Washington Insider -- Friday

Rescuing Farmers from Big Ag

Here’s a quick monitor of Washington farm and trade policy issues from DTN’s well-placed observer.

EPA Grants Another Small Refiner Exemption

EPA has granted one more small refinery exemption for the 2017 compliance year relative to the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), taking the number approved to 35.

EPA data still shows one exemption still pending for 2017 and one that has been withdrawn or deemed ineligible.

EPA data as of March 28 shows 39 exemption requests pending for the 2018 compliance year. Reuters reported the agency was expected to release decisions on the 2018 compliance year exemption requests in April. However, EPA has not yet confirmed that will be the case.

EPA today holds a public hearing to gather input on its proposal to allow year-round sales of E15 fuel and to make changes to the Renewable Identification Number (RIN) market. The agency aims to finalize those plans by June 1, the start of the summer driving season.

Senators Urge USDA to Pull Proposed Food Stamp Rule

USDA should withdraw a proposed rule that would limit state officials’ ability to exempt food stamp recipients from time limits and work requirements for their food aid, 47 senators said Thursday in a letter to USDA Secretary. Sonny Perdue.

Public comment on the draft rule closes on Tuesday, April 2.

The House Agriculture Subcommittee on Nutrition and Oversight plans a hearing on April 3 to examine the potential effects of the rule, which would make it more difficult for states to receive waivers from USDA.

Those waivers now allow states to extend benefits beyond a three-month limit every three years that an able-bodied adult can get aid.

Washington Insider: Rescuing Farmers from Big Ag

Americans are known to be well fed and to have access to an abundance of healthful food and fiber products which cost a far smaller share of their disposable income than in other developed countries.

Producers see this as solid economic progress for the nation—but many urbanites don’t. They delight in criticizing efficient farms as “factories” that produce often unhealthful products at heavy cost to the environment.

The family farm is idealized, but not clearly defined in spite of the fact that nearly all U.S. farms are family operated and mostly family owned. Still farmers are far fewer in number than they were even one generation ago, so the urban press controls the social image of the US food culture and frequently finds much not to like.

This image appears to be translating into politics to some degree.

For example, Bloomberg reports as candidates appeal for votes in Iowa they often appeal to family farmers. Bloomberg focuses on one proposal by an East Coast candidate that includes a promise to break up big agricultural businesses to end their “stranglehold” over farmers. Bloomberg notes that several candidate proposals are follow a somewhat similar pattern in their attempts to distinguish themselves in a crowded field by offering competing robust--and progressive – policy proposals.

These have included, Bloomberg says, numerous proposals for consumer financial protection since the 2008 banking crisis as well as “ultra-millionaire” tax proposals along with tighter regulations for large technology companies.

Such proposals are offered as floods damage the Midwest and “economic setbacks” affect farmers in the region already hit by the trade war with China. Even some Republicans who represent rural areas have warned the administration that low commodity prices and retaliatory tariffs could add voters to a Democratic coalition currently concentrated on the coasts, Bloomberg says.

Bloomberg’s report focuses extensively on a proposal that aims at “structural” problems and asserts that the Bayer-Monsanto merger, approved by the Justice Department last year, “never should have happened” while promising the appointment of “trustbusters” who would reverse that merger, along with others said to be anti-competitive. It also criticized the 2017 merger that formed DowDuPont Inc. and China National Chemical Corp.’s 2017 acquisition of Syngenta AG, along with Tyson Foods Inc.’s domination of chicken farming. It charges that corporate consolidation in agriculture is “leaving family farmers with fewer choices, thinner margins, and less independence.”

The proposal was released ahead of Democratic candidates’ Heartland Forum on rural issues to be held tomorrow and is expected to draw several presidential hopefuls.

Bayer spokeswoman Christi Dixon said regarding the proposal, "We brought together two talented teams and a robust portfolio to offer more choices for farmers."

Tyson Foods spokesman Gary Mickelson told Bloomberg that “family farmers are essential to Tyson Foods and their success is important to us.” He added, “The best way for the U.S. government to support farmers and ranchers is to ensure we have bilateral trade agreements in place to help increase exports.”

There is little that is new in claims that farmers are paying the price for decisions in Washington that “favor interests of multinational corporations and big business lobbyists,” especially in Iowa or other important farming states. However, at least some of the current focus is unusual in that it bypasses key farm issues, including trade, soil conservation and market development efforts, among many others.

Clearly, the structure of agriculture is important to producers everywhere. However, to the extent that emerging proposals are seen by Iowans as catering heavily to the coastal food cultures and their view of an ideal ag system, at least some of its components may be seen as heavily nostalgic.

In addition, a subtle message seems to be emerging that paints ag as big, industrial, out of touch with consumers and in need of returning to its roots. Such images have at least some potential of leading to unwelcome interventions and should be watched closely as next year’s campaign intensifies, Washington Insider believes.

Want to keep up with events in Washington and elsewhere throughout the day? See DTN Top Stories, our frequently updated summary of news developments of interest to producers. You can find DTN Top Stories in DTN Ag News, which is on the Main Menu on classic DTN products and on the News and Analysis Menu of DTN’s Professional and Producer products. DTN Top Stories is also on the home page and news home page of online.dtn.com. Subscribers of MyDTN.com should check out the US Ag Policy, US Farm Bill and DTN Ag News sections on their News Homepage.

If you have questions for DTN Washington Insider, please email edit@dtn.com