FROZEN SOILS LIMIT DROUGHT IMPROVEMENT ACROSS MIDWEST... According to the National Drought Monitor, 36.33% of the contiguous U.S. is drought-free, which reflects minor improvement from 34.33% last week. Across the Midwest, the monitor notes that about half of the region is now drought-free, which is about a five-percentage-point improvement from last week. It notes that while widespread precip was seen in the Midwest, frozen soils prevented deep soil moisture recharge.
Across the Plains, the monitor reflects drought conditions eased marginally in Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas, although intensified across northwest South Dakota. It notes the heaviest rains fell across southeast Oklahoma. Click here for related maps.
HOUSE PROPOSES TO BALANCE THE BUDGET VIA SPENDING CUTS... The House Budget Committee late Wednesday backed a $4.6 trillion, 10-year plan from Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) via a party-line vote. The plan would balance the budget, cut domestic programs, repeal the 2010 health care law, replacing it with a voucher-like model beginning in 2024, and overhaul the tax code. Ryan's plan recommends more than $4 trillion in spending cuts on top of the deficit reduction achieved by keeping the sequester in place. The House budget plan directs $31 billion in savings from farm programs over 10 years, but leaves it to the Ag Committee to determine the detailed cuts.
SENATE BUDGET PLAN BIG ON SPENDING, LOW ON DEFICIT CUTS... The Senate Democrats' plan, introduced Wednesday by Budget Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-Wash.), appears to cut the deficit by between $600 billion and $700 billion from 2014 to 2023 (the budget has not been officially scored). Murray said her plan would reduce the deficit by $1.85 trillion over a decade, but her calculation includes a combination of spending cuts and revenue increases that she also proposes as a replacement for the $1.2 trillion, nine-year sequester. Murray does not specify which tax breaks would be cut to supply $975 billion in new revenues from eliminating deductions, exclusions or credits. The budget calls for $265 billion in cuts to Medicare, but does not specify the cuts other than to say they cannot hurt beneficiaries. The plan proposes to cut $10 billion from Medicaid without hurting beneficiaries, it recommends selling off 14,000 excess properties, reducing improper payments and consulting Government Accountability Office studies to find more cuts. The measure directs $23 billion in ag savings over 10 years, but with no cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
Overall, the budget has only 11 pages focused on spending cuts, compared to 39 pages focused on detailing $100 billion in new economic stimulus spending. That spending includes $50 billion in high-priority infrastructure repairs, $10 billion for ports, $10 billion for an infrastructure bank, $20 billion for technology infrastructure and $10 billion for worker training. The Senate Budget panel markup of the measure is expected to conclude today, setting up a floor vote next week.
SURVEY FINDS SHARP RISE IN EXCELLENT-QUALITY ILLINOIS FARMLAND... LandOwner Editor Mike Walsten reports a survey of Illinois farmland prices shows the value of "excellent-quality" land rose 21% in 2012 from the previous year and survey participates expect values to continue to rise in 2013. According to the 2013 Illinois Land Values and Lease Trends Report released today at the Illinois Land Values Conference, the price of excellent-quality land was estimated at $10,510 per acre on Jan. 1, 2012, and $12,670 per acre Dec. 31, 2012. Good-quality farmland prices were estimated at $8,980 at the beginning of the year and $10,500 at the end of the year. Prices for average farmland was $7,560 per acre at the beginning of last year and $8,770 as of Dec. 31, 2012. The price of fair productivity land rose from $5,980 at the beginning of 2012 to $6,980 at the end of last year. Click here for more.