EPA Survey of Water Quality Raises Concerns with Farm Groups (via Agri-Pulse Communications)

EPA’s first comprehensive survey of the health of U.S. streams and rivers finds more than half – 55 percent – are in poor condition for aquatic life. The agency says 27 percent of the nation’s waterways have excessive levels of nitrogen, and 40 percent have high levels of phosphorus.

 
The EPA’s National Rivers and Streams Assessment (NRSA) does not specifically cite agriculture as a culprit in the levels of nitrogen and phosphorous in the waterways. In fact, the report commends farming and livestock production for being the principal economic driver in most of the land area along the length of the Mississippi River and other major waterways.

 
Generated from 2008-2009 data from 2,000 sites across the country – the most recent available – the assessment shows too much nitrogen and phosphorus in much of the water, enough to constitute nutrient pollution and cause significant increases in algae that harm water quality, food resources and habitats, and decrease oxygen that fish and other aquatic life need to survive.

 
EPA said in a statement issued with the survey that nutrient pollution has impacted many streams, rivers, lakes, bays and coastal waters for the past several decades, “resulting in serious environmental and human health issues, and impacting the economy.”

 
EPA Office of Water Acting Assistant Administrator Nancy Stoner said the health of U.S. rivers, lakes, bays and coastal waters “depends on the vast network of streams where they begin, and this new science shows that America’s streams and rivers are under significant pressure.” She said investment must continue “in protecting and restoring our nation’s streams and rivers as they are vital sources of our drinking water, provide many recreational opportunities, and play a critical role in the economy.”

 
Still, some agriculture interests were surprised at what one called the “alarmist” tone of EPA comments related to the assessment.
Don Parrish, director of regulatory affairs for the American Farm Bureau, said the issues raised by the assessment are “incongruent with what’s going on out there in U.S. agriculture,” including enhanced conservation programs, precision technology and other advances that are reducing farm nutrient runoff.

 
He said EPA is comparing the water samples taken from ecological regions around the country to the “least disturbed” sites in each region.
Parrish said that in order to interpret the data collected by the NRSA field crews, they need to establish a benchmark condition, “but unfortunately, EPA chose a benchmark that coincides with what we would expect to find in pristine waters, untouched by man.”

 

Parrish acknowledges that setting reasonable expectations is one of the biggest challenges for any assessment of ecological conditions. But the Farm Bureau official says EPA failed to do that.

 
He says some level of human impact on water resources is a given and that using the very best of today’s conditions as a yardstick sets everyone up for failure.

 
The “least-disturbed standard,” which can also vary from region to region, is an “unrealistic approach that sets unreasonably high expectations,” he said. “There are far more appropriate standards that EPA could have selected.”

 
“It’s kind of appalling for EPA to put out a report . . . that sets standards at an unattainable level,” Parrish said.

 
The EPA assessment follows lawsuits filed last spring by environmental groups charging that the EPA has refused to address the causes of the summertime “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico – a situation the groups say is “a critical pollution problem [EPA] has acknowledged for decades.”

 

The two legal actions filed seek action from the agency on nitrogen and phosphorus runoff, which scientists say stimulates excessive growth of algae, prompting a biological process – hypoxia – that severely depletes oxygen levels in aquatic ecosystems and chokes marine life.

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Johnson Retirement Gives Senate GOP Another Opportunity (via Roll Call)

With the latest Senate Democrat’s retirement announcement, there are now three open Democratic seats in highly competitive states.

That’s half the total number of seats Senate Republicans must net to win the majority.

South Dakota Sen. Tim Johnson announced Tuesday that he will not seek re-election, joining Sens. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia and Tom Harkin of Iowa in retirement after 2014. Their departures mark the three most competitive seats of the five Democratic retirements so far this year and offer avenues for the GOP to cut into the majority.

Add in five Democratic incumbents running in states President Barack Obama lost, and the GOP is positioned to pick up a significant number of seats in 2014.

National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesman Brad Dayspring said the “map and conditions have been favorable to Republicans,” but the party must now take advantage of that by recruiting strong candidates and equipping them with well-trained staff.

“To use a sports analogy, we have home field advantage, the weather conditions are in our favor, but you’ve still got to put the best team out on the field and you’ve still got to execute the plays,” Dayspring said.

Of course, Republicans were well-positioned early in the 2012 cycle as well, but suffered a net loss of two seats on Election Day.

