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March 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.

Ag Week

Mar 25, 2010

Last week was “Ag Week” – a time to celebrate the enormous contribution that farmers, ranchers, and the whole of the ag industry bring to this country and the world. I don’t recall a time when telling this story was more important.
 
Last week, we were in the atrium of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Secretary Vilsack spoke to the gathering of ag supporters, including pork producers, corn growers, rice, cotton, 4-H, FFA, John Deere, ADM – ag leaders across the board.
 
This industry that does so much for mankind needs to recommit to work together. It does not serve our collective purpose to put food versus fuel. We don’t need small farms criticizing big farms. We don’t need a fight between organic, natural, or processed foods. All of agriculture has a role to play.
 
Secretary Vilsack said he wants to inform the urban people to “know your farmer, know your food.” That is a good thing, realizing that with each new generation we move another step away from the farm. Of the 535 voting Members of the U.S. Congress, only 9 have an ag background.
 
This is a new day. We have bigger farms and fewer farmers. The farms producing the bulk of the food are commercial farms today. They are businesses employing all the best technology available. That includes “precision farming” with GPS, hybrid seeds, genetic engineering, the best in crop protection. But although the farms are big, more than 90 percent are family farms. When I drive across my home state of Illinois, farm after farm passes by my windshield. Corn, wheat, soybeans, hogs, and cattle, but they are all family farms. We don’t have as many as we used to have. We are far more efficient than we used to be. Today’s farms are capital-intensive, not labor-intensive. That releases millions of our citizens to do other things. They can build the cars, fly the planes, truck the produce, and manufacture the computers.
 
I could sing the praises of agriculture all day. We are good at what we do.
 
Spring is here. It is time to join together and broadcast a unified message. We need to work together, and no more family fights.
 
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.

Biotechnology On The March

Mar 18, 2010

As we fought the weather challenge last fall, I couldn’t help but marvel at how the corn was still standing like trees – straight and tall. It was almost Christmas. Thirty or forty years ago, that corn we planted then would have been broken over and on the ground after suffering the severe weather that this past year’s corn took in stride.
 
The corn we plant now is not my grandfather’s corn. First came hybrid seeds. Then came chemicals to kill insects and pests that prey on your crop. But then came biotechnology.
We all marvel at the internet. Everyone has a cell phone. Well, the technological advancement in crop production is just as remarkable. In the last 25 years, corn production has shot up 40 percent. Other crops have also seen impressive yield increases.
 
I don’t know for sure where biotechnology is going to take us, but certainly it is going to be an exciting trip. We can count on using less energy, less chemicals, and more production. The number of acres planted to biotech crops is up to 330 million acres. North America, South America, Australia, China, and India are blanketed with biotech crops. Corn, cotton, soybeans, rice, and many more crops are everywhere. Even Europe that has fought the advancement of biotech is grudgingly giving ground. Recently, the European Union approved the growing of a biotech potato. They plan to open the door this summer to allow their member countries to decide on their own if they want to begin production of genetically modified crops. Stubborn Europe is behind the curve, but they aren’t blind and they can’t ignore where the world is headed.
 
We need to double crop production in the next 50 years. Innovation and the acceptance of new technology is the only way that we can satisfy the demand for food, feed, fuel, and fiber in the years ahead.
 
We must not allow the backward-looking critics of modern agriculture to win the day. Our obligation is to the 9 billion people that will be on this planet in 2050.
 
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.

Cuba and Toyota

Mar 10, 2010

Today, I have 2 issues that I want to talk about. And they are Cuba and Toyota. What do they have to do with American agriculture? I will explain.
 
Issue number 1 – Cuba – this week, the House Agriculture Committee heard testimony on establishing normal trade relations with Cuba. Thanks to Ag Committee Chairman Collin Peterson and Representative Jerry Moran of Kansas, the bill has more than 30 sponsors from both parties. The bill provides for normal trade and travel to Cuba.
 
For 50 years, we have tried to isolate Cuba while every other country in the world has traded and traveled freely to that country. What did we accomplish by trying to bully Cuba over 5 decades? Nothing. Maybe it is time to try something else. Cuba is no threat to us. Maybe building a commercial relationship and people exchange can help to change Cuba. It worked with China, Vietnam, Russia, etc. Did you know that we do not restrict our citizens from travel to any country in the world except Cuba? Do you want to go to Afghanistan, Vietnam, Iran, Syria? Go! But don’t ask to go to Cuba.
 
Issue number 2 – Toyota – here is the background. How many years ago was it? Nine years. We found a mad cow. Beef trade with Japan was stopped. Never mind that they found 9 mad cows of their own in Japan. They still stopped buying our beef. Now, after all of this time, we have recovered only one-third of the market that we once had. Now here’s the deal. 52 people have died driving “runaway” Toyota cars. How many people died eating our beef? This is the question brought up by former Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns before the Senate Commerce Committee. He was frustrated as Secretary of Agriculture because he couldn’t pry open the door to the Japanese market. Their excuse was a phony fear of mad cow disease. So, should we stop buying their cars now since they stopped buying our beef? “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.” I don’t support that retaliation, but we do have a beef with Japan.
 
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.

Chairman Collin Peterson

Mar 04, 2010

Last week, I stopped by the office of House Ag Committee Chairman Collin Peterson. I didn’t have any agenda. I just wanted to thank him for his leadership and effort to represent the agriculture industry.
 
Of course, as you might guess, we did talk about ag policy. Chairman Peterson has put together a bipartisan group of House Members that want to expand trade and travel with Cuba. I served on a panel of 4 that met with Congressional aides. We encouraged them to support trade with Cuba. We want to do our share to push the trade and travel issue to the front. Another subject that Chairman Peterson and I agreed on is the unfortunate reality that explosive federal government debt and farm program spending are on a collision course. We can’t escape. Direct payments, crop insurance, even conservation will feel the spending squeeze.
 
The Chairman said that the rising debt is going to require a new look at writing the next farm bill. He acknowledged that “ag spending is on the table.” But he wants to make sure that we are treated fairly and not required to do more than our share. I agree.
 
My experience over many years is that farm programs change. When I was Secretary of Agriculture, we had annual crop land set asides. For example, to qualify for price supports on corn, you had to set aside in grass 10 percent of your crop land. Some of the best land in the world was just sitting idle. We finally got rid of the set aside and started the Conservation Reserve. The Conservation Reserve takes land out of production but it is fragile land subject to erosion. We’ve made progress. There are more reforms that we need to make, and the budget pressures will force us to do that.
 
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.
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