Inside Congress, No one Beats the Beet Lobby (via Minneapolis StarTribune)

EUCLID, MINN. – Paul Rutherford stared over his tilled fields of sugar beets, his gaze focused on hundreds of acres in the midst of harvest.

As heavy machinery plucked beets from the ground, they emerged a dull shade of tan. In Rutherford’s eyes, they looked as good as gold.

Across this stretch of the Red River Valley, sugar beets have become an almost can’t-miss money maker because of federal price protections that go back decades.

“These babies have always shown some type of profit,” said Rutherford, one of about 2,800 farmers who make up the American Crystal Sugar cooperative, based in Moorhead. “If it wasn’t for sugar beets, I wouldn’t be farming.”

With roughly 500,000 acres of sugar beets planted across Minnesota and North Dakota, American Crystal Sugar is the nation’s largest producer of refined sugar through beet farming. It generates 15 percent of the country’s sugar supply.

But much of the cooperative’s financial success is cultivated in Washington D.C.

The full story can be accessed by visiting http://www.startribune.com/politics/statelocal/138264909.html

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January 2012 Legislative Report

The Challenges of Writing a Farm Bill in an Election Year

With Congress back in session and the President’s State of the Union Address behind them, members now turn their attention to the challenges of legislating in an election year. Although there are a number of issues of interest on the horizon for the agriculture sector, none is higher profile than what will happen with the expiring farm bill.

In the waning days of 2011 the leadership of the Senate and House Agriculture Committees had agreed to a farm bill draft that would have garnered an estimated $23 billion in savings. With the failure of the “Super Committee” to come to agreement on a comprehensive package of spending reductions and revenue enhancers, details of the joint proposal by the agriculture committees did not see the light-of-day.

The reset button has been pushed and Congress will now return to considering legislation under regular order – the process by which a budget resolution is passed, subcommittee and committee hearings are held, committee markups of legislation are held and there is a vetting and amendment process via floor debates before a final vote before bills are reconciled and sent to the White House.

A new year, however, brings new challenges. As the agriculture committees await baseline spending numbers, it is an open question as to whether agriculture will be asked to do more. Will the $23 billion in savings that had been identified late last year will be enough or will the leadership in the Senate and House expect a higher amount? In addition, 2012 being a presidential election year, one-third of the Senate and the entire House of Representatives are up for re-election.

All indications are that the Senate Agriculture Committee will move first on drafting the new Farm Bill. Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Debbie Stabenow (D – MI) is expected to have a tough re-election fight this year and it is in her best interests to demonstrate to her constituents that her position leading the Agriculture Committee is of value to the state of Michigan. Failing to move a farm bill out of her committee could leave her vulnerable to attacks by her opponents that she is ineffective as a leader and that she was unable to deliver.

There are also practical reasons why the Senate will likely go first; namely experience. In addition to former Secretary of Agriculture on the committee Senator Mike Johanns (R – NE), there are an inordinate number of former Senate Agriculture Committee chairmen, including Ranking Member Pat Roberts (R – KS) who has chaired the House Agriculture Committee. This deep bench and wealth of experience will allow for discussion of proposals without having to account for a steep learning curve.

In addition to the overall challenges of passing a farm bill this year, the House Agriculture Committee continues to be faced with a different dynamic than their Senate counterparts. Experience on the House Agriculture Committee remains an issue, with a number of new members on the committee, as well as new members in the full House.

These challenges not with-standing, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (D – OK) believes that, if the $23 billion number remains in play, the committee “will have the necessary resources to use crop insurance both on the revenue side and on the production side to…provide a functioning safety net.” Mr. Lucas, does however, hold out the possibility that there may be some form of extension or a temporary farm bill before Congress and the Obama Administration will be able to agree on a permanent farm bill.

“I wish I could say that an extension would be the easy way out, but there will probably be certain expectations on savings in an extension proposal, and by the same token if you have an extension can you get a farm bill done in lame duck session? Or if it rolls into the next full term of Congress and the next presidential term, will they demand more savings from us? I just don’t know what to expect” said Chairman Lucas

United Egg Producers/HSUS Legislation Draws Fire

In addition to the ongoing battles between the livestock sector and the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) at the state level, introduction of the Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments of 2012 (H.R. 3798) has raised the specter that the two stakeholders will engage one another at the Federal level, as well. The looming clash will take place during an election year and while Congress and the Administration work to craft a new farm bill.

