The House Agriculture Appropriations Committee continues to chip away at farm programs in their bill to fund USDA for fiscal 2012. The Committee approved an amendment that would lower the adjusted gross income that a farmer can receive and still be eligible for farm program payments to $250,000, down dramatically from the current level of $750,000. The committee also voted to take the $147 million to be paid to Brazil out of direct payments to U.S. cotton growers beginning in 2013. But then later the committee eliminated the payments to Brazil altogether and diverted the funds to the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program. But those payments to Brazil are a part of a deal to keep Brazil from imposing tariffs on hundreds of millions of dollars on U.S. exports after the WTO ruled that the U.S. cotton program violated world trade rules. We have little doubt that if this bill passes, Brazil will promptly retaliate with the threatened tariffs.
 
A bill allowing individual states to opt out of the corn ethanol part of the Renewable Fuels Standard was proposed in both the Senate and the House this week. However, for a state to opt out, a bill would need to be passed by the state’s legislature and signed by the governor. States couldn’t opt out of the RFS for advanced biofuels, only ethanol made from grains. The proposal reflects growing dissatisfaction with ethanol policy in Congress on several fronts. In fact the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) has already come out in favor of this proposed change to ethanol policy.
 
A coalition of more than 50 groups is urging lawmakers to reject nearly $1 billion in proposed cuts to conservation programs for next year. Cuts proposed for fiscal 2012 include $210 million from the Conservation Stewardship Program and $350 million from EQIP. Typically there are more applications for these programs than can be accepted even with current funding levels. The coalition argues that with the pressure on food supplies, these programs are more important than ever.
 
There is little progress toward an agreement to raise the U.S. debt ceiling. This week the House rejected a proposal to raise the debt ceiling without attaching major spending cuts. The vote was symbolic because all sides agree that spending cuts will be a part of any agreement. Vice President Biden said his bipartisan group is on track to produce an agreement that will trim at least $1 trillion from budget deficits over the next 10 to 12 years. The deadline for raising the debt ceiling, according to the Treasury Department, is August 2.
 
The National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has filed suit against FDA to stop non-therapeutic use of antibiotics in animal production. NRDC claims that widespread use of antibiotics for livestock production is fostering the development of drug resistant bacteria. However, livestock groups point out that numerous peer-reviewed studies find essentially no link between antibiotic use in animals and drug-resistant bacteria. FDA has issued “guidance” that urges livestock producers to use antibiotics only when needed to assure animal health. Representative Louise Slaughter (D-NY) is proposing a
bill to phase out the non-therapeutic use of certain antibiotics in animals. No changes in policy are expected in the near term, but this is an issue that isn’t expected to go away.
 
Farmers and ranchers need a disaster aid program in addition to crop insurance in the 2012 Farm Bill, according to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack while addressing the Senate Agriculture Committee last week. A disaster aid program called SURE was a part of the 2008 Farm Bill, but the program expires before the farm bill ends, meaning there will not be any funding for the program in the budget baseline for the 2012 Farm Bill. One major drawback to the program is that it will sometimes be up to 18 months after a farmer is hit by a disaster before he can get a SURE payment.