An Urban's Rural View

On Politicians in Tents, USDA Reports and Conservation Compliance

Urban C Lehner
By  Urban C Lehner , Editor Emeritus
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Birds migrate along a north-south axis. My wife and I migrate east-west. In May we drive to Newport, Ore., for the cool Pacific coast summer and in October we drive back to West Virginia and Washington, DC. Our eastward trek is about to get underway, so my blogging will be erratic these next couple of weeks as we make our way across country with stops in the Midwest.

Some random observations as we depart:

The House has named its farm-bill conferees, and it appears that in addition to the usual members of the House Agriculture Committee the Republicans' list includes Steve Southerland of Florida. Ranking Democrat Collin Peterson says this will make completing the conference with the Senate harder. In addition to not being on the ag committee, Southerland was responsible for introducing the food-stamp work requirements Democrats oppose.

I suspect Peterson is right. It will be harder to reconcile the House and Senate approaches to the farm bill with a food-stamp hardliner in the conference. But isn't it possible that final floor passage might be easier with Southerland in the conference -- that any compromise the conference reaches, however slowly and painfully, will have a better chance of passing the House?

Perhaps the old story about Lyndon Johnson and J. Edgar Hoover is apropos. Johnson was wary of the FBI director and considered firing him. In the end he kept him on, saying: "I'd rather have him inside the tent pissing out, than outside pissing in."

Item: Having argued recently (…) that a few weeks without government reports won't kill us, I must salute DTN Markets Editor Katie Micik for her piece on a report we all should miss, USDA's export-sales report (…).

Without it, Katie notes, we're thrown back to the days when only those who knew someone in the export trade had any sense of what was going on. She quoted Darin Newsom, DTN's senior analyst, as saying the two USDA reports he misses are export sales and inspections:

"'These are numbers that actually have to be reported, and tracked, as they occurred. This tends to make them a bit more believable than USDA using magic formulas to project ahead,' he said, referring to USDA supply and demand estimates. 'It's relatively straightforward and useful, information.'"

And while I'm complimenting DTN editors, hats off to Ag Policy Editor Chris Clayton for introducing some facts to the debate over tying conservation compliance to crop insurance.

"Of the 1 million or so people who collect various farm-program payments annually, fewer than 450 farms on average are cited annually for not meeting minimum conservation standards," Chris blogged (…). "There are more than 30 states that haven't had a non-compliance case in nearly a decade. Farmers in a handful of Midwest and Plains states make up the lion's share of non-compliance cases every year."

You'll find lots more detail, including data gleaned from filing a Freedom of Information Act request, in Chris' post, which is well worth reading. Whatever your view of the issue, it's helpful to know the extent of USDA's conservation-compliance enforcement.

Urban Lehner can be reached at


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James TRaub
10/17/2013 | 9:34 AM CDT
Could Mr Bleisner elaborate on his comments---what was the breach?
Timothy Bleisner
10/14/2013 | 11:11 AM CDT
WE need to plow down the crp and crep ground,never got a payment so breech of contract!
Bonnie Dukowitz
10/13/2013 | 6:45 AM CDT
It has been years since I've read the Pres. Johnson quote. He sure had a way in getting his point across. No BS. Thanks for the reminder.