U.S. Agriculture enters 2018 with a whole lotta unresolved issues from 2017. Here are seven yuge ones to keep an eye on in the new year.
Farm Bill 2018
Lawmakers, primarily in the U.S. House, dipped their collective big toe into the farm bill waters in 2017, holding a number of listening sessions with stakeholders ahead of writing new(?) legislative policy this year.
There are at least two major contentious issues emerging. And given the new tribalism in Congress, finding bi-partisan agreement will be a tall order.
- The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program will be a prime target for budget hawks. Look for GOP hard-line House members to push hard for block granting SNAP to the states, along with budget cuts.
- Amendments aplenty. Look for a raft of add ons including proposals to reduce crop insurance premium subsidies and caps on commodity payments.
I’ll have plenty to say about the ongoing North America Free Trade Agreement negotiations between the U.S., Canada and Mexico beginning next week, but it’s not unfair to note that talks are not going smoothly.
Since my most recent blog on the subject in November it’s been a virtual soap opera with what seems like almost daily twists and turns that threaten to torpedo the current agreement and oh by the way send agricultural produces screaming into their barns never to emerge again.
So here’s just part of what’s happened in the past three months:
You got Canada saying they not going to take any guff from the U.S. on a range of sensitive issues.
You have the principle negotiators from the three nations meeting this week in Davos, Switzerland.
The last time U. S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, Mexican Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo and Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland were together, they spent much of their time pointing fingers and playing the blame game for why negotiations were stuck in the mud.
And then earlier this month we got the POTUS suggesting NAFTA language that would skim off some NAFTA dollars from Mexico to pay for the border wall.
Negotiators have said they want to wrap up talks by the end of March with Mexico’s elections on the horizon in July and the U.S. Congressional midterms in November.
Well that ain’t going to happen.
Further complicating the negotiations is the POTUS threat to pull out of NAFTA altogether.
It’s my experience that complicated things with many moving parts don’t get solved quickly. Certainly NAFTA qualifies.
Renewable Fuel Standard
The on-again, off-again food fight between Big Oil and Big Ag over the future of the Renewable Fuel Standard was mostly quiet in 2017.
That is until late in the year when the POTUS appeared to back off on his love and devotion for the RFS by suggesting its high time for the oil and ag bitter rivals to sit down at the table and find a happy compromise for Big Oil’s complaint that the RFS is putting refineries out of business.
The RFS spat has two tough talking GOP Senators talking smack. Representing Big Oil is Texas Senator Rafael Edward “Ted” Cruz vs. Big-Ag and ethanol’s Iowa Senator Charles Ernest “Chuck” Grassley who’s opening salvo was # forgetaboutit.
That certainly ain’t on Cruz’s agenda, but it’s doubtful to me that the eye of the needle can be threaded without corn and soybean farmers taking a hit on profit.
Net Farm Income
Which brings me to the overall state of the farm economy: 2017 farm income was a little bit better than in 2016 but that’s not saying much.
The big problem is that there has been a glut of world corn and soybean supplies resulting in multi-year low commodity prices.
Unless there is either a major crop failure or discovery of new demand that won’t change in 2018.
Meanwhile farm debt continued to move upward in 2017, a key sign on how farmers and ranchers are becoming financially challenged.
As I bogged back in October, the European Commission may be throwing a monkey wrench into the potential enormous merger between Bayer and Monsanto.
The last two years or so have seen a mind-blowing number of Big Ag consolidations.
Two other mega mergers were given the green flag by the European Commission (Chem China’s acquisition of Syngenta and the Dupont-Dow two step) after selling off some of their businesses which were viewed as creating monopolies.
While that’s likely to happen in the Bayer-Monsanto negotiations with the European Commission it can’t be ignored that one of the participants is M-O-N-S-A-N-T-O.
Anyone following big-agriculture for any length of time knows of the mistrust/avoidance/hate over Monsanto’s long-time production of GMO crops and the pesticide glyphosate.
The European Commission is currently in the middle of a huge investigation over the potential merger which has already….wait for it….produce 4 million (let that sink in for a second) pages of documents under review.
Stay tuned for March fireworks when the European Commission is expected to announce its ruling.
Speaking of Monsanto, the St. Louis ag-giant is dealing with its, in part, self-inflected train wreck known as the dicamba rollout.
Crops were damaged in half the nation due to unintended drift on the winds of the weed killer.
The Environmental Protection Agency has green-lighted application of dicamba for the 2018 growing season, but there remains plenty of uncertainty over whether new rules will be effective.
When I last bogged about this issue, I seriously thought that the new resident in the White House would deep six President Obama efforts to update food labels to make them more consumer friendly. After all the Food and Drug Administration missed a July 2017 label roll out offering up the old time worn standby, “gee we need more time to figure all this out.”
Well it turns out the FDA wasn’t just taking us all on a pony ride. They really did need more time.
In November, FDA Commissioner announced the agency was hard at work at developing a broader policy initiative that encompassed not only food nutrition labels, but a raft of other issues including to:
“reduce the burden of addiction crises that are threatening American families, leverage innovation and competition to improve health care, broaden access, and advance public health goals, empower consumers to make better and more informed decisions about their diets and health and expand the opportunities to use nutrition to reduce morbidity and mortality from disease, and strengthen FDA’s scientific workforce and its tools for efficient risk management.”
Now that is a full plate.
About Dave Dickey
Dickey spent nearly 30 years at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s NPR member station WILL-AM 580 where he won a dozen Associated Press awards for his reporting. For 13 years, he directed Illinois Public Media’s agriculture programming. His weekly column for Big Ag Watch covers agriculture and related issues including politics, government, environment and labor. Email him at email@example.com.
This column reflects the writer’s own opinions and not those of Big Ag Watch.