The proposed legislation would codify an agreement between HSUS and the United Egg Producers (UEP) that would require conventional cages to be replaced during an ample phase-in period with new, enriched colony housing systems that provide all egg-laying hens nearly double the amount of current space. After the phase-in period, producers would be required to provide all egg-laying hens with environmental enrichments (e.g. perches, nesting boxes, and scratching areas) that will allow hens to express natural behaviors.

In addition, the legislation would prohibit feed or water withdrawal during molting to extend the laying cycle (a practice already prohibited by the UEP Certified program), prohibit excessive ammonia levels in henhouses, and institute standards approved by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) for euthanasia of egg-laying hens.

Consumers would also not go untouched by the legislation. The proposal would require labeling on all egg cartons nationwide to inform consumers of the method used to produce the eggs and would prohibit the transport and sale of eggs and egg products nationwide that don’t meet the above requirements.

In support of the legislation, UEP President and CEO Gene Gregory articulated his belief that the legislation would help egg producers better plan for the future. Mr. Gregory noted that “Eggs are a national commodity, and egg producers should have a level playing field – not have different, costly rules in all 50 states. That’s where we are heading if we don’t pass this federal legislation. We need this legislation for our customers and consumers and the survival of egg farmers.”

But other livestock groups continue to sound the alarm that the legislation is only the beginning of a “government takeover of farms.” In a recent Op-Ed, National Pork Producer Council President Doug Wolf noted that “This HSUS-backed legislation would set a dangerous precedent that could let Washington bureaucrats dictate how livestock and poultry producers raise and care for their animals”. Mr. Wolf’s Op-Ed can be viewed in its entirety at https://rdlassociates.wordpress.com/.

National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) President Bill Donald has also expressed concerns related to the legislation. “This legislation, while currently only affecting egg producers, could set a dangerous precedent to allow government bureaucrats in Washington to mandate how farmers and ranchers across the nation raise and care for their animals,” said Donald. “This ill-conceived legislation could set the model for a one-size-fits-all approach to cattle production. Unfortunately, one-size-fits all doesn’t work with cattle producers, who are in diverse settings in all 50 states. This legislation won’t improve animal health or care and will result in further costly and burdensome regulations being placed on America’s food producers.” In addition to HSUS, there are a number of animal rights groups that continue to oppose modern animal agriculture, leaving little doubt that the livestock sector will have to continue defending themselves against ongoing attacks.

Those in support of animal agriculture will have to find avenues to amplify their message that agricultural producers in rural America raising livestock or growing the necessary commodities for animal feed are critical for producer vitality in the complex global food chain. Support for a vibrant and viable livestock sector and maintenance of consumer confidence in the Nation’s food supply will be critical for the animal agriculture sector in crafting initiatives for livestock and poultry care standards that are based on sound science, sound information and economic feasibility.

The Role of Crop Insurance as a Safety Net for Producers

With elimination of direct payments all but certain due to spending reductions that will be necessary in crafting the next farm bill, there is little question that policymakers will look toward crop insurance to serve as the primary safety net for producers. Given the complexity of the interface between the crop insurance program and budgetary pressures, doing so will not be without challenges.

From a program expenditure perspective, many within the agriculture sector will point out that the crop insurance program has already “given at the office.” The 2008 Farm Bill included reductions to the crop insurance program of approximately $6 billion over a 10-year period and the 2011 Standard Reinsurance Agreement (SRA) that went into effect on July 1, 2010 included an additional $6 billion in estimated funding reductions the crop insurance program over 10 years. Some industry observers have expressed concern that the combined impact of the 2008 Farm Bill and 2011 SRA reductions could lead to consolidation in the industry, thereby leaving producers with fewer risk-management choices.

Crop insurance protects a producer’s yield and price as well as providing collateral and repayment source for operating loans, term loans for machinery, livestock, facilities, and real estate loans. Although an increasing number of producers currently utilize crop insurance as a critical component of their marketing plan, they also continue to face higher input costs. Therefore, a wide range of strong risk-management tools for producers, including a viable crop insurance program, will be front-and-center as Congress determines the best course of action for enhancing the crop insurance program during consideration of the farm bill.

