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Senate Ag Comm Hearings- PRE November 2010 Elections

AUGUST 2010

August 4Lincoln: Increasing Agriculture Exports Key to Creating Thousands of Jobs, Economic Growth, Video replay available here, audio replay available here. FarmPolicy.com Summary:

A news release from yesterday by the Senate Ag Committee stated that, “U.S. Senator Blanche Lincoln, D- Ark., Chairman of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, today underscored the need to create thousands of long-term jobs and expand U.S. agricultural exports by relaxing trade and travel restrictions with Cuba. Today’s hearing is the third that Lincoln has held as she leads the Committee in reauthorizing the 2012 Farm Bill. Ambassador Ron Kirk, Joe Mencer of Lake Village, Arkansas, and Dwayne Rhodes of Springdale, Arkansas, were among those who testified.

“‘Agriculture is a sector of our economy where we are proving that we can successfully meet the export demands that will help rebuild the U.S. economy,’ Lincoln said. ‘For every additional one billion dollars of agricultural products we export, we can create 9,000 jobs. These are long-term jobs that we desperately need.’”

A video replay of yesterday’s hearing, as well as opening statements from witnesses, can be viewed here.

Yesterday’s release added that, “Lincoln noted that after 50 years of continued restrictions, our policy with Cuba continues failing to yield results, adding that less restrictive policies will help to usher in an era marked by exponential trade and economic growth.”

To listen to an exchange from yesterday’s hearing between Chairman Lincoln and Ambassador Kirk regarding the Cuba trade issue, just click here (MP3- 3:02).

A news release from yesterday by Senate Ag Committee Ranking Member Saxby Chambliss (R-Georgia) noted that, “Sen. Chambliss also addressed the status of the World Trade Organization Doha Round.

“‘The Doha Round is at an impasse and has been for some time,’ said Sen. Chambliss. ‘It is due in no small part to what Ambassador Kirk notes as the continued resistance of some members to engage in sustained and meaningful negotiations. Let me state unequivocally that the deal on the table is insufficient and unbalanced from the perspective of the Congress. While other countries look to the U.S. to ‘give more’ in order to re-energize the Round, I would suggest unilateral action will harden views in the Senate – and particularly in this Committee – that the Doha Round is fatally flawed. A successful Round is possible, but only when Brazil, China and India recognize that their rising influence in the international economy requires shared sacrifices in order to achieve individual and shared gains.’”

To listen to an exchange between Sen. Chambliss and Amb. Kirk from yesterday regarding the Doha talks, just click here (MP3- 3:48).

Also with respect to yesterday’s Senate hearing, Reuters writer Christopher Doering reported that, “The top U.S. trade official on Wednesday voiced frustration that Russia has not resumed imports of U.S. poultry, despite an agreement to do so, and said the countries were working to iron out the latest rift.

“‘We’re frustrated. We thought we reached an agreement. We had a protocol. We signed it and then, literally at the last minute, there is a new wrinkle,’ U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk told reporters.

“Russia, which had been the top export market for U.S. chicken, has banned shipments since January, after Moscow said a chlorine treatment commonly used by U.S. processors did not comply with its food safety regulations.”

A dialogue on this issue between Sen. Chambliss and Amb. Kirk from yesterday’s hearing is available here (MP3- 3:56).

Meanwhile, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Montana) highlighted particular aspects of a free trade agreement with South Korea and expressed concerns about provisions relating to beef. He sought assurances from Amb. Kirk that key provisions on trade relating to beef be included in a final draft and noted that if they were omitted from a final negotiated FTA, he would have to evaluate whether or not to bring the agreement up for a Finance Committee hearing. To listen to this firm exchange from yesterday on the South Korea FTA and beef, just click here (mp3- 4:02).

Nebraska GOP Senator Mike Johanns expressed concerns yesterday about Trade Promotion Authority at yesterday’s hearing, an exchange with Amb. Kirk on this issue is available here (MP3- 2:26).

And a news release yesterday from the American Soybean Association (ASA) stated that, “[ASA] testified today before the United States Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry to present ASA’s views on international trade issues, including the need for Congress to approve pending Free Trade Agreements, extend Presidential Trade Promotion Authority, and normalize financial relations with Cuba.

“‘ASA was pleased with the President’s commitment to double the value of U.S. exports under the National Export Initiative,’ said ASA Vice President Danny Murphy, a soybean producer from Canton, Miss. ‘Efforts to achieve this goal in the agriculture sector will require Congressional approval of the pending Free Trade Agreements with Colombia, South Korea, and Panama, negotiation of new FTAs with key importing countries, and progress on the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation regional agreement.’ Murphy added that ‘delay in approving the Colombia FTA has caused U.S. soybean producers to lose over 50 percent of their market share.’”

JULY 2010

July 21Lincoln: Strong Energy and Rural Development Farm Programs Will Create Jobs, Strengthen Our Nation, Video replay available here, audio replay available here. FarmPolicy.com Summary:

As the House was conducting its Farm Bill hearing yesterday, the Senate Agriculture Committee was also receiving testimony on issues associated with energy and rural development.