Picking up the six Democratic seats needed for the majority remains an arduous feat. To get there, the party would have to match its Election Day output in the wave election cycle of 2010 — the previous midterm. Republicans won six seats that November, plus the Massachusetts special Senate election earlier in the year.

It’s too early to know what the political atmospherics will be headed into the fall of next year.

For now, Democrats remain optimistic they can recruit candidates to hold their open seats and that most of the party’s vulnerable incumbents will be able to hang on in Republican-leaning states. They certainly did last year in Montana and Missouri, and the party held an open seat in North Dakota, where Obama lost by about 20 points.

“D.C. Republicans seem overconfident once again, even though the math is much more difficult for them this cycle and their influence with the conservative base has waned,” said Matt Canter, deputy executive director for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. “The Republican establishment claims they are going to do a better job managing the tea party and handpicking mainstream candidates that can win, but they don’t seem to have any good strategy to do that.”

On the surface, the numbers are harrowing for Democrats, who have a limited number of offensive opportunities and must defend 21 of the 35 seats — including special elections — up this cycle. That includes seven states Obama lost and a total of at least nine potentially competitive, Democratic-held seats.

South Dakota and West Virginia are no doubt two of the best pickup opportunities for Republicans, who already have top recruits in place. Former South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds and West Virginia Rep. Shelley Moore Capito announced their bids shortly after the elections in November.

While still recruiting in West Virginia, Democrats already have potential candidates in South Dakota in former Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin and U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson, the senator’s son.

Johnson said during his retirement announcement that it was no secret he had spoken with his son about running for Senate. But later, in a news conference, Johnson noted that he has no plans to be active during the race and is busy enough with his duties in the Senate.

In Iowa, Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley immediately announced his candidacy after Harkin retired. Democrats like their chances in the Hawkeye State should GOP Rep. Steve King, a conservative who top Republican strategists worry is too undisciplined to win statewide, decides to run. King told CQ Roll Call recently that he is still undecided.

The Democrats’ most vulnerable incumbents are, at this point in the cycle, at least an even bet for re-election. Many of them — including Alaska’s Mark Begich, North Carolina’s Kay Hagan, Louisiana’s Mary L. Landrieu and Arkansas’ Mark Pryor — are still awaiting major GOP challengers.

Along with Capito and Rounds, Republicans also have candidates to take on Democratic Sen. Max Baucus of Montana, including former state Sen. Corey Stapleton.

Democrats’ optimism stems in part from the GOP’s recent track record of nominating weak general election challengers. In 2012, top Senate GOP recruits ran lackluster campaigns. What’s more, in the past two cycles, a handful of long-shot conservatives proved unable to adequately compete for a general electorate.

A total of seven senators, including five Democrats, have announced their retirements so far this year, including Johnson, Harkin and Rockefeller. The remaining four are Democratic Sens. Carl Levin of Michigan and Frank R. Lautenberg of New Jersey and Republican Sens. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia and Mike Johanns of Nebraska.

Given those four states’ recent electoral trends, both parties start out favored to hold their own open seats. But the Levin and Chambliss seats could eventually become more competitive based on whom the parties recruit and which candidates make it out of what are likely to be crowded GOP primaries.

This article can be accessed by visiting http://www.rollcall.com/news/johnson_retirement_gives_senate_gop_another_opportunity-223459-1.html?ET=rollcall:e15382:63338a:&st=email&pos=epol

Issue Update: Revised Cost Estimates Complicate Dairy Policy Reform

Earlier this month the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) recently released updated cost estimates of the farm bills that were considered in the United States Senate and the United States House of Representatives during the 112th Congress and the revised numbers have cast a “budgetary shadow” as to the potential savings policymakers had hoped to…

According to the CBO website, the updated estimates are relative to CBO’s most recent baseline projections for agriculture, conservation, and nutrition spending.  The effects on direct spending of the Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act of 2012 (S. 3240), as passed by the Senate on June 21, 2012, and the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act of 2012 (H.R. 6083), as reported by the House Committee on Agriculture on September 13, 2012.

Although the Senate-passed Farm Bill has been reintroduced in the 113th Congress, it is primarily a “place holder” for committee action.  Conversely, a farm bill has not yet been introduced in the House.

