Farmers expressed relief this week that a long fight over federal dairy subsidies had ended with an overhaul that most thought would be fair and effective in keeping farms from going under during hard times.
Along with funding for food stamps, the overhaul was a key stumbling block that prevented passage last year of a new, five-year farm bill. The House approved compromise legislation Wednesday, and a Senate vote is expected soon.
The dairy fight largely centered on a provision that sought to limit milk production when there was excess. Some dairy farmers said they needed a way to balance supply and demand so they could get a reasonable price for milk and stay in business.
But opponents — including U.S. House Speaker John Boehner — said it worked against a free market. Wisconsin cheesemakers, the Greek yogurt industry in New York and other dairy processors said the provision would hamper their ability to get the milk they need to grow their businesses.
The issue was unlikely to affect consumer prices, but some farm groups accused processors of wanting to keep milk prices low for their own gain.
Instead of limiting milk production, the compromise legislation restricts farmers’ ability to buy subsidized insurance to cover their losses if they produce too much milk and cause prices to plummet.
Farmers, who had been divided over the production limits known as supply management, said the new legislation wasn’t perfect, but it was reasonable. They also said its passage would help bring stability to an industry rocked by volatile prices, drought and uncertainty after the previous farm bill expired in 2012. Lawmakers unable to agree on a bill passed a short extension last year.
“Once you know the rules of engagement, once you have something . . . it allows you to do business,” said Dean Strauss, a 42-year-old farmer who milks 1,900 cows in Sheboygan Falls, Wis.
Strauss and some other Wisconsin farmers had opposed supply management, worrying that limits triggered by a national milk glut would hurt their efforts to expand production to meet demand from Wisconsin cheesemakers. Dairy processors here already buy some milk from other states because they can’t get enough locally, and the Wisconsin Dairy Business Association lobbied heavily against production limits.
“We wanted a free market, which is what a lot of farmers want,” Strauss said. “Let us do our thing, and we’ll do it. We’re good at it.”
Even farmers opposed to supply management agreed reform was needed after 2009, when low milk prices and high feed costs squeezed many out of business. Existing programs did little to help, while fostering what many farmers said was a misperception that they were receiving taxpayer money they didn’t need.
The current dairy subsidy program pays farmers when milk prices sink beyond a certain point. But it does not consider farmers’ costs, and corn feed prices have risen in recent years because of drought and demand from ethanol manufacturers. Farmers getting a good price for milk still found themselves losing money.
The new farm bill would scrap that program in favor of subsidized insurance that would pay farmers when the difference between milk and feed prices grew too small. Farmers would pay premiums based on the difference, or margin, they wanted to insure. Options range from $4 to $8 per hundred pounds of milk.
Clark Hinsdale, 58, of Charlotte, Vt., said his 300 milking cows typically produce about 6 million pounds of milk per year. With a $10 margin, he has $600,000 for staff, fuel and other expenses. A $6 margin would give him $360,000 to cover the same costs.
“At a $6 margin, am I profitable? No, I’m not profitable,” Hinsdale said. “But at a $4 margin, I’m out of business.”
Hinsdale said he expects most lenders will require farmers to buy margin insurance to avoid defaults.
“You’d be foolhardy not to sign up for it,” added Ken Nobis, a 69-year-old dairy farmer in St. John’s, Mich.
Nobis had supported the supply management provision but said he was “fairly well satisfied” with the new bill, which attempts to avoid a market glut by capping how much insurance farmers can buy.
“It was worth the fight,” Nobis said. “Just because we didn’t get everything I thought we should have, I still think it’s an extremely significant change in dairy policy. I think it improves the safety net.”
Western United Dairymen, which represents California farmers, pushed for margin insurance in the 2008 farm bill but didn’t get it. CEO Michael Marsh said he was pleased by this year’s bill, although disappointed that big farms would pay higher premiums than smaller ones. California dairies tend to be larger than those in the Midwest and elsewhere.
Still, Marsh said his organization was encouraging members to take advantage of the new insurance program because “calamity can occur.”