A video rebroadcast of the hearing, and complete witness list is available at this Senate Ag Committee webpage, while an audio replay of yesterday’s meeting is available here.

A news release from the Sen. Ag. Comm. yesterday indicated that, “U.S. Senator Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), Chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, today called for strong energy and rural development Farm Bill programs in order to create jobs and improve Arkansas’s rural economy. Today’s hearing is the second that Lincoln has held as she leads the Committee in reauthorizing the 2012 Farm Bill. [Note that a summary of the first hearing is available here]. General Wesley Clark, Mayor JoAnne Bush of Lake Village, Arkansas, and Dennis Sternberg of Lonoke, Arkansas, were among those who testified.

“‘Arkansans know firsthand that rural America is often the first to feel the impact of economic downturns, and is often the last to reap the rewards of economic recoveries. The development and deployment of renewable sources of energy produced in rural America presents an opportunity to create jobs, put our economy back on track, and reduce our dangerous dependency on foreign oil. The Farm Bill energy programs provide a model which should be the basis of our national energy policy. In May of this year, we sent $27.5 billion overseas to purchase oil – much of that to hostile foreign governments. In Arkansas if we used only a fraction of that money to build just 10 cellulosic ethanol facilities, we would create 2,090 long-term jobs, generate $216 million in economic activity and reduce Arkansas’s need to import oil by 50%. That sounds like a good investment to me,’ said Lincoln.”

As part of her complete opening statement at yesterday’s hearing, Chairman Lincoln indicated that, “Without critical investments in infrastructure, a safe water supply and affordable housing opportunities, it is impossible for rural communities to attract new industries, such as the type of renewable energy production opportunities that we will discuss today.

“Additionally, we are seeing that broadband internet service is a requirement for many businesses when they consider where to locate. Rural America will not be able to compete with the rest of the country without it. I know that there has been tremendous interest in broadband funding, and I plan to hold a hearing specifically on the Broadband Initiatives Program in the near future.”

Interestingly, in very similar comments to those delivered yesterday at the House hearing by Rep. Jean Schmidt regarding federal regulations facing producers, Senator Pat Roberts (R-Kansas) offered his own assessment and analysis of current the current regulatory climate.

A news release from Sen. Roberts yesterday pointed out that he is “concerned with numerous new federal regulations impacting rural Americans.”

In part, Sen. Roberts noted at yesterday’s hearing that, “Your testimony points out that ‘95 percent of rural income is earned off the farm.’ Yet recently proposed government actions threaten the viability of off farm opportunities. Let me name a few: Non-science based standards over particulate matter or what some call ‘rural fugitive dust,’ spray drift, Atrazine, the Environmental Protection Agency’s potential carbon rule, Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, the definition of ‘navigable waters,’ levee certifications and I could go on and on.

Mr. Under Secretary, your agency is charged with ‘helping improve the economy and quality of life in rural America.’ With so many rural communities concerned that your sister agencies’ actions result in the direct opposite of your goal, how does the Rural Development Agency work in a ‘multi-agency’ fashion to address these concerns?

For a more detailed account of the Q and A on federal regulations from Sen. Roberts and Dallas Tonsager, the
USDA Undersecretary for Rural Development, click on this FarmPolicy.com audio clip (MP3- 5:21).

Also testifying at yesterday’s Senate hearing was General Wesley Clark, the Co–Chair of Growth Energy.

Senate Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Saxby Chambliss (R-Georgia) asked General Clark about Growth Energy’s Fueling Freedom plan and ethanol tax credits at yesterday’s hearing, to listen to this very interesting exchange, just click here (MP3- 4:18).

And Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) asked General Clark about his perspective on ethanol tax credits in the absence of the Senate passing energy legislation, to listen to this exchange, click here (MP3- 2:09).

Also yesterday, Senator John Thune (R-South Dakota) discussed the ethanol “blend wall” with General Clark (MP3- 3:01).

JUNE 2010

June 30Lincoln Calls for Strong Safety Net for Arkansas Farm Families in First Farm Bill Hearing, Video replay available here. Unofficial FarmPolicy.com transcript of hearing, available here. FarmPolicy.com Summary:

A Senate Agriculture Committee news release from yesterday stated that, “U.S. Senator Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), Chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, today called for strengthening the safety net for family farmers and ranchers as she led the Committee in its first farm bill hearing. Today’s hearing focused on maintaining a strong U.S. farm policy and was the first of several that will take place this year as the Committee prepares to reauthorize the 2012 farm bill. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, and Dow Brantley, an England, Arkansas producer, were among those who testified.

“‘I am proud of our farmers and ranchers that put food on our table, clothes on our back, and fuel in our cars and trucks. As the daughter of an Arkansas rice farmer, I understand the significant challenges that unpredictable weather and competitive global markets present to those who clothe and feed us. As Chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Arkansas farm families and producers throughout the nation can rest assured that I will fight for policies that allow them to continue to provide the safest, most affordable supply of food and fiber in the world,’ said Lincoln.”

