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The Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018: Initial Review

Farm Doc Daily | Posted on December 20, 2018

For this initial review of the conference product, the discussion will focus on the four key mandatory titles in the farm bill.  The CBO cost estimate (score) reinforces the view that the bill is largely status quo.  CBO estimates very little net change in spending: an increase of $1.8 billion through 2023, but sustained reductions in assumed outlays from 2024-2028 result in only a $70 million increase over the entire 10-year budget window.

USDA will clamp down on work rules for food-stamp recipients

Politico | Posted on December 20, 2018

The Agriculture Department on Thursday proposed a rule to more strictly enforce existing work requirements on more food-stamp recipients by reining in states’ ability to waive time restrictions. The release of the rule comes on the same day President Donald Trump is expected to sign the farm bill into law — and the timing is no accident.The proposal, which was initially expected to be released before the midterm elections, is the administration’s response to concessions House Republicans made on food stamps in the final bill. The bill doesn’t mandate stricter work requirements or tighten eligibility criteria for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.Ultimately, the farm bill dispensed with all of the House GOP’s controversial SNAP proposals, and left out an effort by Senate Agriculture leaders that could have blocked USDA’s regulatory action.USDA’s proposal targets a group of SNAP participants known as able-bodied adults without dependents, or ABAWDs, which includes recipients ages 18 through 49 who are not disabled or caring for children or other dependents. As of 2016, they accounted for a small slice, 3.8 million, of the nearly 40 million Americans who receive SNAP benefits to help them purchase groceries.Under current law, ABAWDs can’t receive food stamps for longer than three months during a three-year period, unless they are working or enrolled in an education and training program for at least 80 hours a month. However, states can waive this time limit when unemployment is high or there aren’t enough jobs available.The proposed rule would tighten the criteria states must meet when applying for waivers from USDA, and it is projected to save an estimated $15 billion over a decade, Brandon Lipps, administrator of USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service, told reporters.An estimated 755,000 of these individuals would lose SNAP benefits over three years if the USDA proposal is implemented. Lipps said the number of areas across the country with waivers would shrink by 75 percent.

Bankers praise farm bill's credit title

DTN | Posted on December 19, 2018

The Agricultural Act of 2018 raises FSA loan guarantees to $1.75 million from the current $1.399 million. It also doubles the loan limit for direct farm ownership, or real estate, loans to $600,000 and increases the limit on direct farm operating loans by $100,000 to $400,000. Elfmann said lenders often use a combination of banking products to meet borrowers' needs. With an FSA loan guarantee, the bank or another lender closes the loan and advances the funds to the borrower. In the event the borrower defaults, FSA reimburses the bank. A direct loan is funded by the FSA, which also makes and services the loan.Mark Scanlan, senior vice president of agriculture and rural policy at Independent Community Bankers of America, said the higher limits will help community banks serve more borrowers."There's been a slight decline in the demand for guaranteed farm loans in recent years for a variety of reasons, but one of those reasons is the payment limit. So this will help serve those types of farmers, particularly when we have this continued decline in farm income levels," Scanlan told DTN.Farm incomes have declined since hitting their peak in 2013, and USDA forecasts farm incomes in 2018 will be down 12% from 2017. It's below the average net farm income for the past 17 years.

The ARC farm program failed as a widespread safety net for agriculture in 2017

Ag Policy | Posted on December 18, 2018

A couple of weeks ago, a reader from Iowa wrote us, “I stopped into the Farm Service Agency office today…to see if there would be any farm subsidies this year, (as I hadn’t received any yet). They said there would be none for my county and most other counties [in Iowa].  “So, your predictions about ARC [Agricultural Risk Coverage] have come true, a bit more dramatically than I expected.”He then asked, “I wonder what it’s like in other states?”That piqued our interest, so we decided to look up the numbers and share with all of our readers what we found. First, let’s start with Iowa. Farmers in 12 of Iowa’s 99 counties (12 percent) received county ARC payments for corn. With soybeans, the picture is much the same, 11 out of the 99 counties (11 percent). As for wheat, no Iowa counties were listed for ARC payments.Our next step was to look at the other two I’s of the triple I corn belt states, Illinois and Indiana.In Illinois, the picture was not much brighter. For corn, 18 counties (18 percent) received ARC payments, while 19 (19 percent) received soybean payments. In addition, farmers in 37 (36 percent) of the state’s counties received ARC payments for wheat.Moving one state east, the picture for corn remained much the same; 17 Indiana counties (19 percent) received ARC payments. With soybeans, the picture is quite different. Farmers in 35 counties (38 percent of the state’s counties) received ARC payments and a whopping 72 counties (78 percent) qualified for wheat ARC payments.The state with the highest percentage of counties receiving ARC payments for corn was Maine (93.8) followed by South Dakota (67 percent), North Dakota (57 percent), and Kansas (52.4 percent). For soybeans the ranking begins with Ohio (65 percent) followed by South Dakota (59 percent), North Dakota (57 percent), and Michigan (52 percent). Turning to wheat, Idaho (86.4 percent) leads the list of states with the highest percentage of counties receiving ARC payments, with North Dakota (85 percent), South Dakota (80 percent) and South Carolina (80 percent) following close behind.

