|11/15/2018 10:00 AM EDT
With help from Sarah Zimmerman and Liz Crampton
IN THE HOPPER: In some of the sharpest intra-party sniping yet in farm bill talks, Senate Ag Chairman Pat Roberts on Wednesday blamed his House counterpart Mike Conaway for holding up a potential agreement over concerns spanning at least six titles. Roberts is shooting for a deal as soon as today. Conaway said “we’re going to get a deal done,” but wished talks could remain behind closed doors.
— “Neither one of us is gaining anything by whacking on each other in front of the press, ” Conaway said.
— California wine groups and farm bureaus are getting involved in the year-end congressional spending battle, seeking new funds and policy changes to help the state’s wine grape growers deal with damage from catastrophic wildfires. Their sights are set on an emergency funding package in the works for ag producers dealing with this year’s natural disasters.
CONAWAY DEFIANT AS ROBERTS SEEKS DEAL TODAY: House and Senate Agriculture Committee leaders are within striking distance of reaching agreement on a farm bill conference report, as the Senate panel’s top Republican and Democrat see things.
Roberts’ ambitious outlook of a deal being possible today, if realized, would put Congress in good position to pass final legislation before the year ends. But sources tell MA that lawmakers have a ways to go before a deal can be reached.
The loneliest number: As one would expect, the six titles that Roberts says Conaway is dug in on include the commodity, conservation and nutrition sections. But Roberts also said Wednesday that he, Senate Agriculture ranking member Debbie Stabenow and House Ag ranking member Collin Peterson were all on the same page.
“I am very troubled by the fact that we have agreement among three but we can’t get the fourth one,” Roberts said of the Big Four, our Liz Crampton reports. Conaway has been slow to respond to compromise offers, Roberts said, and at one point took 12 days to make a counter-proposal.
“I think we’re close if the House wants to get a farm bill,” Stabenow said, per another dispatch Liz filed from the Hill.
Conaway’s response: The Texas Republican disagreed with the notion that Roberts, Stabenow and Peterson were in accord. “We’ve got some things I haven’t agreed to, they’ve got some things they haven’t agreed to, so you pick your poison as to who you think is standing in the way,” Conaway said.
The House Ag chairman accused Roberts of also not being quick to respond to proposals. Conaway said it took Roberts’ staff eight days to respond to one of Conaway’s offers.
— Bottom line: It’s become increasingly clear that the Big Four are not on the same page about where talks stand, raising more questions about how quickly lawmakers can get a bill done in the lame-duck session.
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** A message from AGree: The time is now to fully fund the Farm Bill conservation title and to pass the improved agricultural data management and analysis policies included in the Senate-passed Farm Bill. These policies will unlock solutions to conserve natural resources and reduce risk and improve profitability. Learn more here. **
ANOTHER GRIM FORECAST FOR 2019 AG MARKETS: As MA readers well know, 2019 is looking bleak for farmers and ranchers as trade woes mount. A new report out today from Rabobank, a Holland-based banking company focused on agricultural financing, is the latest warning for U.S. agricultural producers to brace for continued trade tension and other threats to commodity prices.
Trade: President Donald Trump’s trade war with China remains the biggest threat, especially for soybean growers. If Beijing’s 25 percent retaliatory tariffs remain in place, the report said U.S. soybean stocks “will easily double.” The bank predicts that Washington’s steep trade deficit with China will make it difficult for the two countries to quickly reach a major deal. But Rabobank saw it as promising that trade negotiators were able to finalize a new North American trade pact in a short span of time.
Pork problems: Rabobank also warns that pork markets could take a hit if the spread of African Swine Fever currently making its way through Chinese livestock herds worsens. Markets would likely shift as they did in response to outbreaks of bird flu, with consumers shifting preferences in consumption.
More bad news: There’s also an 80 percent chance that an El Niño weather pattern could be declared by the end of the winter, which could spell wetter conditions on the Southwestern Plains and the opposite in parts of the Midwest.
“Food producers face a melting pot of risks,” said Justin Sherrard, global strategist for animal protein at Rabobank. “Although it’s possible that not all of them will come to pass, they need to be prepared for a difficult and worrying year in 2019.”
Pros, POLITICO’s Sarah Zimmerman has more on the report here.
