D.C. Watch: More farm bill pressure

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NCGA, the ASA and U.S. Canola Association sent a joint letter to House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., recently, threatening to seek a two-year extension that would run past his tenure as chairman if Congress can’t find common ground on a new bill that all producer groups can accept.

The three groups are especially opposed to re-coupling farm payments to planted acres in a price-based program of target prices and deficiency payments, reminding Lucas that “a similar program during the 1980s caused major planting distortions when market prices dropped below target prices.”

“The traditional coalition (among farm groups) has broken down,” Lucas reportedly told an editor for the highly-watched website, POLITICO.com. “This is not helping to get a farm bill,” said Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn.,one of the four principal negotiators and the House chairman when the most recent farm bill was enacted five years ago.

Peterson added, “I didn’t have this in 2008. The attitude among the commodity groups this time seems to be: Line up and shoot.” POLITICO summed up the current situation this way: “The bad blood among rival commodity groups is becoming an embarrassment for farm bill advocates and a threat to getting legislation through Congress this winter.”

Ag Secretary Vilsack issued USDA’s own “wish list” for a new farm bill in a joint appearance this week with Dale Hall, Chief Executive Officer of Ducks Unlimited, to highlight the value of public-private conservation efforts. He used the occasion to “vigorously request” that the new farm bill:

  • Continue targeted conservation efforts through a streamlined Regional Conservation Partnership Program.
  • Maintain key working land programs including the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP).
  • Continue participation the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP).
  • Further expand conservation efforts by linking crop insurance compliance to conservation program participation. USDA’s Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) is open for new enrollments for federal fiscal year 2014. Producers interested can submit applications to NRCS through Jan. 17, 2014. A CSP self-screening checklist is available to help producers determine if the program is suitable for their operation. Learn more about CSP by visiting www.nrcs.usda.gov.

USDA hiked projections for fiscal 2014 ag exports to $137 billion, up $2 billion from its last forecast in August, but $3.9 billion below last year’s record export figures. While grain, feed and cotton exports are forecast down compared to the August report, projections for oilseed and livestock exports rose.

Other news from Washington:

  • USDA also increased its projections for agricultural imports, to a record $109.5 billion. This represents a $3.7 billion decrease from USDA’s August forecast but $5.7 billion higher than in fiscal 2013. (The U.S. agricultural trade surplus is expected to fall to the lowest level since 2009 at $27.5 billion.)
  • $10.5 million in USDA “value-added” grants are available to help agricultural producers create new products, expand marketing opportunities, support further processing of existing products or goods, or to develop specialty and niche products. They may be used for working capital and planning activities. The maximum working capital grant is $200,000; the maximum planning grant is $75,000. Applications are due by February 24, 2014. Contact any USDA Rural Development state office for more information.

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