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December 2013 Archive for John Block Reports from Washington

RSS By: John Block,

John Block has dedicated his professional career to the fields of agriculture, food and health.

Our Water Transportation

Dec 31, 2013

Happy New Year. I threw away my 2013 calendar and hung up the new one. There is a lot to get done in the New Year.

But, today I want to talk about one specific project. We need to modernize our water transportation system. Our locks and dams on the Upper Mississippi are old and inefficient. Our harbors need to be dredged and made ready to accommodate new ships that can carry 2 or 3 times as much cargo as today’s vessels. The Panama Canal is being widened and deepened to accommodate new, bigger ships.

Two-thirds of the ships going through the Panama Canal are U.S. ships. The future is bigger ships and our harbors need to be able to handle them. Today, only a handful of our ports can do that.
The last time I was back on the farm, I landed in Moline, Illinois – right on the Mississippi River.

The corn and soy beans that I grew this year were shipped down the Illinois River and then down the Mississippi. The grain goes through the locks all the way down to the Gulf of Mexico and, from there, to countries all over the world. We need to bring our waterway system up-to-date. The Army Corps of Engineers is responsible for 12,000 miles of inland waterways plus 900 ports.

I cannot overstate the importance of this project. Agriculture and our nation’s economy depend on our water system. More than half of our crops exported are shipped through the Gulf.

The House and Senate both have strong bipartisan support for the water system modernization that I’m talking about. The challenge will be to get the money appropriated to do the job. The funding of the project will be a combination of federal funds and state matching funds. Also, an increase in barge diesel fuel tax will be necessary. That is the same as our gas tax to build and repair our roads and bridges.

In this New Year, keep the pressure on the Congress to get this done.

Christmas – A Time For Reflection

Dec 24, 2013

I hope you had a Merry Christmas. It’s a wonderful time to bring families together and reflect on the past year. It’s a time to make plans for the New Year.

I think the country has a lot of pluses. We’re not in a war – not a real war. We’re bringing our troops home. I might add – it’s about time.

For decades, we have worried and rattled our sabers to ensure energy security. Hard to imagine, but we are now exporting natural gas. Some of the Eastern European countries want to buy it to reduce their reliance on Russia. We are number one in oil production. We’re pumping so much oil that some of the Middle East countries are getting worried. Gas prices have headed down. That gives our consumers more money to spend on computers and i-phones.

Our food is abundant, inexpensive, and delicious. That contributes to obesity, but we’ll take it over hunger.

Our economy seems to be growing with more jobs created and unemployment ticking down. USA is still the power and envy of the world.

Looking at rural America and agriculture – we are on a roll. Exports pushing 140 billion dollars and near record farm income. We can’t predict next year or the next, but our industry is in a financially strong position to ride the farm roller coaster.

As I reflect this Christmas, there are some changes in our country that give me concern. Maybe I’m too nostalgic for the way it used to be. I remember the one-room country school that I attended for 8 years and the school Christmas tree that we helped decorate. We spent some time every day before Christmas practicing the music and play we would perform the night of the school Christmas party. Our parents would all come. We would sing "Silent Night, Joy to the World, Oh Come All Ye Faithful." Of course, we had a Christmas scene of baby Jesus in the manger.

The change that bothers me is the tradition is under assault. Many schools don’t celebrate the birth of Christ, they don’t sing the hymns that we sang. Gone are the manger scenes from the court houses and other public places. It could be described as a war against Christmas.

I endorse tolerance for others and their beliefs, but this nation was founded as a Christian nation. Maybe our critics should respect that.

Have a wonderful year.

What’s In the Farm Bill?

Dec 19, 2013

The obvious issues in the farm bill are nutrition programs, crop insurance, and farm safety net supports. However, there are some important sections in the bill that could be almost as important that don’t get much attention.

The first one deals with trade. Trade accounts for 25% of U.S. farm receipts. When we plant our crops, we can count on seeing one-third of that production going to some other country. 95% of the world’s customers are not in the U.S. The growing world population, expected to surpass 9 billion by 2050, will need our food.

We are good at what we do, but we can be even better. The U.S. Department of Ag Trade function has not been significantly reorganized in 35 years. This is the time to reorganize the trade-related agencies, programs, and activities at the USDA. Create a new Under Secretary for Trade and Foreign Agriculture Affairs.

The Trade Under Secretary would report directly to the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture. This would give that individual a high-level position to lead in trade negotiations with senior foreign officials. That would give our Trade Secretary the power and respect to effectively fight to keep existing foreign markets open and gain access to new markets. It’s not easy. We are constantly facing a wall of non-tariff barriers holding back our exports.

Both the House and Senate have trade reorganization language in their farm bill proposals. The final bill needs to give the Department of Agriculture this new focus.

Another issue that I hope is fixed in the farm bill is the country of origin labeling (COOL) language. Either get rid of COOL altogether or, perhaps, approve a label that simply says "North American." COOL is our non-tariff barrier. A consistent trade policy should be to avoid such trade restrictions.

The final issue is California’s trade barrier. California has a law prohibiting the import of eggs from farms that don’t meet California’s strict hen housing requirements. There is some possibility that this trade barrier can be dealt with in the farm bill. If not – congratulations to Missouri’s Attorney General, who has announced that he intends to sue California for their egg restrictions.


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