Farmers in the nation’s top-milk producing state are struggling in their third year of drought, with many having to import hay when they would normally be grazing.
—Copyright 2014 Associated Press
Senate and House farm bill negotiators have announced an agreement regarding the 2014 Farm Bill. Following action by the House Rules Committee the bill is likely to be considered by the full House this Wednesday. In the Senate, the bill could be considered as early as tomorrow.
The full conference agreement can be accessed by visiting http://www.agri-pulse.com/uploaded/Farm-Bill-conference-summary-2014.pdf
For corn and soybean farmers struggling to keep a lid on tough-to-control weeds while producing high-yielding crops, the introduction of new products currently in the pipeline can’t happen soon enough. In early January, those farmers received some good news with the vote of confidence USDA provided for the Dow AgroSciences Enlist Weed Control System.
In a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS), USDA recommended full deregulation as its “preferred option” for the company’s new corn and soybean traits. If advanced, the proposal will give farmers a new version of seeds that can tolerate herbicides and provide another weapon in fighting glyphosate resistance.
Farmers, including Greg Goplerud from St. Ansgar, Iowa, look forward to having access to a new herbicide program that will provide over-the-top control of tough weeds such as giant ragweed, lambsquarters, Palmer amaranth and waterhemp. “[It] gives us another option of getting control on resistant weeds that we are starting to see now,” Goplerud says.
An online report by Trefis stock analysis service adds that Dow Chemical-sponsored third-party research shows that “cropland acres with weeds resistant to glyphosate-based herbicides [now total] more than 65 million acres.”
What to expect. Pending regulatory approval, the Enlist Weed Control System seed traits will be featured in Enlist corn, Enlist E3 soybeans and Enlist soybeans with Genuity Roundup Ready 2 Yield.
Farmers will use the new corn and soybean products in tandem with the company’s Enlist Duo herbicide, a proprietary blend of glyphosate and 2,4-D choline. The herbicide contains Colex-D technology, which reduces volatility and the potential for drift.
Along with glyphosate and 2,4-D tolerance, Enlist corn will have tolerance to the FOP class of herbicides, including quizalofop, the active ingredient in Assure II and Targa, respectively. Enlist soybeans, Enlist E3 soybeans and Enlist cotton will also have tolerance to glufosinate, the active ingredient in the Bayer CropScience LibertyLink system.
Commercial application of the Enlist Weed Control System requires that both the new seed traits and the new herbicide be approved by U.S. regulatory officials prior to use.
As of early January, the public was given 45 days to comment on the DEIS proposal. In response, Dow AgroSciences is inviting farmers to present feedback on the Enlist corn and soybean traits.
“We encourage growers, retailers and others to make their voices heard at USDA on the need for new weed control technology such as Enlist,” says Damon Palmer, Dow U.S. commercial leader for the system.
Palmer says the easiest way for farmers to sign a petition in support of Enlist is to go to www.advancefarming.com/petition.htm. Farmers can also check out the product information at www.enlist.com and follow the Twitter handle @EnlistOnline.
“Comment periods are a key way for farmers to make their voices heard in the regulatory process,” adds Bart Schott, former president of the National Corn Growers Association, in a press release.
Some individuals and environmental groups have expressed skepticism toward the move by USDA to deregulate the Enlist Weed Control System, citing concerns that the technology will contribute to increased weed-resistance issues and herbicide drift.
However, laboratory and in-field research the company conducted in 2013 shows that using Enlist Duo with Colex-D technology, in combination with a low-drift spray nozzle, can decrease physical drift by up to 90% when compared with a tank mix of glyphosate and traditional 2,4-D sprayed through a standard XR nozzle. Dow reports that Enlist Duo also will have up to a 96% reduction in volatility compared with traditional 2,4-D products.
“The importance of understanding the new technology and using the best management practices is pivotal to the on-farm success of the Enlist system,” Palmer says.
Pending regulatory approvals, Dow AgroSciences expects to launch Enlist corn and soybeans in 2015, with cotton to follow.