CALIFORNIA WINE PRODUCERS SEEK WILDFIRE AID: The state’s wine grape growers want a piece of a potential disaster-assistance package for agricultural producers that Congress might take up in coming weeks or months. Heavy smoke from the deadly blazes has tainted crops, forcing growers to leave grapes withering on the vine or to sell them at a steep discount. Producers also worry that consumer fears of smoke exposure could drive down demand.
Statewide and county winegrower groups and farm bureaus this week wrote to federal lawmakers to make specific policy requests, like extending a federal wildfire indemnity program and promoting access to crop insurance for wine grape growers with smoke exposure claims.
“We urge the inclusion of California winegrape growers in any disaster assistance bill that may move forward,” the groups wrote, citing “substantial economic losses” from the fires, especially in Lake and Mendocino counties.
— Democratic Rep. Mike Thompson, whose district includes Napa Valley and much of Sonoma County, said he’s pushing House appropriators to extend the wildfire indemnity program to include wine grape growers who suffered recent damage.
Tallying up the damage: The wine grape crop in Lake County typically produces $75 million in revenue, the groups said, but now producers there are facing losses of at least $37 million, or roughly 50 percent. (The damage to Malibu vineyards has been extensive as well, The Hollywood Reporter writes.)
— Reps. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.) and Sanford Bishop (D-Ga.) are working on a spending packageto help farmers, ranchers and rural communities recover from natural disasters including Western wildfires and major hurricanes that struck the Southeast. Vineyards appeared to be on the list of potential recipients of the ag aid.
— Few changes in leadership ranks: Iowa’s Joni Ernst is the new Senate Republican Conference vice chair, following leadership elections Wednesday, POLITICO’s Burgess Everett reports. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was reelected as majority leader and Chuck Schumer will remain the Senate Democratic leader. In the House, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy was chosen to lead the GOP conference as minority leader next year.
— EU vows swift retaliation if Trump imposes auto tariffs: EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström said Wednesday she has a “draft list” of products “covering lots of different sectors” that would face penalties if Trump slaps duties on the EU auto industry. Pro Trade’s Doug Palmer has more.
— More Malmström: The EU trade chief, who met with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer in Washington, also warned that prospective U.S.-EU trade talks would likely freeze if the Trump administration keeps pushing for agriculture to be included in a deal — or even if ag is listed as a negotiating objective when the administration sends Congress its trade goals before the talks begin. Doug has that story, too.
— USDA sued over certain labeling procedures: The Animal Welfare Institute sued the Agriculture Department on Wednesday, claiming it failed to mandate third-party audits of food label claims like “humane” and “sustainable.” AWI said USDA hasn’t responded quickly enough to a 2014 petition from the group seeking independent certification of such label claims. More here.
— Trump planning Mississippi visit before Senate runoff: The president is expected to hold a rally for GOP Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, who’s facing former Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy in a runoff on Nov. 27. POLITICO’s Alex Isenstadt has the story.
— U.K. Cabinet signs off on draft Brexit plan: Prime Minister Theresa May’s Cabinet approved the withdrawal agreement between the U.K. and EU after a five-hour meeting, reports POLITICO Brexit Correspondent Charlie Cooper. The agreement now heads to parliament, where it faces an uphill battle for approval. POLITICO Europe’s David M. Herszenhorn has the details of the Brexit plans.
— Consumer Reports wants to know salmonella-linked turkey brands: A week before Thanksgiving, USDA is facing pressure from consumer advocates to name the brands linked to a salmonella outbreak that has sickened more than 160 people in 35 states, including one person who died. Here’s ABC with more.
— More expensive chicken nuggets? Tyson Foods plans to raise prices to compensate for increased expenses related to tariffs, as well as higher labor and freight costs, the company said in its earnings report Tuesday. The Financial Times has more.
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** A message from AGree: Good government means investing in win/wins. Fully funding agriculture conservation programs and harnessing agriculture data to improve the effectiveness of conservation efforts just makes good sense. Soil, water, and farmers’ bottom lines all win. The time is now to fully fund the Farm Bill conservation title and to pass the improved agricultural data management and analysis policies included in the Senate-passed Farm Bill. These policies will unlock solutions to conserve natural resources and reduce risk and improve profitability. Learn more here. **