COCHRAN TO BECOME SENATE AG COMMITTEE RANKING MEMBER... Senator Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) will become the Ranking Member on the Senate Ag Committee. Current Ranking Member Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) announced he will nominate Cochran for the post this afternoon and says he hopes for a unanimous vote of support for Cochran, who had reached his time limit to serve as Ranking Member on the Senate Appropriations Committee. Roberts will become the Ranking Member on the Senate Rules Committee, a post he says will be "very important" with the issues ahead for the U.S. Senate. Click here for more.
DROUGHT MONITOR REFLECTS LITTLE CHANGE... According to the National Drought Monitor, 27.22% of the contiguous U.S. is drought-free, which is a modest improvement from 26.16% last week. Around a two-percentage-point improvement was noted in the South, with little change reported across the Upper Plains and Midwest.
The monitor notes additional snow fell across parts of the Central Plains -- enough to stall further deterioration but insufficient to improve the drought depiction. "Precipitation in Oklahoma had little impact on reservoir and lake levels, and agricultural reports indicated that soil moisture remained depleted and the condition of small grains and canola across the state continued to deteriorate," it states. "On the other hand, even though precipitation was generally below normal across the western Great Lakes this week, above-normal precipitation in recent weeks prompted the contraction of severe drought from Lake County, Illinois and Kenosha, Racine, and Walworth counties in Wisconsin where long-term deficits have shrunk considerably." Click here for related maps.
NEAR-TERM WEATHER TREND 'EL NINO-LIKE'... The forecast for the upcoming week calls for strong warming across the northern Midwest and upper Great Plains with strong cooling and increased precip changes for the South, says meteorologist Gail Martell of MartellCropProjections.com. "Unseasonable northern warmth and southern cooling is just the opposite of December weather conditions," she notes. "The weather pattern in January is contrary to the classic winter La Nina, which calls for drought in the southern United States and warmer-than-average temperatures. This must be what ENSO-neutral weather looks like -- a fluctuation between La Nina and El Nino weather."
NCGA, ASA RESPOND TO FARM BILL EXTENSION... National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) President Pam Johnson released the following scathing statement in response to Congress' inability to pass a new farm bill in 2012:
"America’s farmers have clearly made known the importance and need of a new farm bill in 2012. Once again Congress’ failure to act pushes agriculture aside hampering farmers’ ability to make sound business decisions for the next five years. The National Corn Growers Association is tired of the endless excuses and lack of accountability. The system is clearly broken. We hope the 113th Congress proves to be more fruitful and that the leaders in Congress can place petty partisanship aside to create a bill that benefits all of America."
The American Soybean Association's (ASA) statement regarding the farm bill extension was milder. ASA says, "We are very disappointed that Congress was not able to come together and pass a new bill in the best interests of farmers. However, the extension of the 2008 Farm Bill allows important foreign market development, disaster assistance, and farm safety net programs to continue." ASA also expressed approval of the inclusion of "a meaningful solution to estate tax challenges" and welcomed the extension of the biodiesel tax incentive included in the fiscal cliff deal, saying both of these are top priorities for the association.
LUCAS: FARM BILL MARKUP MAY BE DELAYED... Work and markup on a new farm bill by the House Ag Committee may be postponed beyond the currently planned late-February start given the potential that spending and entitlement cut issues could be the focus for the House at that point, House Ag Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) told Congressional Quarterly (CQ) today. "If I understand correctly what was done the other day, sequestration and for that matter the debt ceiling issues all come to a bubble the end of February, or a boil, maybe that's a better word," Lucas told CQ. "The speaker made it quite clear the other evening. The tax issue is now over. The issue is now entitlements and spending. Well, a farm bill is by its nature a spending bill with certain entitlements incorporated." Lucas told CQ he is discussing the matter with Ag panel Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-Minn.).
Meanwhile, Associated Press is quoting Peterson as saying that he felt the lack of a vote on the bill passed by the panel was a show of disrespect by House leaders and he's not interested in writing another bill unless a vote is promised.
SOME URGE SIMPLICITY IN 2013 FARM BILL EFFORTS... Veteran farm bill observers believe some farm-state lawmakers and definitely some farm and commodity group lobbyists overreached in their 2012 efforts. Those efforts included some controversial safety net and other provisions in a hard-to-get new farm bill approach that has not garnered support from some Senate and House Republican leaders.
And with the new year offering the opportunity for a fresh look at farm policy, some conclude that the best Title I (safety net) policy may be a far simpler program. They say it should consist of catastrophic and crop/revenue insurance coverage already offered by the private sector, plus Supplemental Coverage Option (SCO). They say lawmakers should do away with shallow-loss coverage and offer a target price option to some or all program crops, at least until more viable crop and revenue assurance programs are available for crops like rice and peanuts. Click here for more.