WASHINGTON, May 16, 2016 - This week promises to be another big one for agriculture on Capitol Hill with the Senate Appropriations Committee set to mark up the agriculture spending bill, but there’s still no sign of an agreement on a GMO labeling bill in the Senate Agriculture Committee.

The committee’s ranking member, Debbie Stabenow, told us last week that staff members continue to devote time to a potential solution, but people are starting to lose their patience.

First and foremost is USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, who tells Agri-Pulse that sugarbeet farmers are already starting to feel the pain because of Senate inaction.

“Talk to the sugarbeet growers in the northern part of our country … and they will tell you they don’t understand why their product is not selling,” Vilsack told Agri-Pulse. “Well, part of the reason it’s not selling is they are GMO beets and now some companies have made the decision to transition to cane sugar.”

The House passed a bill to preempt state GMO labeling bills like the one scheduled to go into effect on July 1 in Vermont, but the Senate has not acted. House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway expressed frustration in a recent conversation with reporters and laid the blame on Sen. Debbie Stabenow.

“We’d like for the ranking member over there to put something in writing and let us know what she’s thinking because having conversations back and forth with the press is not negotiation. That’s just conversation,” Conaway said. “She needs to put it in writing so all of us can see what she’s thinking so that way we can compare it to what we’ve done in the House and move forward.”

Trump welcomes House GOP support. The Trump campaign officially welcomed the support being shown by nine House committee chairs, including the endorsement of House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway.

Conaway, as reported by Agri-Pulse last week, is offering to advise Donald Trump on agriculture policy.

Other chairmen noted by the Trump campaign are Reps. Steve Chabot (Small Business), Jeb Hensarling (Financial Services), Candice Miller (House Administration), Jeff Miller (Veterans’ Affairs), Tom Price (Budget), Pete Sessions (Rules), Bill Shuster (Transportation and Infrastructure), and Lamar Smith (Science, Space and Technology).

The chairmen said in a statement: “We stand on the precipice of one of the most important elections of our lifetime. This great nation cannot endure eight more years of Democrat-control of the White House. It cannot afford to put Democrats in charge of Congress. It is paramount that we coalesce around the Republican nominee, Mr. Donald J. Trump, and maintain control of both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate.” 
Chicago Fed: Farm land values falling. Farmland values throughout Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa are down sharply from a year ago and it looks like the downward trend will continue, according to a new report from the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.

The value of farmland fell 4 percent in the first quarter of the year, posting the largest “year-over-year decline since the third quarter of 2009,” according to the report that said it’s getting harder for farmers to sell their land.

“Nearly two-thirds of the responding bankers expected farmland values to decrease during the second quarter of 2016, with the rest expecting farmland values to remain stable,” the report concluded.

 …. and more bad news for the farm economy: Farm debt is continuing to accumulate, repayment rates are declining and income is dropping, according to a separate, survey-based, report out from the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City.

“The ongoing decline in farm income remained the primary driver of weakening credit conditions and modified loan terms,” the Kansas City Fed said in the report. “In the first quarter, 86 percent of survey respondents reported a drop in farm income from a year ago. Persistently low prices for commodities have weighed on gross revenue while production costs have remained elevated, keeping profit margins for crop producers relatively tight.”

Mechanically tenderized beef labeling starts. The new requirements from USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service for labels on mechanically tenderized beef go into effect Tuesday.

It’s been about a year since the USDA announced the new rules, giving the meat industry time to make the changes that have been demanded for years by food safety advocates. Unlike normal steaks, mechanically tenderized cuts are pierced with blades or needles and that can allow bacterial pathogens to get under the surface of the meat. Unless that meat is cooked thoroughly, the pathogens can survive and sicken consumers.

“FSIS is finalizing these new labeling requirements because mechanically tenderized products look no different than intact product, but it is important for consumers to know that they need to handle them differently,” the agency said.

Rice sector takes aim at breakfast. Move over bacon and eggs. The USA Rice Federation is always looking for ways to increase domestic consumption and the group believes there’s room for growth in breakfast dishes.

After surveying more than 300 foodservice operators, the group concluded that that there’s definitely more room for rice in America’s morning meals. But USA Rice didn’t stop with the survey. Katie Maher, the group’s director for domestic promotion programs, said USA Rice is now working on two new breakfast recipes specifically for foodservice companies and the group plans to unveil them later this month.

This America is for you. Budweiser may now be owned by the Belgium-based Anheuser-Busch InBev, but its cans now look pure U.S.A. The temporarily re-designed cans of Bud now read “America,” a celebration of the U.S. spirit, the company says. The new design will remain through the presidential election in November.

“Budweiser has always strived to embody America in a bottle, and we’re honored to salute this great nation where our beer has been passionately brewed for the past 140 years,” the company says on its web site.

He said it: “I’m going to assume they do.” That was House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway’s response when asked if the Trump campaign wanted his help on agriculture policy.

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