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September 2013 Archive for Dairy Talk

RSS By: Jim Dickrell, Dairy Today

Jim Dickrell is the editor of Dairy Today and is based in Monticello, Minn.

It’s the First Day of World Dairy Expo 2013

Sep 30, 2013

Good Morning!

It’s the first day of World Dairy Expo 2013—an exciting time for any of us involved in the dairy industry.

I’ve been coming to World Dairy Expo for something like three decades now, and still it is always fresh. Old friends to greet, new friends to meet, new products to evaluate, and cows—lots and lots of cows—to admire. For a dairy kid well into his 50s, it doesn’t get any better than that.

This year’s event proves to be another exciting show. There are 70 or so new commercial exhibitors—pushing the total beyond 800, eight virtual farm tours, eight dairy seminars and seven forage seminars. And then there are the cows—some 2,500 of them being shown in 10 breed shows and offered at auction in five breed sales.

That’s an awful lot of stuff to pack into five days. Our beefed-up editorial team is here to cover it all.

I drove down from Minneapolis on Sunday. Our Western Dairy Editor Catherine Merlo flew in from Bakersfield, Calif. as well. Dairy Today freelance writer Rick Mooney drove down from northern Wisconsin over the weekend. And to beef up our coverage this year, Wyatt Bechtel, our new associate editor, flew in from Kansas City late Sunday evening.

Cathy, Rick and I are old hands at World Dairy Expo. Collectively, we have more than 70 years of Expo experience among us. Cathy and I will be providing our usual Expo coverage, blogging each morning through this daily e-update on the new things we discover. Rick will be again taking his award-winning photos that we’ll share through our slide shows. Plus, he’s already gathering stories this week for next year’s Official World Dairy Expo Program, which Dairy Today publishes.

Wyatt is the new kid at the Coliseum—his first Expo ever. He graduated with honors from Kansas State in agricultural journalism, having interned at Certified Angus Beef, LLC in Manhattan, Kan. His most recent employment was with Vance Publishing, where he covered dairy and livestock at pubs such as Dairy Herd Management. He was raised on a ranch in the Flint Hills of Kansas, and as the son of a veterinarian, he managed the family’s cow herd and assisted in pharmaceutical research.

We’re excited to have Wyatt help us beef up our digital coverage here at World Dairy Expo. Look for his tweets on Twitter: @dairytoday. He’ll also be providing dairy and forage seminar and virtual farm tour coverage.

We certainly hope you’ll be able to spend a day or two or three with us here at World Dairy Expo. If you can, stop by the Dairy Today booth in the lobby hallway of the Exhibit Hall and say hello. If you can’t make Expo this year, check your e-mail inbox each morning. We’ll be there, bringing you the latest news and highlights from the world’s greatest dairy show—World Dairy Expo.

A Farm Bill Maybe?

Sep 20, 2013

Last week’s predictably partisan, harsh food stamp debate had one—and only one--redeeming quality.

Last week’s predictably partisan, harsh debate over food stamps and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) had one—and only one--redeeming quality. It now makes a farm bill possible.

Some, like House Ag Committee Ranking Minority Member Collin Peterson, (D-Minn.) says the bill will make the job of the House/Senate Conference Committee harder, if not impossible, to pass. He called last week’s exercise a waste of time. But at least it makes a farm bill possible.

Last week’s passage of a three-year nutrition bill would cut $40 billion from SNAP funding over 10 years, five times the amount the Senate agreed to cut in its version of the farm bill passed this summer. Unlike price negotiations on Pawn Stars, it’s doubtful Senate conferees will be willing to split the difference. But at least there’s something to haggle about.

Remember, all politics is local. House Republicans mostly hail from rural districts, where the passage of a farm bill is getting more and more critical as commodity prices fall. They will be faced with an interesting choice: Cut food stamps or have their constituents go without crop insurance, and in the case of dairy, little to no safety net.

Even SNAP cuts aren’t a slam dunk for rural Republicans. Look at the map of SNAP recipients across the country.  Every Congressional district in the country bleeds some shade of pink. Hunger doesn’t have a zip code.

