our global food challenge we all face.”
Vilsack explained that the virtual community for Food, Agriculture and Rural issue is located on the pre-existing data-sharing web site – www.data.gov – and it will now include data sets on topics such as agricultural research, or food and nutrition. Other G8 countries represented at the conference are also expected to make their ag data similarly available.
“Our hope is that the example that we set will encourage the nations that have been not as forthcoming to recognize it is in their best interest … to be part of this process,” Vilsack said.
While some countries like China are reluctant to share their data, World Bank Vice President Dr. Rachel Kyte noted that others suffer from data deficiencies. “Serious weaknesses in agricultural statistics persist,” said Kyte. “Only one in four African countries report basic crop production data.”
Vilsack pointed out that data “is among the most important commodities in agriculture” and sharing it openly increases its value. The Open Data Conference will continue through Tuesday, April 30.
USDA just held a preview press conference for next week’s G-8 International Conference on Open Data for Agriculture. On the phone with the press were USDA Chief Scientist Dr. Catherine Woteki and Dr. Simon Liu, Director of the National Agricultural Library. There are plans to do live streaming during the conference and people are encouraged to tweet about the conference with the hashtag, #OpenAgData.
The conference, to be held in Washington, D.C., will bring together innovators from all over the world to discuss the importance of open agricultural data to increased food security across the globe, as well as in opening doors for public/private partnerships and economic growth. Woteki and Liu will explain that data is among the most important commodities in the world. By making our data accessible and encouraging others to do the same, we will enable collaborations of data users that will spur innovation and drive economic growth. A number of African countries will be represented at the conference and Woteki and Liu will preview some of the announcements expected to be made during the event.
You can listen to or download the press conference here: USDA Open Data Conference Presser
The new senior Agricultural Counselor to the Environmental Protection Agency Administrator held a conference call Tuesday to discuss her background and her role as an advisor at EPA on ways environmental policy may impact growers and the greater agriculture community. Sarah Bittleman accepted the new position with EPA in February after serving Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack as USDA Senior Advisor on energy policy.
“The position of ag counselor helps ensure that the EPA administrator and senior agency staff are advised on ways in which complex environmental issues impact growers and the greater agricultural community,” she said.
Bittleman admits that there is a problem of trust when it comes to farmers and ranchers and the EPA. “My job is to restore some of that trust,” she said, noting that it might be improved by working more closely with USDA, conservation districts and state departments of agriculture that have a better relationship with producers. “By partnering with these other folks who work so closely with agriculture, we can little by little grow a base of increased and better trust relationships.”
Bittleman says her goal as EPA advisor is to serve rural America.
Listen to or download call here: Sarah Bittleman, EPA Ag Counselor
The chairman of the House Agriculture Committee spoke to farmer and rancher representatives in Washington DC at National Ag Day activities on Tuesday, praising those who work in the agriculture industry.
“The fact of the matter is we’re a critical part of the national economy and the food safety net for the country and the planet,” Congressman Frank Lucas (R-OK) said in an interview after his address to National Ag Day attendees. “We’ve been so successful in agriculture that there’s a tendency to ignore us – and people will ignore us at the peril of their future.”
Lucas explained where Congress is right now on a new farm bill and when he hopes to have it finished. “We are finishing up the budget process in the United States House and the Senate is doing that too,” he said. “Before the end of September, before the one year extension of the ’08 farm bill expires, we’ll have a new one signed into law and on the books. That’s my goal.”
Listen to Chuck’s interview with Congressman Lucas here: Interview with Congressman Frank Lucas
2013 National Ag Day Activities Photo Album
Next month the G-8 International Conference will be holding an important event in Washington on Open Data for Agriculture.
The purpose, according to USDA Chief Scientist and Under Secretary for Research, Education and Economics Catherine Woteki, is “to make our agriculturally-relevant research and statistical data accessible to users in Africa and around the world.”
Woteki explained in a USDA blog post.
What is open data and why is it important to agriculture? In this internet age, information from all corners of the world is accessible in ways like never before. Quite simply, open data means liberating data in machine and human readable formats – it is a 21st century way of sharing information. By sharing data and the tools to analyze it, people can develop new insights and applications to help themselves. For agriculture, shared research can move us all closer to addressing the global food demands on the horizon.
Our food and agricultural challenges have no borders and neither should our research. At USDA, we recognize the importance of collaborative, scientific research and encourage international collaboration. Open data in agriculture allows us to pool our existing resources while pioneering fresh, new approaches to tackle the global challenges that lie ahead.
The conference, which is set for April 29-30, will bring together entrepreneurs, innovators, policy makers and thought leaders to discuss how open agricultural data increases food security, improves access to research for developing countries and provides new opportunities for private/public partnerships.
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack gave a sequester day speech at the 2013 Commodity Classic in Orlando on Friday.
“On this day in particular, it’s great to be outside of Washington,” Vilsack said. “Frankly, I have to apologize to all of you. This is crazy what is happening. In a functioning democracy this shouldn’t happen.”
Vilsack told corn, soybean, wheat and sorghum farmers that USDA furlough notices will be sent out next week and there will be some offices where people “simply aren’t there.”
Listen to Sec. Vilsack’s speech here: Sec. Vilsack Speech
Listen to Sec. Vilsack’s press conference here: Sec. Vilsack Press Conference
2013 Commodity Classic Photo Album
Sequester is scheduled to take effect on March 1 and so far Congress has made no effort to prevent the across the board spending cuts from taking place. I talked with GROWMARK government affairs director Chuck Spencer to find out more about this monster called Sequester.
