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August 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.

The GMO Attack

Aug 29, 2013

Perhaps, just perhaps, scientists, world leaders, and the ag community are ready to stand up to the outrageous, unjustified attacks on GM crops.

Prime Minister Cameron of the UK said it’s time to acknowledge the value of genetically engineered crops. Thousands of scientists from all over the world signed a petition to counter the GM critics. Nina Fedoroff, University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia said, "It’s long past time for scientists to stand up and shout. ‘No more lies – no more fear mongering.’ We’re talking about saving millions of lives." Finally, I think the ag community is beginning to realize that it’s time to fight back.

Even today, there are many countries that ban the cultivation of all genetically modified crops. They are not totally banned in Europe but they just as well could be.

On the positive side, I should report that the acceptance of GM crops is expanding. Biotech acreage in the U.S. continues to grow 93% of soy acres, 90% of corn, and 90% of cotton. We are exporting 40 billion dollars worth of GM production. Brazil is emerging as a biotech leader. In 2012, developing countries accounted for 52% of global biotech crop production.

Think about how much GMO food is being consumed now, with no bad effects. The critics of GMOs don’t have anything negative to point to. They can’t make their case. They just want to scare people.
My commentary today on GMOs was inspired by a front-page article in the New York Times. I am more inclined to expect the New York Times to publish some left-leaning review of the GM issue. But no. They are right on target.

The event that triggered their article was an attack on GM rice plants in the Philippines by a mob of protesters. The rice they pulled up by the roots is referred to as "Golden Rice." The rice is endowed with a gene from corn. With that gene added, the rice provides a source of vitamin A. The lack of that vital vitamin causes blindness in a quarter million children each year. You would think organizations like Green Peace would care about the children.

Anyway, I am hopeful that we have heard enough of the ignorant critics. We have science on our side. We care about people.


 

The Scoop on Venezuela

Aug 22, 2013

I found it fascinating to read a story in the Wall Street Journal this week – front page – about a successful Arkansas rice farmer. The story reads, "His good fortune springs from many roots, including an unlikely one: He is a prime beneficiary of the socialist economic policies of Hugo Chavez."

Here is what this is all about. Chavez’s heavy-handed socialist takeover of the Venezuelan economy has made a lot of money for capitalists in the U.S. and a lot of other countries. When Chavez came to power, he quickly began to nationalize many of the farms. Venezuela soon became a big net importer of rice. We expect to sell them 200 million dollars worth of rice this year, and not just rice, but also beef and a long list of other foods. Chavez continued to nationalize other industries. Capitalist countries have been the winners; U.S. Steel (Alcoa) is a big winner; Kimberly-Clark, with an order for 50 million rolls of toilet paper; Brazil’s ag exports to Venezuela have exploded.

You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to recognize that Chavez’s takeover of business after business has plunged the country into poverty. Their inflation is 42%. Their currency value is shrinking right before your eyes. Their budget deficit is worse than Greece.

The only thing that is keeping them afloat is oil. And, since they nationalized that business, their production has been falling. Although it is obvious that their government policies have failed, up until Chavez’s recent death, he continued to preach, "We are against capitalism."

So, what is my take on all of this? I would say that it is clear that Venezuela under Chavez is a prime example of how not to run a country. I have been to Venezuela before Chavez. It’s only a matter of time and the country will have to change. I have been to Cuba – another sister socialist state mired in poverty and going nowhere. I have been in South Korea – a rich, progressive nation. Just look north to North Korea and see a poor country falling further behind every day.

I think the global pie is big enough for everyone to prosper, but if you don’t follow the capitalist model, if you rely on the government to run your business, you don’t have a chance.


 

4 Big Issues on the Table

Aug 14, 2013

Here we are in the "dog days of August." Crops are heading towards maturity. They are even harvesting in the South. Our Members of Congress are back in their districts getting an "earful" from their constituents – President Obama is playing golf at Martha’s Vineyard.

The list of issues that should be dealt with here in Washington is long and serious.

#1. We will run out of money to fund our government obligations unless Congress raises the debt ceiling. Republicans say "fine" – we will vote to raise the debt ceiling (borrow more money) if we can also reduce our entitlement program obligations (Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security). Liberals do not want to touch that third rail of politics. How will we get this done? I don’t know, but I don’t expect a government shutdown.

#2. President Obama wants to pass a budget that gets rid of the sequestration cuts that have been in force across the board this year. In reality, that sequestration is what has forced a reduction in federal spending. We never would have had the courage otherwise. I don’t think Republicans will agree to give up on the sequestration cuts unless the Democrats make major spending concessions – which is very unlikely.