That point was driven home to me hard last week. Our local Rotary Club is spearheading a drive to feed elementary students here in Monticello. The number of students who qualify for free or reduced price school lunches has climbed to 35% at our largest elementary school, up 50% since the Great Recession began.

It’s not that we’re an impoverished town. Monticello is a quasi-bedroom, commuter community 40 miles from Minneapolis. Our median household income is $65,000, some $8,000 higher than the Minnesota state average.

After some discreet conversations with kids, however, our school administrators realized that many of the kids who get free and reduced-price school lunch were going hungry on weekends. The extent of the problem is hard to pin down, but the Rotary Club and the Monticello Lions are each contributing $5,000 this year to provide "backpack" non-perishable meals for Saturdays and Sundays.

Republicans say their intent is not to withhold benefits from those truly in need, but to force able-bodied adults to seek, train for and get jobs. But the $4 billion per year cut to food stamps would kick about 3.8 million folks off food stamps. And while the cuts don’t affect school nutrition programs, some of the kids who qualify for free and reduced price school meals do so through the SNAP program.

Democrats are not blameless. They refuse to acknowledge any waste, fraud or abuse in the program—or to tighten any rules that would reduce that leakage. In 1999, the General Accounting Office estimated SNAP fraud at 9.86% of expenditures. Tightened rules dropped that rate to 5.84% in 2005, but it still accounted for losses of $1.7 billion. Because total SNAP expenditures reached nearly $80 billion last year, even a 5% fraud rate would equal $4 billion—about the amount Republicans want to cut from the program.

In the end, all of last week’s debate was so much airless rhetoric because neither Republicans nor Democrats really want to solve the problem. But it did inch us closer to closure on a new farm bill. For that, we should be grateful.

Immigration Reform’s Reluctant Majority

Sep 06, 2013

Speaker of the House John Boehner will not bring immigration reform to a vote until a majority of his party agrees to pass the measure.

Long gone are the giddy, heady days of June when the U.S. Senate passed a dairy-friendly immigration reform bill.

That bill directs $46.3 billion toward border security and a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented workers currently here. The bill requires that borders be secured before the clock to citizenship begins. It also creates a blue card for currently undocumented ag workers who would pay a modest $400 fine. In turn, they would be allowed to permanently remain in the country.

Unfortunately, despicably, the Senate version is dead on arrival in the House of Representatives. Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, will not bring immigration reform to a vote on the house floor until a majority of his party agrees to pass the measure.

That means 118 Republicans—a majority of the majority--will have to agree on some kind of reform package before the Speaker even brings immigration to a vote.

Nevertheless, the Republican leadership wants
to get immigration reform settled. The Hispanic vote gave President Obama a second term in 2012. And failure to act on immigration reform just cements more Hispanic votes in Democratic Party columns.

But Republican leadership is one thing, rank-and-file members are another. House Republicans are as skittish as feral cats. One would think safe, gerrymandered congressional districts would allow Republicans to act with impunity. The irony is that they can’t. They are scared to death of a primary election challenge from their Far Right, a.k.a. the Tea Party.

At best, Tea Partiers distrust the President and scoff at the thought that the Department of Homeland Security would secure the southern border. And they want every undocumented worker sent home.

They even want the kids of undocumented workers sent back to their parents’ native lands. Never mind that these kids grew up here, are here through no fault of their own and would be as foreign in Mexico as Tea Party kids would be in Luxemburg, Belgium or Germany.

Here’s the problem: If a Republican congressman or woman even hints of compromising on immigration reform, a Tea Party candidate will rise to challenge them in the primary next year. And given the nature of most state primaries, the current congressman or woman could lose.

There is one glimmer of hope. Although 2014 primary elections occur next spring and summer, the deadline to get on those primary ballots occurs much earlier: late winter to early spring. So, at some point--months before the general election in November 2014--the danger of a surprise Tea Party primary challenge goes to zero as the filing deadline passes.

That might give House Republicans the opening they need to pass some kind of immigration reform package. Will it be as favorable as the Senate bill passed in June of this year? Probably not.

But at least something could be passed. That would make a Senate/House Conference committee possible—and a final bill passable—next summer. All it takes is a majority of the majority.

You can find more on the Senate’s immigration reform bill here and here.

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