In 2012, CBO estimates indicated that enactment of either the Senate or House version of the farm bill would cost less than continuing the policies of the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 (Public Law 110-246), commonly referred to as the 2008 Farm Bill.  The fiscal landscape, however, has changed.

Relative to the agency’s most recent baseline projections for commodity, land conservation, and nutrition programs, CBO continues to estimate that those bills (as modified to account for a later enactment) would still reduce future spending relative to continuing current policies, but the reduction would be significantly smaller than the amounts estimated in 2012.

CBO now estimates that the Senate version would save $13.1 billion from 2014-2023 period as opposed to last year’s savings of $23.1 billion from 2013-2022. The House version would save $26.6 billion over the same ten year period, as opposed to the $35.1 billion estimate of last year.  Simply stated, the pie is smaller and the new numbers have caused farm organizations to re-evaluate their game plans as to what might be feasible in a 2013 Farm Bill – including those who engaged in dairy policy reform.

The course of dairy reform in the next farm bill could have far-reaching economic impacts for Minnesota’s dairy industry.  Of particular interest to the dairy sector is the Dairy Producer Margin Protection Program that was included in both the Senate-passed version of the farm bill, as well as the legislation which passed out of the House Agriculture Committee last year.  As currently structured, the margin insurance program would provide margin-based assistance for producers equal to the difference between the all-milk price and a national feed cost and would be tied to the Dairy Market Stabilization Program (DMSP).

The proposals to replace the Dairy Product Price Support Program (DPPS) and Milk Income Loss Contract (MILC payments would now cost more than first estimated.  According to the revised CBO numbers, lowered milk prices increase the cost of the Margin Protection Program for dairy producers.  As reported by Agri-Pulse, the bill passed by the Senate last year would be $7 million less costly than extending the current dairy program during the next five years but its cost would spike, beginning in 2017, by $322 million from 2014-2023. As for the House version of the farm bill that failed to reach the House floor, CBO put the 10-year cost of the dairy provisions at $441 million, with most of the escalation coming after 2015.

The estimate of prospective costs would go up due, in part, to projected lower milk prices would increase the cost of the margin protection program for dairy producers.  The National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) responded that the new figures demonstrate that the reform proposal “provides a cost-effective safety net for America’s dairy farmers” and that it would represent “less than 0.20 of 1 percent of the cost of the overall farm bill.”

Although there is a policy “roadmap” for dairy reform, it remains to be seen how many stakeholders will choose to begin the journey.  Both proponents and opponents of the dairy primary dairy provisions will again have to navigate the political and policy landscape in the shadow of less funding.

Copyright © 2013 RDL & Associates, LLC.  All rights reserved.

Client Spotlight: Minnesota Agricultural Water Resource Center

The Minnesota Agricultural Water Resource Center (MAWRC) is a non-profit research and education organization dedicated to assisting Minnesota farmers in addressing water quality concerns.

Our members and supporters include agricultural organizations representing more than 50,000 farmers and those who advise them. Our network of Agricultural Watershed Councils allows farmers to lead discussions about water quality issues and solutions within their communities. The MAWRC is also the lead partner in Discovery Farms Minnesota, a farmer-led program combining water quality information and farming system information to help characterize the relationship between agricultural management and water quality.

These programs are led by Minnesota farmers and largely funded by Minnesota farmers and allied groups—Minnesota Agriculture Committed to Environmental Stewardship.

Additional information regarding the MAWRC can be accessed by visiting http://www.mawrc.org/index.html

Farm Policy Facts Releases “Farm Bill 101” Guide

Farm Policy Facts has released Farm Bill 101, a comprehensive guide to the nine titles that make up the Farm Bill.  The resource includes a title-by-title history and summary and is an essential tool for those wishing to better understand this complex package of agriculture, conservation, rural development, research and food assistance policies.

Farm Policy Facts is a diverse coalition of agricultural organizations formed to raise awareness about the positive role that agriculture plays in our economic recovery, the huge return investments taxpayers see from farm policy and the disproportionate funding cuts that agriculture has already shouldered.

