D.C. Watch: Last chance for 2012 Farm Bill
Congress will probably pass a one-year extension of the 2008 Farm Bill, according to Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa. Congress reconvenes this week, but the House will only be in session for 8 days in September and the Senate will be in session for 12 days. Grassley says bluntly, not much is going to get done before the election.
If Congress doesn’t pass the farm bill before the end of the year, the process has to start over when the new Congress is sworn in. Grassley says that it will be more difficult to pass a farm bill next year because Congress will be working with more stringent budget guidelines. Not everyone is as anxious as farmers are to get a new farm bill in place.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps) does not expire at the end of September. If a new farm bill is passed, funding for this and other nutrition programs will be reduced. So there is a disincentive for nutrition program advocates to push for a new farm bill. To a certain extent, the same is true of conservation programs. Most of the conservation programs are funded through 2014. With Congress facing some much bigger issues than the farm bill, and a sizable share of farm bill stakeholders not pushing for passage of the new legislation, the chances that the farm bill will be passed before the end of the year are declining.
The National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) is asking the EPA to extend the comment period for the waiver of the Renewable Fuels Standard mandate. The comment period, which officially began August 30 and runs through September, conflicts with harvest for much of the farm sector. Because of that, Garry Niemeyer NCGA President says the comment period may not give farmers the chance to participate in this important policy decision.
NCGA is asking EPA to keep the comment period open for 60 days, instead of the 30 days currently planned. House members may introduce legislation to adjust the federal ethanol mandate if EPA does not grant the waiver requests that have been submitted says House Agriculture Committee Vice Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA). Goodlatte says he hopes EPA will signal its intent to waive the mandate by the end of September. With the comment period running at least through the end of September, there is little chance EPA will indicate what action they will take on the waiver requests by the end of this month. Passing legislation would almost certainly drag on well into next year so even if Congress were to pass such a bill, there would be no impact anytime soon.
Argentina has lodged a formal complaint with the World Trade Organization contending that U.S. imports on Argentine beef violate world trade rules. Argentina has filed a request for consultations with the U.S. If no agreement is reached in 60 days, the country can request a dispute settlement panel. U.S. imports of beef from Argentina have been suspended since 2001 when there was an outbreak of foot and mouth disease in that country. Argentina says the ban is no longer needed because the country has been certified as free of the disease since 2007.
Obstacles to U.S. agriculture exports may increase next month. Labor negotiations between east and gulf coast dockworkers and shippers broke down last week and the union is threatening to strike as early as October. The union handles ports from Maine to Texas and the current contract expires September 30. There could also be problems along the west coast. It appears likely that ports will lock-out members of the union when the contract expires at the end of September. The combination of labor troubles, low water in major rivers and high prices may all contribute to reducing U.S. agricultural exports during the coming months.