Pivotal year. In addition to the Enlist Weed Control System launch, 2015 also appears to be poised for the introduction of Monsanto Roundup Ready 2 Xtend Soybeans. This new trait and herbicide system will contain the Genuity Roundup Ready 2 Yield trait technology stacked with a trait tolerant to dicamba, as well as glyphosate herbicides. The herbicides will be paired in a premix called Roundup Xtend Herbicide.
Monsanto says the premix is designed to manage weeds before planting and as an over-the-top option on Roundup Ready 2 Xtend crops during the season. In addition to providing broad-spectrum weed control, the new herbicide formulation is designed to extend application and planting flexibility and lengthen the window for post-emergence applications.
Dow began the regulatory process for its 2,4-D-tolerant crop products more than a year before the Monsanto next-generation dicamba weed management technologies, Roundup Ready 2 Xtend soybean and Bollgard II XtendFlex cotton, notes Michelle Vigna, Roundup Ready Xtend System launch manager for Monsanto.
Vigna says because Dow submitted petitions to USDA for 2,4-D-tolerant corn and soybeans prior to Monsanto’s first dicamba-tolerant submission, USDA elected to maintain that order as it completes the DEIS process. “We are excited to see completion of the DEIS for Dow’s products and look forward to USDA reaching this same milestone with respect to its review of dicamba-tolerant products in the coming months,” Vigna says.
This article can be accessed by visiting http://www.agweb.com/article/hurry_up_and_wait_NAA_Rhonda_Brooks/
The long and winding road upon which the 2014 Farm Bill has been traveling may soon come to an end. According to Agri-Pulse, conferees and staff try to get a conference report approved by lawmakers. It is unlikely that there will be formal conference this week. Instead the Senate and House conferees might simply the conference report.
The bill could be introduced as early as tonight (Monday) night and a floor vote could be held as soon as this Wednesday night.
A handful of issues remain unresolved, such as country-of-origin labeling, various regulatory riders and details on dairy policy but progress has been made on other sticking points. For example, payment limits will likely set at a new cap of $125,000 per individual or $250,000 for a farm married couple, but it is unclear how these new limits would apply to the new commodity payment programs.
In addition, it appears as though the conference report will not include the dairy stabilization (supply management) provisions but will include authority for the Secretary of Agriculture to purchase any type of dairy products when margins fall below $4.00.
Reductions in nutrition spending appear to be approximately $8.6 billion over ten years, primarily by increasing the minimum threshold for low-income fuel assistance to households receiving food stamps.
Lawmakers are mulling a possible compromise to the dairy standoff that is holding up the farm bill, but dairy farmers aren’t buying it.
Unless one side backs down, or a compromise is found, the $1 trillion farm subsidy and food stamp bill, which has been delayed for years, could die.
Plans to vote on a bill have been delayed until at least late January due to the impasse.
The ongoing dairy standoff pits Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) against rural lawmakers led by House Agriculture Committee ranking member Collin Peterson (D-Minn.).
The compromise could allow farmers to choose between existing Milk Income Loss Contract (MILC) payments and the House version of a margin insurance program, but so far chief advocates for dairy farmers are resisting the idea.
Peterson wants the farm bill to include the Dairy Security Act, a combination of margin insurance for dairy farmers and a supply management limitation meant to prevent prices from plummeting. The margin insurance kicks in when the spread between cattle feed and milk prices shrinks below a set level.
The Senate-passed farm bill contains the full program, and farm bill negotiators had planned to include it in a compromise bill.
However, the House in 2013 approved an amendment to strip out the supply management portion after Boehner sent members a letter urging them to do so. Supporters of the amendment included free-market conservatives and urban liberals worried about the cost of milk for consumers.
Boehner last week said he was “confident” the farm bill conference would not include supply management. The comments were seen as a hardening of his position.
In reaction, Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) urged both sides to find an acceptable accommodation.
One idea being floated was first developed by academics John Newton and Cam Thraen at Ohio State University.
