Five Issues On Our Radar

Government Shutdown and Disaster Assistance

Members of Congress faced a possible government shut down when they returned after the August recess if they failed to pass 2018 appropriations before the Sept. 30 deadline. Also at the top of their to-do list was passing some disaster assistance for the areas hit by Hurricane Harvey.

In a surprise move, President Donald Trump worked with the democratic leadership in Congress to create a proposal that would avoid government shutdown. That proposal was approved and provides $15.3 billion in disaster assistance for areas hit by Hurricane Harvey, increases the debt ceiling, and funds the federal government until Dec. 8, 2017.  

Damage estimates continue to be submitted by farmers, ranchers and their production partners. Little is known at this time how many dollars from the disaster package will be allocated to livestock producers and their production partners.  

Livestock and crop producers who have suffered losses are being encouraged to contact the USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) to learn about eligible losses. The FSA administers safety net programs already in place that could provide some relief to agricultural entities with losses.  

Farm Bill Update

Farm-state legislators continue to push for a new farm bill yet this year. Both the Senate and House agriculture committee have held hearings to evaluate what regulations and programs work, which ones should be tweaked and which ones should be eliminated. 

Budget concerns and the Trump administration’s goal to create a more fiscally responsible government will no doubt be at the heart of the next bill. Meanwhile, members of both the Senate and House Agriculture committee are laser-focused on the current state of the farm economy.   

USDA estimates indicate a modest bump in farm income, which has been cautiously welcomed by committee members. They know that when the last farm bill was written, net farm income was at a record high. In his remarks to the Kansas Governors Summit on Agricultural Growth, Senate Agriculture committee chair Pat Roberts stated, “All of us understand that going into this farm bill, we are facing tough and critical times. The challenges are great, but the opportunities are boundless.” 

Chairman Roberts also told reporters in mid-September that getting a farm bill through the Senate this year is a “high hurdle.” With only 12 legislative days scheduled in September, it increases the likelihood a bill will not be considered until after the first of the year.

Pork producers meeting with their members of Congress this fall continued to press for the establishment of and full funding for a U.S. Foot and Mouth Disease vaccine bank to be included in the next farm bill. Current vaccine stocks maintained by the USDA Animal and Plant Inspection Service are inadequate to handle anything more than a small local outbreak. Maintaining food security is a critical component in overall national security.

NAFTA Sunset Proposal

U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer want a sunset provision to be included in a new North American Free Trade Agreement, but Canadian and Mexican officials say they are opposed.

NPPC leadership and producer members in the nation’s capital in September advocated to their members of Congress that maintaining and expanding trade access for their products is critical to their future success.

U.S. trade officials explained the proposed sunset provision would force a systematic re-examination of the agreement every five years. They also maintain that a systematic review would create a way to potentially fix things that had not been successful.

One of the concerns with a sunset proposal is it would threaten to dissolve NAFTA unless leadership in all three countries agreed to renew it, jeopardizing long-term trade investments.

Korea-U.S. trade Agreement

Trump administration officials signaled last month they were considering a withdrawal from the Korea-U.S. (KORUS) trade agreement. Vice President Mike Pence suggested the administration wants to see reform in the agreement. NPPC leaders hoped that reform would be a modernization of the agreement. 

Pork producers from around the country began calling elected officials asking them to contact the White House about the impacts of a withdrawal from KORUS. Besides opposition from pork producers, there was widespread opposition from agriculture, business and Congressional leadership.

Swift action by these groups helped encourage the administration to place any withdrawal on hold.

USDA nominations

The Senate Ag committee was preparing for a hearing (as of press time) to consider President Trump’s USDA nominations. The committee was expected to advance the names of Stephen Censky to be Deputy Secretary of Agriculture and Ted McKinney to be Under Secretary of Agriculture for Trade and Foreign affairs.
President Trump also announced his picks for other key positions within USDA. 

Greg Ibach, currently director of the Nebraska Department of Agriculture, has been nominated for the position of Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs. Bill Northey, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture, was nominated for Under Secretary for Farm Production and Conservation. Stephen Vaden, who serves as counsel on the USDA landing team, was nominated to fill the position of USDA General Counsel.