The guide can be accessed by visiting http://content.inboxgroup.com/fpf/Farm-Bill-101-3-21-13.pdf

President of RDL & Associates Discusses Current State of the Farm Bill – Part 2 (via Rural Minnesota Radio)

Dave Ladd, President of RDL & Associates, was recently a guest on Rural Minnesota Radio discussing the status of the Federal Farm Bill.  Both parts 1 and 2 of the interview can be accessed by visiting http://www.ruralmn.org/rural-mn-radio/

Guest Commentary: Growing Broadband, on a Country Road (Andrew Garfinkel and V. Noah Campbell)

There’s a reason 100 million people in the U.S. still don’t have broadband service in their homes. It’s not simply because the economics don’t initially support development of broadband in rural, tribal and underserved markets. And it’s not because consumers don’t want it. Rather, studies suggest that the low rates of broadband adoption can be attributed to localized cultural and educational gaps, as well as a lack of digital literacy.

In many instances it will not be the large carriers that are able to address these issues, which predominantly affect low-income, rural and elderly users. If communities want to increase adoption, broadband needs to be homegrown, and local broadband advocates need to understand what’s missing in order to fill this telecommunications gap. Members of Congress can advance this development simply by understanding why broadband is important to their states and districts, and how communities can use federal tools like the Universal Service Fund to build data networks in unserved and underserved markets.

In today’s market, the fact is that if you live in a sparsely populated area you simply aren’t going to see Sprint, Verizon, AT&T or Clearwire knocking on your door offering you wired or wireless Internet or broadband data services. The rural “digital divide” is well-documented, and while urban centers often have several broadband providers and technology solutions to choose from, there is a clear gap in services when it comes to our less dense markets.

It’s up to community leaders or outside broadband advocates and vendors to help underserved communities understand what infrastructure is needed and who can provide these services.

Let’s stick with the basics: rural communities that lack broadband options, especially high-speed mobile data (defined loosely as greater than 1 MHz bandwidth and data rates greater than 1.5 Megabits per second), greatly suffer in terms of their ability to provide increasingly basic, data-enabled services. Schools and students are not able to rapidly access information and research from all over the world.

Rural physicians and nurse practitioners working in remote clinics cannot seek telehealth consultations from specialty physicians. Perhaps most strikingly, the ability for first responders to gain access to timely information about approaching certain types of emergencies is greatly compromised. That’s not including what a community can do with an energy Smart Grid and other data-based services.

The funding tools for building rural and tribal broadband already exist. It’s simply a matter of communities seeking to control their broadband options through the means that best suit them. The FCC’s USF exists to help entities develop broadband services in the most rural markets by filling funding gaps necessary to advanced wireless infrastructure.

It’s up to members of Congress working with local officials and other community leaders to develop a plan for maximizing the use of such funds to increase the availability and adoption of technologies that can greatly benefit rural Americans. Combined with continued outreach and education, the establishment of a local entity to control licensed spectrum and to pursue USF grants to build infrastructure is a winning approach to creating a true community network.

For those small communities without broadband expertise, outside consultants can be effective in rapidly increasing the expertise needed to develop these regional corporations and to pursue USF grant funds. Once the broadband corporation is formed, it can be managed locally or outsourced or run through a hybrid approach.

Indian country and rural areas nationally can open up many new areas of development and promote education and safety with access to broadband. From traditionally underserved tribal lands to those areas that have simply been left behind by the major providers, mobile broadband is an economic and social game-changer. Broadband has become an essential part of both urban and rural infrastructure — as critical as water, sewer and energy infrastructure.

Small businesses looking to establish in a rural area still want to sell their goods and services nationally. Businesses large and small, from manufacturers to sole practitioners, rely on high-speed Internet to compete in the global marketplace. The necessary telecommunications infrastructure is essential to drawing businesses to rural areas as well as to retain growing entities that must have broadband to expand.

If you’re in a remote area, don’t hold your breath waiting for a big broadband vendor to come to you. Congress has already created the tools in conjunction with the FCC to promote data coverage, but individual senators and representatives can make a difference by helping their local communities understand how to use these tools. Make a plan and build your way to the current state and future of telecommunications.

Andrew Garfinkel is a principal at Aronnax Public Strategies LLC. V. Noah Campbell is managing member, Radio Spectrum Group LLC.

Agriculture Stakeholder Letter to Senate Agriculture Committee in Support of Crop Insurance

More than 40 commodity groups, lending organizations, input suppliers and other agricultural industry stakeholders have sent a letter supporting meaningful and affordable crop insurance to members of the United States Senate and United States House of Representatives Agriculture Committees.

Stressing that federal crop insurance is the cornerstone of many farmers’ risk management portfolios, the letter expresses the signatories’ opposition to any changes to crop insurance that would discourage producer participation or undermine private sector delivery.