Spencer explains that sequestration traces back to the Budget Control Act of 2011 requiring Congress to come to an agreement on deficit reduction by the end of 2012 – or else there would be cuts to all defense and non-defense spending. “There are exemptions within the provisions, obviously Social Security, veterans affairs, some nutrition programs,” he said. “Those cuts for sequestration can range anywhere from 10 percent in some discretionary defense programs to 7.8% for non-defense discretionary programs.”
One proposal to avoid sequestration comes from the Democrats who are suggesting taking all the needed cuts – $55 million – from defense and agriculture. The reasoning behind taking half from agriculture is ending direct payments, which is supposed to be done whenever a new farm bill is completed. Spencer says one problem with that is those cuts would take effect immediately, and the current farm bill that was extended through September includes direct payments for this season. “Many farmers have incorporated their management plans for 2013, we’re coming up on spring planting season, and a change in that type of program – particularly for crops in the southern part of the country – would be very difficult to deal with,” he said.
Listen to my interview with Spencer here: Chuck Spencer, GROWMARK
Senators Pat Roberts and Mike Johanns have introduced legislation to eliminate a burdensome, costly and redundant Environmental Protection Agency permit requirement for applications of pesticides.
At issue is the January 2009, Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals opinion in National Cotton Council v. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, that requires pesticide applications to be permitted under the Clean Water Act. This National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit is now in addition to any label requirements or restrictions already placed on the use of a pesticide under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act.
Since early in 2012, the EPA has enforced a now permanent rule in response to the Sixth Circuit Court ruling requiring approximately 35,000 pesticide applicators to get permits to cover about 500,000 applications per year.
Senator Roberts and Johanns’ bill ensures Clean Water Act permits are not needed for the applications of pesticides and amends FIFRA by stating that no permit shall be required for the use of a pesticide that is registered under FIFRA. Roberts introduced the same legislation in the last Congress where it was blocked from consideration on the Senate floor.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is happy to be keeping his “great job” and continuing to fight for the future of American agriculture.
“I am extraordinarily privileged and honored to have the job as the United States Secretary of Agriculture and to have another opportunity to continue this work,” Vilsack told the American Farm Bureau Federation annual meeting last week in Nashville. “I don’t know that there’s not a more important place, a more significant place in the future of this country than rural America.”
Vilsack told Farm Bureau members that he was glad to see 2012 come to an end and expressed his optimism that 2013 will be better for agriculture. “We are committed … to making sure that 2013 is not a repeat of 2012. We need a five-year bill and we need it now,” he said, going on to outline that the bill needs to include a number of important items, including an adequate safety net, commitment to trade and strong support for research.
“The extraordinary story of American agriculture is directly linked and related to the capacity of America to invest in agriculture production. Agriculture is the second most productive aspect of our economy since 1980,” he said. “You deal with it every single day: Embracing new technologies, new techniques, new machinery. And as a result, you become the most productive and most efficient farmers in the world.”
Read a transcript of Vilsack’s AFBF speech or listen to it here: Sec. Vilsack Speech
The USDA wants to get a better idea of what’s happening on America’s farms. That’s why the 2012 Census of Agriculture forms will be hitting producers’ mailboxes very soon.
“The Census of Agriculture will be dropped in the mail December 14th, so farmers should expect it in their mailboxes by the end of the year,” says Renee Picanso, Director of the USDA’s Census and Survey Division, asking that those surveyed return their census by Feb. 4, 2013. During an interview at Trade Talk at the National Association of Farm Broadcasting convention, she added that they’ll be asking some new questions this year, including some on agriforestry and renewable energy. Also new this year will be the opportunity to fill out the survey over the internet, something they believe will help response rates. “I hope so, because it leads you through the questions, and if you go on the internet, it will skip through the questions [not relevant to your operation].”
Picanso stresses that it’s very important for producers to respond because the survey helps USDA determine policy, as well as how it helps rural communities and agribusinesses. Results should be released in February 2014.
Listen to Cindy’s interview with Renee here: Renee Picanso, USDA Census and Survey Division
2012 NAFB Convention Photo Album
According to the Agri-Pulse Farm and Rural Poll released today, 78 percent of farmers polled are voting for Mitt Romney in the presidential election and a majority blame Democrats for failure to pass a new farm bill.
“We wanted to see not only how farmers viewed the presidential election, but how the failure to pass a new farm bill might impact their votes on a wide variety of races,” explained Agri-Pulse Editor Sara Wyant. “We also wanted to see how those men and women view some of the most challenging issues confronting their operations.”
On November 1, 2012, Pulse Opinion Research conducted a telephone survey of 319 farmers and ranchers who are likely voters. Questions covered the presidential election, farm bill priorities, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack’s job performance rating, the Renewable Fuels Standard, and other topics. The telephone survey found that 71 percent of respondents strongly disapprove of President Obama’s job performance while 12 percent strongly approve. Of all farmers polled, 51 percent labeled themselves Republican, 26 percent Democrat.
A majority (58 percent) of respondents believe the next president will cut farm program spending, regardless of who is elected. However, if more money is available to spend on farm programs, the most popular way to spend the money is improving crop insurance, as chosen by 37 percent of farmers polled. Notably, 49 percent of farmers indicated they grow only crops, 48 percent indicated they grow crops as well as raise livestock and 3 percent raise only livestock.
Those polled say they believe that environmental regulations and tax burdens are the biggest threats facing the future of their farming operations, 33 percent and 29 percent, respectively.
See all the questions and poll results here.