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February 2010 Archive for John Block Reports from Washington

RSS By: John Block, AgWeb.com

John Block has dedicated his professional career to the fields of agriculture, food and health.

Fred The Farmer

Feb 25, 2010

All of the attention of the country has been on healthcare reform and cap and trade. So, when the President presented his budget plan, the U.S. Department of Agriculture portion didn’t get much more than a yawn. There are no surprises in it. President Obama wants to freeze all discretionary spending. Keep in mind that 70% of the USDA spending is for nutrition programs, including food stamps, school lunch, and WIC. That’s where the money goes. And I guarantee that with the recession, those programs will not be cut but will expand. The farm program spending will be pinched. Tighten your belt. That’s the way it is.
 
I get a little irritated when I read the commentaries and editorials in the big city newspapers saying the government should cut farm programs to deal with the federal deficit. If they took all the ag spending, it wouldn’t pay for the earmark money that Congress lavishes on their constituents.
 
The Ag part of the USDA budget represents .5 of 1 percent of the 3.8 trillion dollar fiscal 2011 budget. So don’t get excited about taking the ag money. It won’t buy you a cup of coffee.
 
House Ag Committee Chairman Collin Peterson is already planning to move ahead with hearings to draft the next farm bill. He wants to get ahead of the vultures if he can.
 
Now, having made clear that we don’t like to be picked on in agriculture, we certainly are prepared to do our share to get the nation’s fiscal house in order. We spend too much money. What if the government was Fred the farmer, and Fred made $32,000 per year. But Fred the farmer was spending $45,000 per year. He would just borrow the $13,000 he didn’t have. That is not unreasonable for a year or two. But it is not only unreasonable, it is unsustainable over 10 years. That is what our federal government plans to do. Like Fred, we will be broke.
Just freezing discretionary spending is a joke. We need to put a lid on all spending.
 
In closing, I would encourage you to access my website which archives my radio commentaries dating back 10 years and will go back 20 years when complete. Check on what I said back then. Go to www.johnblockreports.com.
 
Until next week, I am John Block in Washington.

Farmer Coops

Feb 18, 2010

Earlier this month, I spoke to a meeting of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives. Farmer cooperatives are essential to the foundation of rural America and always have been. On our farm in Illinois, our cooperative stands with us providing seed, herbicides, fertilizer, a market for our grain. Years ago, I served on the Coop Board. Private companies, stock companies, and coops are all part of the fabric of rural America.
 
Now, we should all be aware that there is serious concern among farmer coops. Here is the situation. Essential to the survival of farmer coops is the Capper-Volstead Act, which provides limited antitrust immunity.
 
Christine Varney, head of the Justice Department Antitrust Division said that “Capper-Volstead might not be the right law for the state of the industry at this time.” That statement questioning the very foundation of rural America sends a cold shiver up our spines in farm and ranch country.
 
The Justice Department and Department of Agriculture have scheduled a series of joint workshops with the first one to be held next month in Iowa on seed, then poultry in Alabama, dairy in Wisconsin, livestock in Colorado, and closing with consumer prices in Washington, DC in December.
 
I ask, what is this “witch hunt” all about? Are they going after a scalp just to brag that they did something?
 
American agriculture as an industry is the envy of the world. We are exporting one-third of our production to feed people around the world. In 1930, one farmer fed 10 people. Today, one farmer feeds 155 people. In 1930, it took 22% of our workforce to produce the food. Today, it takes only 2% of our workforce. In 1930, a family spent 25% of their income for food. Today, a family spends only 10% of their income for food. That’s a pretty impressive record. I submit that “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.”
 
Perhaps these hearings are harmless, but don’t take a chance.
 
Farmers, ranchers, and rural America need to stand up to the Justice Department and let them know we are doing just fine without their interference.
 
In closing, I would encourage you to access my website which archives my radio commentaries dating back 10 years and will go back 20 years when complete. Check on what I have been saying. Go to www.johnblockreports.com.
 
Until next week, I am John Block in Washington.

Secretary Vilsack Speaks

Feb 16, 2010
 
Last week, I moderated a panel of speakers for the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture. On that panel was Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, EPA Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe, and FDA Deputy Commissioner for Food Michael Taylor. After the panel members poke, they were open for questions. I asked questions, and so did some of the 50 State Directors of Agriculture in attendance.
 
Here is my evaluation. Secretary Vilsack was very comfortable speaking to us. He was relaxed and reassuring. The first issue was food safety and traceability. If we have a food safety problem, how do we trace it back to the source? His solution is to partnership with the states. “The process will be state led and state owned.” Unfortunately, I don’t think this will get the job done. Other developed countries have a mandatory system. Our exports will suffer unless we do the same.
 
I asked Secretary Vilsack about trade inasmuch as we have three trade agreements sitting on the shelf. The President needs to ask the Congress to ratify them. I thought his response was a little bit vague. He said, “we support trade agreements and hope Congress can move ahead.” President Obama, in his State of the Union address, said we would double our exports in 5 years. Well, it’s time to get started.
 
Secretary Vilsack reassured us that in writing the 2012 farm bill the Department of Agriculture would work closely with Ag Committee Chairmen Peterson and Lincoln. Also, the Secretary wanted us to know for certain that the U.S. would meet the biofuels targets.
 
If there was one overriding theme to his remarks, it would have to be that he “wants to wake up the country about the importance of rural America.” It’s hard to argue with that.
I asked Bob Perciasepe about the EPA power grab to regulate greenhouse gases. He reminded us that the greenhouse gas issue provides an opportunity for clean biofuels. He did acknowledge that the Supreme Court might have to decide in the end if EPA really has the authority to regulate the GHG.
 
I felt the presentations offered hope as we look ahead just as President Obama’s State of the Union address did. President Obama promised free trade, tax relief, domestic energy, oil, gas, and nuclear.
 
Well, we all know that words are cheap and the “proof will be in the pudding.”
 
Until next week, I am John Block in Washington.

Atrazine

Feb 07, 2010

When I take an inventory of the litany of assaults on commercial agriculture, I can hardly believe it. We are talking about an industry that does so much good. Our own citizens are well fed – perhaps too well fed. We export one-third of our production to feed the hungry around the world. We provide 10 percent of the energy needs of the nation. That is no small contribution. And yet, there is always someone or some organization trying to tell us what we can do and can’t do. It might be air, water property rights – maybe animal welfare.
 
What I want to focus on today is EPA’s priority to review the safety of atrazine. A complete review was just completed in 2006. The 2006 review ruled that atrazine herbicides pose “no harm that would result to the general U.S. population, infants, children or other major identifiable subgroups of consumers.” Atrazine has been used by crop farmers for 2 decades. Even EPA estimates that the herbicide saves growers 28 dollars per acre. Atrazine is an extremely valuable herbicide for corn, sugar cane, and sorghum growers, controlling weeds on more than half of our acres.
 
We need to defend our industry. Our critics cannot stand commercial agriculture. They stay up all night dreaming up ways to disrupt our business. They really want to ban all crop protection products and the genetic engineering that contributes to the increased productivity of agriculture.
 
This is just one of a long, long list of uncertainties that we face. How can we multiply confidence, investment, and jobs if we don’t have some certainty about the future? Are all of the tax breaks going to expire after this year? Where is the death tax headed? Will the renewable fuels standard be increased? What about the trade agreements sitting in limbo? Just to mention a few issues of uncertainty.
 
I’m getting a little irritated. Fortunately, I will be on the farm in Illinois this week. I’m sure that will boost my spirits. It always does.
 
Until next week, I am John Block in Washington.
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