LIKE: Seven Rules and 10 Simple Steps for Social Media in Your Campaign

With 90 percent of registered U.S. voters today actively using social media, the millions of likes and dislikes they share every 60 seconds can make or break a candidate’s race. Co-authored by RDL & Associates President Dave Ladd, the rules of LIKE plainly explain how social media has permanently shifted conversations with constituents. Well suited for the individual with little to no social media experience, LIKE outlines the steps and how to get into the habit of using them whether running for the school board, for the United States Senate, or leading inside any organization. LIKE offers commonsense advice on how to engage with a socially-networked democracy, and deliver your message with confidence. LIKE: Seven Rules and 10 Simple Steps for Social Media in Your Campaign is now available at http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/like-seven-rules-and-10-simple-steps-for-social-media-in-your-campaign-(in-politics-business-or-otherwise)/18817332

Copyright © 2012 RDL & Associates, LLC. All rights reserved.

Twitter Offers Direct Connection to Ag Representatives in Congress (via Agri-Pulse Communications)

Twitter, the six-years-young social media engine, is generating more than 200 million 140-character messages per day and making headlines thanks to its millions of users, which include celebrities, world leaders and politicians.

The network is proving to be an effective way for constituents in agriculture and rural communities to stay connected to their representatives in the House and Senate. While both chambers’ agriculture committees have their ownaccounts, @SenateAg and @HouseAgNews, almost 40 individual representatives on the House Agriculture Committee and more than 15 senators on the Senate Agriculture Committee hold their own accounts.

Senator Charles Grassley (R – IA) has the most followers by far of anyone on the agriculture committees, and is one of the few that personally manages and operates his own account. While his staff does help in certain situations, including an incident Monday when hackers briefly broke into his account and began tweeting their own messages, the account management is conducted by the senator himself.

Grassley, one of the first senators to adopt Twitter, has more than 30,000 followers and posts messages at least daily. He is known for his Twitter shorthand and relatively colorful messages.

”I use Twitter to keep in touch with Iowans,” he said in an email statement. “It’s a way to describe what I’m working on as their U.S. senator, to make a point in the public policy debate, and to try to foster greater citizen participation in the process of representative government. I ‘tweet’ from my Blackberry and use abbreviations to get as much information across as possible, given the 140-character limit on Twitter messages.”

For example, in a tweet from Oct. 18, 2011, he said: “EPA Director Jackson finally made the commonSense decision to w/draw fugitive Dust rule recognize only God controls wind not farmers ThxLisa”

Addressing the Keystone XL Pipeline issue, in a more recent post on Jan. 18, he said: “Can’t bliev Obama stopd pipeline. He puts China intrest ahead of US bc Canada is going sell oil either US or China. Does Prez want jobs?”

The TransCanada Keystone XL Pipeline is the latest issue that generated the most activity from followers of congressional Twitter accounts, according to many staffers.

Senator Richard Lugar’s (R – IN) communication staff, which manages his Twitter account, said the Keystone pipeline debate generated a considerable amount of responses. Although the staff tries to keep his messages as positive and official as possible, they find that it creates a more personal connection to his constituents.

“Before Twitter, the people who read our statements were basically just the press,” said the Lugar communications staffer. “Now people can see what he’s doing every day.”

Similarly, Lauren Kulik, press secretary to Senator Sherrod Brown (D – OH) said his tweets provide a “behind-the-scene look” at his work in Ohio and in Washington.

“Many include video footage of Sen. Brown speaking directly to Ohioans, or photos of him at events,” she said. “While these Tweets may be uploaded by staff members, they represent the Senator’s own words and actions.”

Representative Steve King (R – IA) has the most Twitter followers of the House Agriculture Committee and, like Grassley, tweets everything himself from his Blackberry, according to his communications staff.

A particularly unique aspect of the social media network is that it allows a direct connection to Representative King and other tweeting Congress members. While many are just figuring out how to best manage responses, they almost always say they choose to join the network because it generates discussion with constituents.