The text of the letter is included below:

___________________________________________________________________________________________________

March 12, 2013
U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow, Chairwoman                                                                   U.S. Senator Thad Cochran, Ranking Member
Committee on Agriculture, Committee on Agriculture,                                                  Committee on Agriculture, Committee on Agriculture,
Nutrition and Forestry                                                                                                           Nutrition and Forestry

Dear Chairwoman Stabenow and Ranking Member Cochran:

We write to express our support for strong, meaningful, and affordable crop insurance protection for this nation’s farmers and ranchers, and our opposition to any changes to crop insurance that would discourage producer participation or undermine private sector delivery.
In agriculture, one thing is for certain: crop loss will occur in some part of the United States each year. The significant, widespread crop losses of 2011 and 2012 have clearly demonstrated the need for crop insurance protection and the public-private partnership of program delivery. Farmers, ranchers, their lenders, input suppliers and other stakeholders agree that crop insurance protection should remain a viable, affordable tool for managing risk.
Crop insurance is the cornerstone of most farmers’ risk management portfolios. It is a product selected in advance and tailored to the individual producer, with that producer choosing his or her product and protection level, and paying a premium for that coverage. In contrast, ad hoc disaster assistance is an after-the-fact form of assistance paid for entirely by the taxpayer that may help a producer survive a disaster but does not help manage risk. Importantly, because of the protection crop insurance provides, there were no calls for ad hoc disaster assistance in 2012 as there have been in the past.
Federal crop insurance provides an effective risk management tool to farmers and ranchers of all sizes when they are facing losses beyond their control, reduces taxpayer risk exposure, makes hedging possible to help mitigate market volatility, and provides lenders with greater certainty that loans made to producers will be repaid. The public-private partnership of program delivery works very well, allowing for timely and outstanding service to producers when they need it the most and providing much-needed jobs across rural America.
After a very challenging 2012 crop year, and with increasing demands for food, fiber, feed and fuel worldwide, it makes little sense to reverse the great progress Congress has made in providing crop insurance protection to producers.
Thank you for your consideration of our views.

Sincerely,
Agricultural Retailers Association
American Association of Crop Insurers
American Bankers Association
American Farm Bureau Federation
American Insurance Association
American Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers
American Soybean Association
American Sugarbeet Growers Association
Association of Equipment Manufacturers
California Association of Winegrape Growers
Cooperative Network
Corn Refiners Association
Credit Union Association of the Dakotas
Crop Insurance Professionals Association
Crop Insurance and Reinsurance Bureau
Farm Credit Council
Independent Community Bankers of America
Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America
National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies
National Association of Professional Insurance Agents
National Association of Wheat Growers
National Barley Growers Association
National Cooperative Business Association
National Corn Growers Association
National Cotton Council
National Council of Farmer Cooperatives
National Farmers Union
National Grain and Feed Association
National Oilseed Processors Association
National Sorghum Producers
National Sunflower Association
North American Equipment Dealers Association
Reinsurance Association of America
Southwest Council of Agribusiness
The Fertilizer Institute
The Wisconsin Credit Union League
United Fresh Produce Association
US Apple Association
US Beet Sugar Association
US Canola Council
USA Dry Pea & Lentil Council
Western Growers
Western Peanut Growers Association
cc: All Members of the U.S. Senate

Next Week in the United States House Agriculture Committee

The U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Agriculture advises the following committee schedule:

Wednesday, March 20, 2013 – 10:00 a.m. EST  

1300 Longworth House Office Building

Washington, D.C.

Full Committee on Agriculture – Business Meeting  RE: To consider the following:

H.R. 634, the Business Risk Mitigation and Price Stabilization Act of 2013

H.R. 677, the Inter-Affiliate Swap Clarification Act

H.R. 742, the Swap Data Repository and Clearinghouse Indemnification Correction Act of 2013

H.R. 992, the Swaps Regulatory Improvement Act

H.R. 1003, To improve consideration by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission of the costs and benefits of its regulations and orders

H.R. 1038, the Public Power Risk Management Act of 2013

H.R.  ___, the Swap Jurisdiction Certainty Act

Visit the Committee Hearing and Business Meeting webpages for additional information as it is made available.

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 Agriculture Committee Press Office http://agriculture.house.gov