It would retain the expired MILC program from the 2008 farm bill as an option. MILC payments ended when the farm bill expired Sept. 30. Monthly payments were made to farmers when Boston’s milk price fell below $16.94 per hundredweight.
A dairy-using industry source said “the proposal looks doable on both the political and funding levels.” He argued that the MILC program will protect small farmers with 150 cows or fewer while avoiding creating a complex new program of supply management.
While acknowledging the compromise has been scored as costing more than the Senate bill, the source said cost could be fixed by adding fees.
The National Milk Producers Federation is not sold on the Ohio State proposal, however.
“We continue to hold that the Senate-passed Dairy Security Act — also in the current farm bill package — is the only dairy proposal that will provide an effective safety net for all of the nation’s dairy farmers while also protecting taxpayers from the possibility of excessive program costs,” said spokesman Chris Galen.
He added that, in addition to costing more than the Senate proposal, continuing MILC would not protect farmers adequately from risk.
“The main reason is that neither stand-alone margin insurance, nor the MILC and Honey OSU plan, addresses the underlying problem of market imbalances that lead to catastrophically low milk prices. Market stabilization is needed to correct the market imbalances that periodically occur in the dairy industry,” he said.
A source said Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who was crucial to developing the MILC program in 2002 and to the Senate plan, does not support the compromise idea at this time.
The United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has issued a long-awaited Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) regarding a key part of the Enlist Weed Control System when it advanced the Enlist corn and soybean traits to the next step in the regulatory process.
Over the past few years, USDA has prepared an extensive environmental evaluation of the Enlist crops and considered a wide range of alternatives. The public comment period regarding the Enlist DEIS was announced January 10, 2014 and is 45-days in duration. Following the comment period, APHIS will make a final decision regarding the regulatory status of the technology.
“Comment periods are a key way for farmers to make their voices heard in the regulatory process,” says Bart Schott, former president, National Corn Growers Association. “I would absolutely encourage growers to tell the USDA farmers need access to new technology like Enlist. Technology enables us to compete in the global economy.”
Pending regulatory approvals, Dow AgroSciences expects to launch Enlist corn and soybeans in 2015, with cotton to follow.
Public comments can be submitted by visiting: http://www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=APHIS-2013-0042 and the docket number is APHIS-2013-0042.
To sign a petition of support for this issue, visit http://www.advancefarming.com/petition2_form.htm
Ongoing development of renewable fuels continues to be a core issue for the agriculture sector and the state of Minnesota. Over the years a variety of policies have been enacted that directly and indirectly support the production and usage of biofuels. One such measure was the establishment of a Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), which establishes minimum usage requirements to guarantee a market for biofuels.
The Renewable Fuels Standard was created as part of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 and was expanded under the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. Under provisions contained in both pieces of legislation, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has the authority to waive the Renewable Fuels Standard requirements in whole or in part, in response to a petition by a state or a fuel provider, or on her own motion.
Unfortunately, it appears as though the EPA is poised to utilize its waiver authority to reduce biodiesel production to 1.28 billion gallons for 2014 and 2015.
The impact of government actions on our biodiesel industry is of particular interest to Minnesota agriculture. Since 2010, the growth of the biodiesel industry under the Renewable Fuel Standard has been a valuable part of our state’s economy, supporting 3,726 jobs and generating $606 million in economic activity statewide. Nationwide, biodiesel production has increased from about 25 million gallons in the early 2000s to a record 1.7 billion gallons in 2013.
According to the Biodiesel Board, biodiesel is produced using a broad variety of resources, many of them recycled and reclaimed oils and greases. This diversity has grown significantly in recent years, helping shape a nimble industry that is constantly searching for new technologies and feed stocks. In addition, it can be used in existing diesel engines without modification and is covered by all major engine manufacturers’ warranties, most often in blends of up to 5 percent or 20 percent biodiesel.