Agri-Pulse Communications offers a four-week free trial to their e-newsletter and customized content.  Please contact Sandi@Agri-Pulse.com for more information.

RDL & Associates Adds Private Coaching to List of Services

In addition to the broad range of consulting and strategic services offered by RDL & Associates, private coaching is now available to individuals or small groups who seek intensive training in the art of lobbying, as well as utilization of digital media platforms.  Participants will benefit from Dave Ladd’s 20+ years in and around the policy and political process and will gain insight into strategies and tactics for effectively delivering their message. 

For more information, please contact RDL & Associates at daveladd66@gmail.com.

Recipe for Federal Takeover of Farming (Doug Wolf, NPPC President)

Let’s say I’m a hog farmer — which I am — and you don’t like how I raise my pigs. Maybe you think my pens are too small. Or you don’t like hog pens at all.

In today’s world, you respond by sneaking a camera on my property and filming my animals. You send the results to the media along with a call to ban the practice or practices you find offensive. If you can tie in the name of a well-known processor where I might send my pigs, so much the better. That’ll guarantee some dynamite media coverage.

Then, with the wind at your back, you can identify half a dozen states where it’s easy to qualify a ballot initiative — and where there’s not much agriculture. Some grant money and sympathetic friends in each state can come close to assuring passage of your initiative banning my way of raising pigs.

Add in a few dozen lawsuits. Then offer to settle through an agreement to pursue federal legislation that tells hog farmers like me how to raise their hogs. Make sure you list explicit practices and leave enforcement mechanisms vague so that consumers, farmers and legislators are tricked into believing that no one has to pay for any of this.

Now go to Congress, preferably in an election year when time and attention spans are short, and ask that the law be passed. Maybe suggest that it be broadened to include unpopular practices involving other species. Even better, add in some stiff environmental rules.

Suddenly, the federal government is dictating to farmers and ranchers nationwide how to run their operations.

Sound far-fetched? Think it can’t happen here? Think again. It’s happening right now.

Just such a law is likely to be introduced in Congress this week. It only affects one species right now. But it sets a dangerous precedent for allowing the federal government to dictate how all livestock producers and farmers operate, right down to the size of animal housing.

And make no mistake. This isn’t an end to this process, it’s the beginning. The animal-rights folks will keep coming back with more lawsuits, more ballot initiatives and more agreements codified in federal law until they’ve accomplished everything on their agenda.

If some producers want to cooperate with the animal-rights movement and agree to specific rules for raising their animals, that’s their business.

But when they write those rules in federal law, that’s everyone’s business — at least all of us in agriculture. By injecting the federal government into the marketplace with no benefit to the public or animal health, it has the potential to irreparably damage the livelihoods of farmers and ranchers across the country.

It also likely would lead to higher food prices, fewer consumer choices and scarce federal resources being redirected away from assuring safe food and other things the government should be doing.

 Talk about an overreach! It’s a recipe for a federal takeover of farming.

Doug Wolf raises hogs and cattle as well as corn, soybeans and alfalfa in Lancaster, Wis. He is president of the National Pork Producers Council.

OMB Says Food Agency Merger is Next (via Food Safety News)

A single federal food safety agency, long sought by many advocates, will happen if Congress grants the Obama Administration authority to reorganize the government, according to the subscription news service The Hagstrom Report.
 
In its Friday edition, The Hagstrom Report said Office of Management and Budget Director for Management, Jeff Zients, said that if Congress grants Obama the power to consolidate federal agencies, the first proposal will be to merge the six business-oriented agencies, folding together the Commerce Department’s core business and trade functions, the Small Business Administration, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, the Export-Import Bank, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, and the U.S. Trade and Development Agency.
 
Zients added that a follow-up proposal would be to consolidate USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) with the food safety unit at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
 
A consumer advocate tipped off Hagstrom that Obama Administration officials want to merge FSIS with the food regulatory function of FDA, which is part of Health and Human Service Department (HHS).
 
Obama administration officials are said to favor the merger because it would make food safety independent of USDA, which primarily exists to market and promote American farm products.  
 
