Friday, April 22, 2011

So Far, USDA Won't Release Land To Address Tight Feed Grain Supplies

Requests to free land in the federal Conservation Reserve Program for corn production seem to have fallen on deaf ears in the Obama administration.

Last week 25 House members joined NPPC and others in asking that farmers be allowed to grow crops temporarily on CRP land. The idea is to head off grain shortages that could play havoc with food prices later in the year and even lead to animal well-being issues.

This week Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack declined to endorse that concept, noting that the conservation program is still popular and that farmers are increasing corn acreage by switching land from other crops. (Still, USDA estimates only a 14-day reserve of corn stocks.) Speaking to reporters from Iowa, where he toured farms and agribusinesses, Vilsack also flatly rejected the idea that using corn for ethanol drives up food prices. In 2008, Vilsack said, only 10 percent of the food price increase resulted from ethanol.

Meanwhile, the senior Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee predicted the Conservation Reserve Program will be an issue in Congress next year, since reducing the program saves money. Minnesota Rep. Collin Peterson also told the Des Moines Register CRP acres may shrink on their own because USDA has tightened requirements for staying in the program. “If you have land that can be farmed, you’re not going to get back in (CRP),” he said.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

A Kinder, Gentler Lisa Jackson?

Perhaps there’s hope for Lisa Jackson yet. At the conclusion of her Iowa farm tour Tuesday, the embattled Environmental Protection Agency chief repeatedly praised the productivity and conservation efforts of the farmers she met.

Jackson also announced she has no immediate plans to regulate farm runoff in the Upper Mississippi River Basin the way her agency is doing in the Chesapeake Bay region. “I’m ruling out the need for us to move directly to a regulatory mechanism when we have folks stepping up … to do the conservation measures on their own,” she told reporters.

Jackson downplayed a disagreement between her agency and the Agriculture Department over the extent of the runoff problem in the Chesapeake. “We were modeling slightly different things,” she said, adding that in some areas of the Chesapeake municipal and suburban runoff is a bigger issue than farm runoff.

But Jackson—a lightning rod for criticism among agricultural interests—also said Iowa farmers aren’t completely opposed to additional EPA regulation of their industry. “No one person said, ‘Take EPA away,’” she said. “They want regulations to make sense.”

But that's the rub, isn't it?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


It seemed a long shot a few months ago, but it now appears Congress can simultaneously take up three trade agreements extremely important to America's pork producers.

U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk signaled completion of the trifecta Monday, when he announced Panama has satisfied U.S. concerns and that the Obama administration is preparing to send the agreement to Congress. The Panama deal will join already concluded agreements with Colombia and South Korea on the congressional agenda.

Together, the three long-pending agreements will generate more than $770 million in additional U.S. pork exports annually. That will increase hog prices by more than $11 per animal and create more than 10,000 pork industry jobs.

Two weeks ago, NPPC urged the administration to send all three free trade agreements to Congress as soon as possible and asked Congress to approve them before its August recess.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Sometimes You Just Gotta Wonder …

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson says it’s not true that she’s an urbanite with no sensitivity to farmers. And to prove her point she offered up her past service as -- we’re not making this up -- commissioner of environmental protection in New Jersey!

Now, we know New Jersey calls itself the Garden State. And, yes, they grow fruits and vegetables there and even have some dairy cows. But to suggest that serving in the New Jersey state government gives you credentials as an aggie is like saying you know about hog farming because you occasionally eat a pork chop.

Still, there may be hope for Jackson. In the same speech to farm journalists, the EPA chief said she recently visited Georgia and California and that she’s planning a trip to Iowa soon. Perhaps some Hawkeye State producers will see that she finally gets some fine particulate matter -- that's dust to most of us -- on her Manolo Blahniks -- those would be shoes!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Free That CRP Land – Please!

Perhaps Congress can succeed where farmers could not.

Twenty-five House members now have sent a letter to President Obama asking that farmers temporarily be allowed to grow feed grains on land in the Conservation Reserve Program. The idea is to head off a looming grain shortage that could play havoc with food prices later in the year.

Despite record production, grain supplies are dwindling as corn is siphoned off for other uses, including production of renewable fuels such as corn based-ethanol. (USDA recently estimated surplus corn supplies of just 14 days -- the lowest "carryover" on record.) Today the U.S. is a net ethanol exporter. Meanwhile, meat prices have risen nearly 7 percent in the last year, more than triple the inflation rate. “At a time when our nation is struggling economically, including high levels of unemployment, soaring prices will have a particularly devastating effect,” the House members said.

There are currently 32 million acres out of production on CRP contracts. A significant amount of those acres is environmentally non-sensitive land that could be used to produce crops if the Agriculture Department would release it. NPPC already made this request twice, once in a letter and once in a meeting with Secretary Tom Vilsack. NPPC also supported the April 8 congressional letter spearheaded by Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif.

Mr. Secretary?

Monday, April 11, 2011

Good News On Greenhouse Gas Regulation

Amid all the news last week about the federal budget, pork producers may have overlooked two significant votes on the Environmental Protection Agency’s plan to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

Last Thursday, the House voted, 255-172, to block EPA’s controversial greenhouse gas rule, which would be a disaster for pork producers. Nineteen Democrats joined the Republicans in voting to prevent the agency from issuing any regulation to address climate change through greenhouse gas emissions. A day earlier, the Senate rejected the same language, but it was on a razor-thin 50-50 vote, with three Democrats joining the Republicans in favor.

The House vote was a turnaround from last year, when that chamber approved the Obama administration’s cap-and-trade bill, and the Senate action was hardly a vote of confidence in EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson’s plan to regulate greenhouse gases. As one newspaper put it, EPA’s regulatory initiative is safe for now, but its prospects for long-term survival are dim. That’s good news for pork producers, for whom any effort to reduce greenhouse gases will trigger major increases in energy prices and production costs.