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July 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.

House Passes Farm Program

Jul 17, 2013

As I said last week, "I’m headed to the farm in Illinois." I went to the farm twice in May, hoping we could get some corn planted. It rained both times. However, somehow, in between rains, we got it in the ground.

Last week as I surveyed the fields, I was pleasantly surprised. Population is good. Pollination is beginning. We could come out of this very difficult year with a reasonably good crop. That’s amazing, since we had 28 inches of rain in the first 6 months of this year. Our normal annual rainfall is 36 inches.

Even if you can control everything else, you can’t control the weather.

While in Illinois checking the crops and hogs, the House passed a farm bill. I was surprised at how quick they did it. The unexpected failure of their attempt to pass the bill 3 weeks ago was very embarrassing.

To get it passed, they split the food stamp (nutrition) portion of the bill off and passed the farm portion without one Democratic vote. Nancy Pelosi was furious. Others complained that the House was "providing hundreds of billions of dollars in ag subsidies but not a dime for the hungry." Even the major farm organizations were not happy. They did not want to split the bill that for 50 years had always combined the food programs with the farm supports.

Where do we go from here? If we ever get legislation, the House and Senate have to sit down and hammer out a bill. Senator Dick Durbin said, on Face the Nation Sunday, that "The House passed bill is dead without a nutrition title." The whole process is crazy.

Let’s step back and talk about what the real outcome may be.

First, farm supports, including crop insurance, will survive. Second, we are not going to deny food for the hungry. Food stamps will be funded.

How the Congress gets this done is another question. They may find a way to reunite the food and farm programs. If all fails, they could just extend the current farm program for another year. We’re operating under an extension now.

I am probably in the minority, but I think all of this chaos is good. It will force a serious debate about the structure and size of the food and farm programs.

Stay tuned.
 

Can We Get Anything Done?

Jul 10, 2013

 

With a long 4th of July weekend, I spent a little more time reading the paper and getting updated on what is going on in our Capitol City and the world. I’m not surprised. The government can’t get anything done and the world is in turmoil.

The farm bill in the House blew up. Can it be salvaged? Members are going to try. The money in the farm bill is 80% food stamps and 20% farm. The two sides have to work together to ever get the bill passed. Conservatives in the House don’t think there are enough cuts in the bill. They would cut both the food side and farm side more. Food stamp supporters don’t want any cuts.
The Senate bill cuts only 4 billion dollars on the food side where the failed House bill cut 20 billion dollars.

I still believe that we will get a bill passed, but it won’t be easy. It’s not like the old days. The nation’s population has moved into the cities. Only 2.2 million people work on farms. That’s less than 3% of the work force. There are no more than 40 House districts that could be classified as farm districts.

 

Farm prices are good. We have an abundance of food. So, the question is, why spend a lot of money on a farm program?

There is talk of splitting the farm bill into two bills – one for food and the other for farm. Farm organizations oppose that idea. If they should split the two, I would expect even deeper spending cuts.

On another front, there is some positive news on the horse slaughter question. Secretary Vilsack has authorized inspections of horse meat processing plants in New Mexico and Iowa. We have not been able to process horse meat since 2007. The news is not all positive. President Obama wants legislation to ban horse slaughter. He hasn’t indicated what to do with all the unwanted horses. Is turning them loose on the road or shipping them to Mexico for slaughter a better idea? Every Member of Congress that votes to ban slaughter should be presented with an unwanted horse on their door step. It should be their job to care for the unwanted horses.

The idea of wasting all of that meat, which is in demand in many countries, is wasteful. There are hungry people in the world.

Stay tuned. We’ll see if this government can get anything done. Don’t hold your breath.

 

Locks, Dams and Ports

Jul 03, 2013

Another 4th of July has come and gone. We can all be grateful for our "Land of the Free and Home of the Brave." We look to our leaders of our nation today to preserve it.

Before I focus on today’s priority issue, I want to congratulate the chosen winners of the World Food Prize. They are Marc Van Montagu, Mary Dell-Chilton, and Robert Fraley. Their research in biotechnology has revolutionized modern farming. When I look at my weed-free fields of corn and soy beans, I say thank you. I vividly remember visiting Monsanto and Robert Fraley in the early 1990s to just get a glimpse of what was on the horizon. Amazing! Now, we have the scientific weapons of GE crops to fight hunger and malnutrition.

Now, let’s turn to another serious issue – our inland waterway and port infrastructure. We have been neglecting our water system for years. We all remember the drought and struggle to keep the Mississippi River open for barge traffic last year.

The Army Corps of Engineers is responsible for maintaining and improving a network of 12,000 miles of inland waterways plus more than 900 ports. More than 60% of our farm exports move to port by waterways – nearly 80 million tons a years. We need a modern, efficient water system to move our corn, soy beans, wheat, etc. to markets around the world. It is worth noting that transporting product by waterways costs half as much as transport by rail.

Steve Stockton, representing the Corps of Engineers, spoke to our Agriculture Roundtable group recently at a luncheon. He made a convincing case for funding improvements in our waterway system. The ag industry has a lot at stake.

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee is working on a Water Resources Development Act. We need to push that Committee and the Congress to take action. A small 10 cents per gallon fuel tax on barge and the towing industry can fix a lot of locks and dams. It is a necessary user fee. It is time to act now.

 

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