Presidents from Herbert Hoover through Ronald Reagan had the power to organize the executive branch of  government, subject only to Congressional veto. However, Congress took those organizational powers away during the Reagan Administration. In his last State of the State address, Obama asked to have the authority restored to the Oval Office, and this week renewed that call.
 
He has cited the trade and business consolidations as needed jobs measures.
 
Jerry Hagstrom pointed out that more than two federal agencies are involved in food safety.  “FSIS, whose inspectors must be present in every meat plant in the country, has a much bigger budget than FDA, which has responsibility for other foods. Twelve agencies are involved in food safety,” Hagstrom reported.
 
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has called for consolidation of all food-safety functions into a single agency, an end to fragmented oversight supported by most, but not all, outside food-safety advocates.   
 
In renewing his call for Presidential consolidation authority on Friday, Obama said his plan to merge six business and trade agencies is just the “first action” he has in mind.
 
It apparently includes moving the National Oceanic and Fisheries Administration (NOAA) from the Commerce Department to Interior. Obama said that would bring all salmon regulation into one agency.
 
Late Friday, Food & Water Watch came out against that move.  
 
“We are deeply concerned about President Obama’s proposal to move the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to the Department of the Interior, the same Department that brought us BP’s Deepwater Horizon,” said F&WW executive director Wenonah Hauter.
 
“While the mission of NOAA is not consistent with the mission of the Department of Commerce where it currently resides, moving it to the Department of Interior will fail to eliminate any conflicts arising from dueling mandates,” she said. “This plan to slash the government fails to eliminate these conflicts and will do nothing to promote a better functioning executive branch.”
 
She also said the Washington D.C.-based environmental group “strongly urges against consolidating food safety functions of different government departments until much more progress is made to improve basic food safety protections.”
 
Other food safety groups, however, may see “consolidation powers” for Obama as a rare opportunity to achieve a long elusive goal.

Congress Faces Challenges in Drafting 2012 Farm Bill (via NAFB News Service)

House Ag Committee Chairman Frank Lucas of Oklahoma says lawmakers face a big challenge in crafting a farm bill this year. Lucas and the other principle leaders of the House and Senate Ag Committees had a farm bill draft ready for the super committee that would have saved 23-billion dollars in the federal deficit reduction effort. The question now is, will agriculture be asked to do more.

“Will we be able to hold our savings to that $23 billion number? Will we save less? That’s very unlikely. Potentially will leadership in the house and senate expect and demand great savings? I worry about that. But it it’s the $23 billion number then you’ve got the necessary resources to use crop insurance both on the revenue side and on the production side to I think provide a functioning safety net.”

However – there are plenty of obstacles to writing a bill under regular order this year, including “a whole bunch of new members on the Ag Committee, a whole bunch of new members in the United States House. You’ve got a presidential election process going on right now, a third of the senate standing for reelection, and the entire house. This is a very fluid kind of effort. And it would not be the first time if we had to do some sort of extension or temporary farm bill before we did the permanent farm bill.”

Lucas added, “This will be my fourth farm bill. At least twice before we’ve had to do extensions before we could get the final bill done.”

With all of the Congressional factors at play this election year some type of an extension of the previous farm bill is a very possible outcome.

“I wish I could say that an extension would be the easy way out, but there will probably be certain expectations on savings in an extension proposal, and by the same token if you have an extension can you get a farm bill done in lame duck session? Or if it rolls into the next full term of Congress and the next presidential term, will they demand more savings from us? I just don’t know what to expect.”

Lucas says that’s the challenge in such “uncertain water.” So he says the best the committee can do is try and produce good policy with the talent they have and the available resources.

 

 

 

 

Congress Logs Most Futile Legislative Year on Record (via The Washington Times)

Outlook for House, Senate also shows scant accomplishment for ‘12 session

By Stephen Dinan

The Washington Times

Sunday, January 15, 2012

It’s official: Congress ended its least-productive year in modern history after passing 80 bills — fewer than during any other session since year-end records began being kept in 1947.

Furthermore, an analysis by The Washington Times of the scope of such activities as time spent in debate, number of conference reports produced and votes taken on the House and Senate floors found that Congress set a record for legislative futility by accomplishing less in 2011 than any other year in history.

The Senate’s record was weakest by a huge margin, according to the futility index, and the House had its 10th-worst session on record.