The EPA’s draft proposal is particularly challenging for biodiesel because excess biodiesel production from record volume of 1.7 billion gallons can be carried over and used for RFS compliance in 2014. As a result, the 1.28 billion gallon proposal could mean an effective market closer to 1 billion gallons.
At the very least, the EPA should establish an RFS volume that is at least consistent with last year’s anticipated production of 1.7 billion gallons. Under current EPA targets, biodiesel represents about 2.9 percent of all diesel fuel in the United States. Most modern diesel-powered engines allow fuel blends of at least 5 percent biodiesel and it will be years before biodiesel hits the 5 percent limit. By that time, advances in manufacturing may have raised that 5 percent threshold, pushing the “blend wall” out even further.
At this time, biodiesel is the only EPA-designated advanced biofuel (defined as a renewable fuel other than ethanol derived from cornstarch) with national commercial production. In practical terms, biodiesel is the only widely available biofuel that reduces greenhouse gas emissions by over 50 percent compared to traditional fuel sources.
It is somewhat ironic that the EPA has stated that biodiesel reduces greenhouse gas emissions by at least 57 percent and up to 86 percent when compared to petroleum diesel yet the Agency is proposing a reduction in biodiesel targets.
Furthermore, the increase in demand for soybean oil as a source for biodiesel has driven soybean production, decreasing the cost of soybean meal – a staple feedstock for the livestock sector. Both the National Pork Producers Council and the National Restaurant Association are supportive of continued investment in biodiesel.
Virtually every source of energy – from coal to hydroelectric, nuclear to wind, solar and geothermal energy – has been benefited from incentives in its early years. The guarantee of biodiesel demand over a specified period of time has reduced the risk of investing in this renewable biofuel and moved significant investment capital into the marketplace. The proposed biodiesel reductions send signals to investors that could threaten future growth in the industry, while damaging prospects for other future alternatives to petroleum.
Dave Ladd served as a Policy Advisor to former United States Senator Rod Grams. His company, RDL & Associates, assists clients in achieving their legislative and policy objectives via strategic communications, message development and navigation of complex matters of public policy.
The most obvious place to find the money to offset extended jobless benefits, a demand of the GOP, may be in the bill that provides food stamps, but that plan will first require a to-be-determined deal on the farm bill.
House Agriculture Chairman Frank D. Lucas didn’t mince words on the topic after a Wednesday meeting of the top four farm negotiators on the Senate side of Capitol Hill.
“I want this over with more than you can possibly imagine,” the Oklahoma Republican said.
Lucas said no one from leadership had approached him about using the expected savings from a farm agreement to offset the cost of extended unemployment benefits — or anything else.
“We on the conference have been focused on ag policy, and that’s not an issue that’s been brought to my attention by anybody,” Lucas said.
“Leadership is a wondrous and mysterious thing,” Lucas quipped, noting that during the recent budget negotiations, “House leadership made it quite clear that we weren’t a part of those … so I have not heard anything different.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., signaled Tuesday that he was open to the idea of linking farm savings with jobless benefits.
Several Senate Republicans who backed the initial vote to take up the bill have pushed for offsetting the roughly $6 billion cost of the three-month patch now pending before the Senate. But GOP ideas so far are non-starters on the Democratic side. A coalition led by Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., is pushing to eliminate a child tax credit for undocumented immigrants to pay for the unemployment extension and to undo a reduction in military retirement benefits in last month’s budget agreement.
Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., meanwhile, has called for a vote on delaying the health care law’s individual mandate for a year.
Reid’s said he’s willing to look at other offers, but in a statement, New York Democratic Sen. Charles E. Schumer said, “I don’t think there’s much enthusiasm for a three-month offset deal on our side.”
As for the Democrats’ suggested plan, Tuesday’s optimism that a farm bill conference report could be completed this week — with or without jobless benefits — waned on Wednesday.
Two Senate Agriculture Committee members suggested that is in part because of direct involvement by Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, on dairy programs.