Groups push for ag to be included in any U.S./EU trade deal

Meating Place (free registration required) | Posted on December 18, 2018

An ad hoc coalition of more than 50 food and agriculture organizations is insisting that any trade deal between the United States and the European Union include agriculture and that it address the EU’s restrictive tariff and non-tariff barriers to U.S. farm products. In a letter sent to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, 53 organizations, led by the National Pork Producers Council, urged the Trump administration “to continue stressing to [the EU] that only a truly comprehensive agreement will be acceptable to the Administration and, ultimately, to the U.S. Congress.”The EU has expressed reluctance to include agriculture – as it did during earlier negotiations on the U.S.-EU Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership – knowing it would require lifting import barriers that protect EU farmers and removing regulatory measures that are seen as scientifically unjustified or overly restrictive.The United States had a trade deficit in food and agricultural goods of nearly $11 billion last year. That deficit was $1.8 billion in 2000.

Stabenow: Farm Bill would benefit Detroit's urban agriculture

The Detroit News | Posted on December 18, 2018

Democratic U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow on Monday championed reforms to encourage urban agriculture in the 2018 Farm Bill. Stabenow, a ranking member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, urged President Donald Trump to sign the bipartisan legislation that would widen a safety net for farmers, encourage conservation efforts and protect food assistance programs.Both chambers of Congress passed the bill by wide margins last week."I see through the lens of Michigan, and Michigan really is on every page," Stabenow said during a press conference at Eastern Market. "I'm proud we were able to get this done in the midst of all of what has been happening in Congress...This is something that will be a wonderful Christmas present for many, many, many people."Of particular importance for places such as Detroit, the bill would create the Office of Urban Agriculture in the U.S. Department of Agriculture to support urban farming and job creation.

U.S. ethanol producers seek pricing reform as markets plunge, ADM sells

Reuters | Posted on December 18, 2018

U.S. ethanol producers stung by collapsing prices are seeking changes to the way benchmark values for the biofuel are established, arguing the current system used by exchanges is vulnerable to manipulation, according to sources. The push comes as the key farm belt industry struggles with weak demand growth, a loss of export markets due to the U.S. trade war with China, and aggressive selling by global commodities giant Archer Daniels Midland Co that have pushed ethanol prices to 13-year lows.Top U.S. ethanol producer POET LLC has asked the CME Group to change its pricing method for a key swap contract used by the industry to hedge, and the rival ICE exchange is contemplating offering an alternative to CME’s product after discussions with biofuels companies, according to three sources familiar with the moves who asked not to be named because they are not authorized to speak publicly.

USMCA will cause US ag exports to decline by $1.8B

Watt AgNet | Posted on November 22, 2018

A new report says the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) will expand U.S. agricultural exports by $450 million, but those gains will be negated by retaliatory tariffs by Canada and Mexico against the U.S. The study, “How U.S. Agriculture Will Fare Under the USMCA and Retaliatory Tariffs,” was commissioned by agricultural policy institute Farm Foundation and completed by Purdue University agricultural economists Dominique van der Mensbrugghe, Ph.D., Wallace Tyner, Ph.D., and Maksym Chepeliev, Ph.D.The analysis says retaliatory tariffs will cause U.S. agricultural exports to decline by $1.8 billion and that, with continued tariffs from China and other trading partners, “the United States would see a decline in agricultural exports of $7.9 billion, thus overwhelming the small positive gains from USMCA.”

Beijing issues rare public warning on 'serious' swine fever crisis

CNN | Posted on November 22, 2018

Chinese authorities have announced strict new measures in an attempt to halt the country's fast-growing African swine fever crisis, which has spread to 18 provinces and led to the culling of more than 200,000 pigs.Days after acknowledging the situation was "serious," the Chinese Agricultural Ministry on Friday reported the first outbreak of the disease in the southwestern province of Sichuan in a farm of 40 pigs.The news is especially concerning for officials as Sichuan is the top swine-producing region in China -- a country that produces half of the world's pigs with a current population of around 500 million swine.Although the disease poses no direct danger to human health, its arrival and spread in China have increasingly threatened the pork industry, with major potential impact on supplies and prices in coming months.

The Supreme Court agreed to hear the census citizenship case. Here’s why that matters.

Washington Post | Posted on November 22, 2018

Department of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross announced in March that a question about citizenship would be added to the 2020 Census. Wide-ranging opposition followed — from local and state government officials, members of Congress and former Census Bureau directors, all citing consequences for decades to come. Historically, the Census Bureau has worked to guarantee the most accurate count of the entire United States population, notwithstanding citizenship. Census-recorded data has been used to determine how to draw congressional districts, allocate federal funds, and for national disaster and epidemic preparedness.Ross, embroiled in a multistate lawsuit to block the question, has been accused of adding it for partisan purposes. Key issues in the case have made their way to the Supreme Court.The census, which is mandated by the Constitution, may be necessary to a well-functioning democracy, but can this last-minute addition to the survey truly have such dramatic costs?Yes, and one that affects all U.S. residents, including legally documented populations.The most commonly discussed consequences of an undercount are its effect on congressional districts and federal funding. Robert Shapiro, senior policy fellow at the Georgetown University McDonough School of Business, estimates that more than 24 million people could avoid the 2020 Census to keep their information from being shared with law enforcement. This would affect federal programs, such as Medicaid, Section 8 Housing and school lunch programs.