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October 2013 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.

Issues Of The Day

Oct 31, 2013

Farm bill negotiations are not the only important thing going on right now. Ballots are being collected in Washington State that could force labels on foods and beverages that contain GMOs. Will it pass? We don’t know but if it does, it will result in higher prices for food in Washington State. Once one state has that labeling requirement, it could be forced on other states.

It is estimated that as much as 80% of our food has some GMO corn, soy, or sugar included in the finished product. The proponents of labeling have only one objective and that is to stigmatize GMOs. We have been eating GE foods for 20 years. No one has suffered.

Another very important action taken by the U.S. Congress could have a huge impact on our farm exports. The House, by a wide bipartisan margin, approved a waterway bill and now will be negotiating with the Senate to work out the differences. The antiquated locks and dams on our rivers desperately need to be repaired. Our ports need to be deepened to accommodate new and bigger ships. Get it done.

A West Virginia chicken farmer beat EPA in a court case. Lois Alt has a concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO). EPA was insisting that she be required to obtain a Clean Water Act permit. They wanted to shut her down because of runoff and ventilation fan exhaust. Fortunately, the judge ruled against EPA. This reminds me that sometimes the exhaust from my hog barns doesn’t smell so good. My hog barns only smell bad when pork prices are low. Prices now are pretty good.

As the farm bill is being conferenced, keep an eye on an amendment in the House bill, compliments of Steven King (R-IA). The amendment, if it survives the conference, keeps the trade between states open. It would supersede a California law that does not allow eggs to be sold in California unless the hens are housed in accordance with California law. That is flat out restraint of trade. I thought we were supposed to have free trade between states.

That’s all for the week.

 

6 Former Secretaries of Agriculture Lecture

Oct 25, 2013

Earlier this week, I was a speaker at Kansas State University. I wasn’t alone. I shared the podium with 5 other former Secretaries of Agriculture – Mike Espy and Dan Glickman (Democrats) and Ann Veneman, Mike Johanns, and Ed Schafer (Republicans).

It wasn’t just any old town hall event. It was the Landon Lecture, which was referred to by President Bush as "America’s most distinguished lecture series." Every President, going back as far as Richard Nixon has spoken over the years. All kinds of names that you would recognize have spoken at the Landon Lecture. (Robert Kennedy, Dan Rather, Bob Dole, Jesse Jackson, Henry Kissinger, Mikhail Gorbachev, every U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, just to name a few.

Our program lasted 2 hours. In that time, we were able to cover the landscape of issues. Here are some that were discussed:

1. The farm bill – all of us predicted that we would get a new farm bill, but no one knew just how the Congress would get it done.

2. Food stamps – Ann Veneman said there was legitimate concern that "the program has gone from about 20 million people on food stamps in 2008 to 47 million people today." Secretary Espy said, with the obesity problem, "people on food stamps should not be allowed to buy fatty foods or snacks on the taxpayers’ dime."

I had a suggestion. I said, in the school lunch program, students should weigh in. If they are too heavy, they go to the salad bar. If they are not heavy, they can have biscuits and gravy. Now, I know that we will never do that. But, after all, it is a government program and we should not be contributing to our obesity problem.

3. Biotechnology – with the increase in global population, we will need to double food production by 2050. I said we could not meet that goal without biotechnology. Dan Glickman seemed to suggest that biotechnology may not be the best solution in some cases. Mike Johanns said that we need biotechnology, but, in Africa, if they just had hybrid seed and fertilization, it would make a big difference.

4. Gridlock in Washington, D.C. – it was pretty well accepted by all of us that the gridlock is a product of serious differences of what government should and should not do. Also, there is too much money in politics and government programs. Politicians spend the taxpayers’ money to get elected. Money buys votes. Not good!

 

World Food Prize

Oct 10, 2013

All the talk here in Washington, D.C. is about the risk of default and the concern about shutting down the government. I’m not going to try to outline the process that will solve this impasse. However, I do predict that we will not default and we will raise the debt ceiling. And I hope we do something to put a lid on our growing debt. Enough on that subject for today.

Let’s talk about farm stuff. I am on the farm this week harvesting corn and soybeans. Here is what I see.

The tall, sturdy stalks of corn are standing like trees. The crop is so healthy. No disease. No corn bore. No root worm damage. No weeds. It is a beautiful sight. We planted and raised this corn crop with far less tillage than we did 20 years ago. Less fuel. Less greenhouse gases released. Much less labor.

Our yields are triple what they once were. And the American consumer has the bounty of the most inexpensive and safest food in the world. How did this happen? What is behind this revolution? The answer is genetically engineered crops.

Next week in Des Moines, Iowa, the World Food Prize Foundation will honor three scientists that gave us this bounty. The World Food Prize recognizes scientists and leaders that have given us major advances in global food security. I look back to 1970 when Norman Borlaug was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, leading the "green revolution" which increased food production and saved millions from starvation in India.

One of the awardees this year is Robert Fraley, Monsanto’s Chief Technology Officer. Fraley said, "For many, it will serve as a base for legitimizing the adoption of the technology in countries and crops around the world."

Turning the spotlight on the value of GE crops is very important because the critics are out there on the attack. The growing population of the world can not be fed without the adoption of new technology. We can never produce enough if we farm the way we did when I was a kid.


Until next week, I am John Block in Washington, D.C.
 

Farm vs. Washington, D.C.

Oct 03, 2013

I returned to Washington, D.C. earlier this week from the farm in Illinois. The farm visit, as always, was so refreshing. To escape the political fights and federal government dysfunction helped to clear my head.

First, I believe that the federal government’s priority battle should be to deal with our debt problem. Our federal government is 17 trillion dollars in debt and rising every day. We have assumed more obligations than we can afford. We will run out of money some time this month. What can we do then?

As we have done many times before, the Congress will have to raise the debt ceiling so that we can borrow more money. Why don’t we reform the entitlement programs – Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid? When Social Security was passed under Franklin Roosevelt, life expectancy was 64 years. Social Security started paying at age 65. Half of the projected recipients were already dead. Now, we live until eighty. It doesn’t add up anymore.

Instead of dealing with our unsustainable spending problem, the fight is over Obamacare. That’s the wrong fight. Obamacare, if it is as bad as a lot of people think, will collapse anyway.

There are other priorities. What about the farm bill? Also, we desperately need tax reform. There isn’t anything as screwed up as our tax system. We don’t seem to have the time or political will to solve the immigration problem. And, just this week I read where President Obama is giving 320 million dollars of our tax money to bail out Detroit. Is it our fault that Detroit is broke? How many other cities or even states would like a government handout?
OK – that’s enough about our federal government.

On the farm front – there is nothing as exciting and rewarding as harvest. A year of hard work, investment, and anxiety is finally coming in. Corn and bean yields are better than expected. Should we be surprised that prices are down? Secretary Earl Butz always said the cure for high prices is higher prices and the cure for low prices is low prices. We are witnessing the market at work. I stepped into the hog barn – baby pigs born every day. While I was there, we sent a trailer load of 270-pound hogs to market.

Thank God that I have my farm – my escape heaven.

 

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