“The speaker has been clear that supply management will not be in the final farm bill,” one House GOP leadership aide said of a contentious provision to regulate the production and price of milk in the United States. That Senate provision is also championed by House Agriculture ranking Democrat Collin C. Peterson of Minnesota. Peterson said when the conference first convened that he would get the votes to “bulldoze” dairy language favored by Boehner out of any deal.
“The speaker used to be on the Ag Committee, the once-powerful House Ag Committee, and was a very active participant. He is not a big supporter of the current dairy programs, so I think he has some strong feelings about that,” said Senate conferee Pat Roberts, R-Kan., who added, “I’ve not talked to John.”
Roberts is a former chairman of the House Agriculture panel. He was trumped for ranking member on the Senate panel in this Congress by Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss.
Senators outside the top four are venting their frustration about the package they think may emerge, with Iowa Republican Charles E. Grassley criticizing possible removal of an amendment he sponsored that also appeared in the House bill regarding the definition of “actively engaged” farming.
“All this debate between the two houses has been about how much to cut out of food stamps,” Grassley said. “So, they’re going to cut $8 billion from food stamps and still give hundreds of millions of dollars to millionaire farmers, and it just doesn’t seem equal.”
Cochran’s role has been a boon for a number of Southern interests, including maintaining a controversial Agriculture Department catfish inspection program from the last farm law that critics call duplicative.
“I don’t know where it fits in the laundry list of things — dairy, food stamps, everything else — but it apparently has become a significant issue,” Roberts said of the catfish debate.
Sen. John McCain, who filed an amendment to the Senate farm bill to kill the catfish program along with New Hampshire Democrat Jeanne Shaheen, pressed for an open conference vote on the program. The Arizona Republican noted that while he and Shaheen were blocked from a vote, the House bill contained the provision.
“The need to repeal the catfish program far outweighs whatever parochial reasons exist to prop up a small number of domestic catfish farmers,” McCain wrote in a letter to Cochran and Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich. “If Farm Bill conferees are denied the opportunity to vote against this reckless and wasteful catfish program, please be assured that I will work with my colleagues in the House and Senate to legislatively terminate it at every opportunity.”
Lucas declined to categorize any sort of agreement about handling of amendments like the catfish one at an open conference, saying such talk would be premature.
“Before you can have such a meeting, there are a number of issues that have to be sorted out, and I don’t know that we’re quite at that point yet, but we work every day, all day long, trying to make progress,” he said. “When we’re ready to have a public conference, we’ll talk about what’s on the agenda.”
This article can be viewed by visiting http://www.rollcall.com/news/jobless_benefits_farm_bill_hit_snags-230018-1.html?pg=1
The survival of many congressional Republicans could depend on their ag-policy votes
As Congress returns to take up the farm bill this month, pressure is finally growing on Republicans to pass a new bill for the most basic of reasons: political survival.
For the last several years, commodity prices have been so high that farmers haven’t been concerned about their safety net and farm leaders have found it impossible to get their members to put on the kind of grassroots campaigns that are usually required to get a bill enacted. Those high prices have allowed Republicans, particularly in the House, to engage in an endless debate over food stamps, formally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.
Now big crops and the Obama administration’s decision to consider lowering the volumetric requirements for corn-based ethanol and biodiesel under the renewable-fuel standard have sent commodity prices plummeting and raised questions about land values. As Bloomberg has reported, corn prices in 2013 experienced their biggest one-year drop since 1960 and wheat prices dropped the most in five years. Prices haven’t fallen below profitable levels yet, but farmers and their bankers now see that they need the certainty of a five-year bill, whatever its details.
Since the Democratic-controlled Senate passed a farm bill in 2012 and 2013 and the House passed it in 2013 after the most excruciating lengthy battle, there seems to be an understanding in political circles that if the conference report gets held up, rural voters will see it as the fault of the Republicans in general and the House Republicans in particular.
The evidence can already be seen in key Senate races. In December, Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., said that the vote of his expected opponent, GOP Rep. Tom Cotton, against a comprehensive farm bill last June because it didn’t cut food stamps enough had hurt Arkansas farmers. Pryor urged farmers to ask Cotton how he will vote on the conference report that will most certainly include both commodity programs and food stamps.