#3. Immigration reform is a hot topic, and a growing list of advocates are pushing to get it done. I hope we get it done. Agriculture needs the labor supply. On the border security question, I am not very excited about building a 60 billion dollar wall between the U.S. and Mexico; too much money, and I don’t like a wall. We may still find enough common ground to get this passed.

#4. Tax reform – we have the most complex screwed up Tax Code you can imagine. It is full of loopholes to give special breaks to certain groups. We need to get rid of the loopholes and cut the rates for everyone. We have seen bipartisan progress on tax reform. However, Senator Harry Reid says, "no way" unless it raises tax money.

Let us not forget – the farm bill is still sitting in limbo.

We shall see on all of these issues. There is a lot to do and little time left.


 

Forest Fires

Aug 07, 2013

Just like we’ve seen in past summers, large wildfires are leading the evening news as big tracts of federal forests go up in smoke. Large fires are burning in Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and elsewhere in the west. We’ve seen over 2.4 million acres burned so far, with more to come. Let’s not forget the lives lost, including more than 30 firefighters.

Even though the Forest Service manages about only 25% of the nation’s forests, they have more fires, and more acres burned, than other forests across the country. Some argue that the fires burning out west are solely the result of climate change.

Even if true (I don’t agree), that’s no excuse for neglecting to take necessary action to reduce the number of fires.

When forests burn catastrophically, they not only destroy valuable timber, these fires can char the soil, damage the watershed, and impede water yield for decades. Farmers, ranchers, and small towns all suffer. Even the wildlife, including birds and animals, are burned to death.

Our forests need to be thinned. The lack of harvest in our federal forests has let the number of trees per acre skyrocket. Many of our forests which should have between 80 and 100 trees per acre have stands with as many as 800. The situation gets worse the longer we allow our overstocked national forests to keep growing. Harvests plummeted in the late 1980s and got worse in the 1990s when Forest Management adopted a plan to reduce harvest rates, set aside millions of acres, and instituted "let it be" management that has allowed forests to overgrow, setting up the tinderbox we see every summer.

The Forest Service, which is part of the Department of Agriculture, can do better. They can manage these forests to prevent fires, produce timber, and protect our watershed and water supplies. Congress and the Secretary of Agriculture need to give the Forest Service the tools, and the resources, and tell them to get to work.
 

How Lucky We Are

Aug 02, 2013

August in Washington, D.C. – 100 degrees, 100 percent humidity…and I’m still grateful to be here. Have you seen the headlines lately? Syria: "100,000 dead; 2.5 million displaced; chemical weapons used against their own population." Egypt: "Military takeover; Civil war possible." "Women routinely raped and genital mutilation continues in parts of Africa and Asia." India: "23 children die after eating free school lunch."

Have you considered lately just how lucky we are – Americans living in this Promised Land in 2013? We live in the most prosperous nation in the history of the world. While we are coming out of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, unemployment is slowly dropping – now below 8 percent – and average household income in the U.S. has grown to over $50,000. Farm production and income are up with the U.S. still the major supplier of food to an increasingly hungry world.

Sure, things could be better, but we have very good schools, for the most part excellent healthcare, and a free democratic society that is still the envy of the world. We have the luxury to take electricity, water, and safe quality food for granted.

What can we do better? First, we must continue to be the leader of the free world but not the world’s policeman. We are out of Iraq and getting out of Afghanistan. The results in both instances have been significant losses of blood and treasure…yes, some reduction in terrorism, but little improvement in the lives and welfare of those we sought to help. We are properly staying out of the proxy civil war in Syria and should be careful about getting into another war any time soon.

Second, we must seriously continue the process of reducing our debt. Congress is cutting costs from the discretionary budget but remains paralyzed in any effort towards seriously cutting entitlements. Our current spending frenzy is not sustainable. The across-the-board cuts, or sequestration, have actually worked well despite all the dire predictions. The economy continues to improve. The American public wants the deficit addressed. Responsible politicians must show the bravery to follow through. This Fall, we will see these issues play out again during the debt ceiling debate.

Third, we need a farm bill that balances the farm program with food assistance. It is better to develop new jobs than it is to increase the number of food stamp recipients. On the other hand, farm programs for those with high incomes no longer make sense.

So, stop – take a deep breath and smell the roses. It’s time to enjoy and appreciate the time and place we are living in during this, our lifetime in America.
 

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