The release noted that, “Others who testified at today’s hearing included Bob Stallman, President of the American Farm Bureau Federation [related news release]; Roger Johnson, President of the National Farmers Union [related news release], Thomas Cochran, a Georgia producer; Chris Pawelski, a New York producer; and Mark Watne, a North Dakota producer. Lincoln questioned the witnesses on the success of current farm safety net programs and discussed ways to improve the programs.”

In her opening statement at yesterday’s hearing, Chairman Lincoln noted in part that, “[W]e need to look before we leap. More than anything else, I think most American farm and ranch families simply want steady, predictable, supportive policies coming out of Washington… and for us to otherwise get out of their way. Huge policy fluctuations, mixed signals coming out of Washington, and the uncertainty that these things create make it very difficult for our producers to compete, invest, and plan for the future. So, rather than start from scratch or from some new fangled idea cooked up in Washington or in some college professor’s office, we need to reassure our farmers and ranchers that we will start where we left off: the 2008 Farm Bill. If we can do better by our producers in 2012, great. But, if not, current law serves as the benchmark from which we will work.”

A news release yesterday from Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kansas) indicated that, “At a hearing of the Senate Committee on Agriculture on the 2008 Farm Bill with U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, Senator Roberts again urged the Secretary and members of the committee to promote the interests of all farmers and ranchers and was critical of new burdensome regulations, cuts to crop insurance and a meager trade agenda. Roberts was also critical of the media’s portrayal of production agriculture.”

In a related item, Philip Brasher reported yesterday at The Green Fields Blog (Des Moines Register) that, “Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who’s been criticized by some in agribusiness for his promotion of small-scale farmers, gave a passionate defense of conventional producers at a Senate hearing today and got into a dispute with a cable TV show in the process.

“He told the Senate agriculture committee that the public owes farmers gratitude for how little Americans pay for food, an estimated 10 percent of their income on average.

“‘You may never need a police officer. I hope you never need a police officer. But every day, two or three times a day, you need a farmer,’ the former Iowa governor said in response to a question from Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kansas.”

To listen to a portion of the exchange yesterday between Sen. Roberts and Sec. Vilsack, click on this FarmPolicy.com audio clip (MP3-7:02).

Mr. Brasher also noted that, “But even as Vilsack defended conventional farming, he also kept up his push to increase the numbers of new small- and medium-scale farmers. He suggested Congress make it a goal to add 100,000 new farmers, an echo of a Clinton-era program to put an additional 100,000 police officers on the streets.”

Senate Ag. Comm. Ranking Member Saxby Chambliss noted yesterday that, “[A]griculture spending is a small share of the federal budget. Over the ten-year projected period of 2011 through 2020, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates Commodity Credit Corporation outlays as 0.24 percent, less than one half of one percent of all mandatory and discretionary spending. Adding nutrition program spending raises the share to just 2.31 percent of the total federal budget.”

Sen. Chambliss also asked Sec. Vilsack about USDA’s “five pillars” (trade, rural broadband, renewable energy, conservation and research) that will make Rural America stronger; specifically, Sen. Chambliss asked, “Where do production agriculture and commodity and risk management programs fit into that picture of those five pillars?” To listen to this exchange, just click here (MP3-3:06).

Budget and Farm Bill baseline issues were also discussed at yesterday’s hearing.

To listen to a discussion on this issue with Chairman Lincoln and Sec. Vilsack, which included comments about the recently released Standard Reinsurance Agreement, just click here (MP3-2:50).

Nebraska GOP Senator Mike Johanns also asked about the Farm Bill baseline issue in greater detail. As part of this discussion with Sec. Vilsack, Sen. Johanns also asked for analysis from USDA’s Chief Economist on the broader development of the relative share of farm payments going to traditional counter-cyclical commodity payments versus crop insurance payments. Sen. Johanns indicated that he would like more details on “the inter workings” of this payment allocation dynamic. To listen to this exchange, just click here (MP3-5:24).

In related news regarding crop insurance, DTN Political Correspondent Jerry Hagstrom reported yesterday (link requires subscription) that, “USDA Risk Management Agency Administrator Bill Murphy said today that his agency has sent crop insurance companies a revised final offer of a new standard reinsurance agreement. RMA gives the companies until July 12 to sign it.

“The original deadline was today.”

Mr. Hagstrom added that, “After a Senate Agriculture Committee hearing, Murphy told reporters that he had made concessions to the companies on the structure of the agreement but did not made any changes in the proposal to cut $6 billion in the program or to put restrictions on agent commissions. The companies and the agents have said the cuts the Obama administration has made using authority given to RMA in the 2008 farm bill may lead to delivery service problems, but the companies are expected to sign the agreement.

“Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told the Senate Agriculture Committee today that he believes the new agreement is fair and that the new commission structure will give agents ‘a fair return for their work.’”

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