Of the bills the 112th Congress did pass, the majority were housekeeping measures, such as naming post office buildings or extending existing laws. Sometimes, it was too difficult for the two chambers to hammer out agreements. More often, the Senate failed to reach agreement within the chamber.

That left much of the machinery of the federal government on autopilot, with the exception of spending, where monumental clashes dominated the legislative session.

“Absent unified party control with a bolstered Senate majority, I think it’s just very hard to get things done, particularly in a period when revenues aren’t growing and the decisions are how to cut, and how to cut in the long term,” said Sarah Binder, who studies Congress as a Brookings Institution scholar and professor at George Washington University. “Congress just isn’t very good at solving long-term problems.”

 The futility record could be short-lived. The full House returns from a month-long Christmas break on Tuesday to begin the second session, but all sides expect election-year paralysis, meaning some of the usually routine bills may run into trouble.

To read the rest of the story, please visit http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2012/jan/15/congress-logs-most-futile-legislative-year-on-reco/

USDA Announces Facilities and Office Closings

As part of the United States Department of Agriculture’s Blueprint for Stronger Service, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack has announced the closings of more than 250 USDA facilities and offices, with and estimated savings of $3 billion in the agency’s discretionary spending. The closures will affect all 50 states and includes the shutdown of 131 Farm Service Agency (FSA) offices in 32 states.

In addition to the FSA closures in the United States, the department will close its Foreign Agriculture Service offices in Sweden and Syria, as well as its Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service offices in Myanmar, Cambodia, Colombia, Laos and Indonesia.

A full list of office closures can be accessed at http://usda.gov/wps/portal/usda/usdahome?contentidonly=true&contentid=impacted_offices.html

Now Available: LIKE Seven Rules and 10 Simple Steps for Social Media in Your Campaign

LIKE: Seven Rules and 10 Simple Steps for Social Media in Your Campaign (for Politics, Business or Otherwise)

New Book Offers Common-Sense Guide to Navigating Campaigns Through “Likes” and “Dislikes”

Saint Paul, Minn. – Dave Ladd, President of RDL & Associates, is co-author of a new book, LIKE: Seven Rules and 10 Simple Steps for Social Media in Your Campaign. Well suited for the individual with little to no social media experience, LIKE outlines the steps and strategies for utilizing social media platforms in delivering key messages – whether an individual is running for the local school board, leading an organization or seeking a seat in Congress.

LIKE: Seven Rules and 10 Simple Steps for Social Media in Your Campaign (for Politics, Business or Otherwise) is immediately available for purchase through Lulu.com Marketplace (https://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/like-seven-rules-and-10-simple-steps-for-social-media-in-your-campaign-%28in-politics-business-or-otherwise%29/18817332) for $14.99 in paperback, and will be available in the coming days via Amazon.com.  An e-book version for $9.99 will be available at the end of January through Lulu and Amazon.

The premise of LIKE is simple: follow the rules, and take the right steps to use social media in any campaign, political or otherwise. The simple rules outlined in LIKE explain how social media has permanently shifted conversations with constituents and consumers, who no longer wait for a candidate or organization to identify a problem or its solution, but who expect to be engaged as a part of the process.

LIKE is a collaborative effort undertaken by Dave Ladd, Kelly Groehler, Greg Swanholm, and Bass Zanjani who worked together in exploring the gaps in social media utilization by candidates in the 2010 Minnesota gubernatorial race. LIKE is the culmination of their study findings, combined with their unique professional experiences in corporate and marketing communications, public policy development, campaigns and grassroots organizing. Together they have successfully translated their expertise and experience into an easy-to-follow set of rules and steps that can be used across a broad spectrum of interests.

About RDL & Associates

Dave Ladd, President of RDL & Associates, has 20 years of background and expertise in public policy development and analysis, as well as experience in the public and private sectors. He has developed relationships with key leaders and stakeholders in production agriculture, the renewable energy sector, agribusiness, financial institutions, state and federal government and Capitol Hill. Prior to forming RDL & Associates, Ladd served as Manager of Government Affairs for AgriBank, FCB and as a senior policy advisor for United States Senator Rod Grams. ###