In Kentucky, Allison Lundergan Grimes, a Democrat running against Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, has charged in a TV ad that Congress’s slowness in passing a farm bill means “McConnell’s failure to lead hurts Kentucky farmers.” Grimes has also called McConnell’s vote against the Senate farm bill “shameful.”
McConnell, who also faces a Republican primary, justified his vote, telling reporters, “In the Senate bill, it just largely became a food-stamp bill with production agriculture kind of stuck on as an afterthought.”
Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., is not up for reelection in 2014, but she recently used the farm bill in a fundraising letter. “The failure to pass a strong farm bill could do serious damage to Wisconsin’s economy and to communities all over the country who depend on family farms moving local economies forward. Tea-party obstructionists can’t be allowed to play political games with America’s rural economy,” Baldwin wrote to her supporters.
The farm bill could also become an issue in Senate races in Georgia, Iowa, Louisiana, Montana, South Dakota, and West Virginia.
Democrats cite the 2012 Senate elections as reason to use the farm bill in their campaigns. There is evidence that the unwillingness of House Republicans to take up the farm bill in 2012 helped elect Democratic Sens. Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota, Jon Tester in Montana, Joe Donnelly in Indiana, and Claire McCaskill in Missouri.
Heitkamp and Tester repeatedly noted that their opponents, then-Reps. Rick Berg and Dennis Rehberg, failed to convince the Republican House leadership to bring up the farm bill.
McCaskill’s and Donnelly’s victories are usually attributed to the extreme social conservatism of their opponents. But McCaskill criticized her opponent, then-Rep. Todd Akin, R-Mo., for proposing a separation of food stamps and the farm program because it would be hard to pass a farm program-only bill.
Donnelly, a Democratic House member from Indiana when he was running for the Senate, pointed out that his opponent, Richard Mourdock, had accused then-Sen. Richard Lugar of driving up the price of gasoline by supporting Indiana ethanol during the Republican primary that Mourdock won. He also pointed out that Mourdock was backed by the Club for Growth and FreedomWorks, which both opposed the farm bill. One national ag leader said in an interview that while Indiana farmers usually vote Republican, corn producers felt compelled to say that Donnelly had been a stronger supporter of their interests than Mourdock.
Oddly enough, the House Republican intransigence on the farm bill has had more impact on Senate races than on the House races themselves. North Dakota and Montana, which have at-large districts, elected Republicans Kevin Cramer and Steve Daines to succeed Berg and Rehberg. In more populous states, the gerrymandering of districts may reduce the potential for Democrats to exploit the issue. David Wasserman of the Cook Political Report said he has not found the farm bill to be an issue in many House races so far this year. But an exception, Wasserman noted, is in Florida’s 2nd District where GOP Rep. Steve Southerland is running for reelection. Southerland has been accused of torpedoing the farm bill last year because he wrote the food stamp work-requirement amendment that led Democrats to vote against the first House version. Southerland has attracted a high-profile opponent, Gwen Graham, the daughter of former Democratic Sen. and Gov. Bob Graham.
The farm bill could also be a factor in Senate primaries. Senate Agriculture Committee ranking member Thad Cochran, R-Miss., would certainly benefit from the completion of a farm bill in his primary battle against a more conservative opponent.
The congressional farm-bill leaders—House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., who is chairing the conference; Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich.; House Agriculture ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn.; and Cochran—still have work to do. They have not yet released their framework bill or held a final public conference meeting, but they are expressing confidence that their product will be accepted. The bill could still become mired in a debate over whether its savings should be used to offset an extension of unemployment benefits.
But Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, told reporters last week that he expects Congress to send a bill to President Obama by the second week in January. That could be an optimistic time-frame, but it would certainly be welcomed by a lot of candidates running for election.
Contributing Editor Jerry Hagstrom is the founder and executive director of The Hagstrom Report, which may be found at www.HagstromReport.com.