WASHINGTON, Sept. 16, 2016 - Farm groups are sensing hope as the week ends that the Trans-Pacific Partnership could get through Congress this year despite being under attack by both of the major presidential candidates. Senate Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch was quoted this week as saying that he thinks the TPP will get votes in the lame duck session. 

In a statement to Agri-Pulse, Hatch said there is a real opportunity to “advance a strong TPP,” if the administration addresses some outstanding concerns, but that “we’re simply not there yet.” 

Farm economy will be talking point. Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, says his group is rallying members to contact lawmakers and urge passage of the trade deal.

“When we continue to see the farm economy get weaker and weaker and struggling more, I think Congress is going to be looking for a way to help farmers and ranchers across the country survive this downturn,” Duvall told reporters yesterday.

Lawmakers have been telling Farm Bureau leaders that the political atmosphere is bad for TPP. But Nick Giordano, who oversees trade policy for the National Pork Producers Council, told reporters yesterday that he thinks the votes are there to approve the trade pact after the election

Still, a leading GOP critic of the TPP in the Senate, Jeff Sessions, tells Agri-Pulse he’s confident the trade deal is dead this year. The Alabama senator cites repeated statements by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., that the TPP won’t get a vote in the lame duck. 

Farm Bureau chief: ‘Crisis’ possible in agriculture. Farmers also are going to be using the economic slowdown in the farm economy to lobby Congress for a new farm bill in the next Congress. 

Right now, there isn’t a crisis, says Duvall. “If something doesn’t change between now and 2018 we will have a farm crisis,” he told reporters. “There will be a big movement to make sure there’s something done about it.” 

The Farm Bureau has a farm bill working group that continues to gather views from its members on what changes need to be made to existing farm programs. No surprise, cotton and dairy are seen as the areas in the most need of additional help. There are no discussions about major changes. “What it would be is tweaking what we have,” Duvall said.

Economy seen as ‘main driver’ behind mergers. The farm downturn also will come up in next week’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on agriculture mergers. Bob Young, the Farm Bureau’s chief economist, will be testifying at the hearing and he believes the slump in commodity prices is a “main driver” behind the spate of mergers, including the $66 billion Bayer-Monsanto deal announced this week.

Farmers aren’t turning away from biotech crops, but they are finding that they can do without some of the new stacked traits that companies are marketing, said Duvall. “You don't want to pay for something you really don't need.”

Good riddance to the Monsanto name? The Bayer-Monsanto could mean the end of Monsanto’s name, which is by far the biggest target of critics of agricultural biotechnology the world over.

Could the disappearance of the Monsanto name be a good thing for biotech? Duvall doesn’t hesitate in his answer: “I would think it would be.”

Trump hammers WOTUS, FDA. Donald Trump is bringing up the “waters of the U.S.” rule on a regular basis as part of his economic message. In an economic speech in New York yesterday, Trump cited both WOTUS and the administration’s Clean Power Plan as regulations he would kill. 

And someone in his campaign is looking at taking on food regulations, too. Yesterday, the campaign posted - and then removed - some economic talking points that included what was clearly an attack on the Food Safety Modernization Act. 

A copy of the original document - posted by The Hill newspaper - said the “FDA food police” dictate “how the federal government expects farmers to produce fruits and vegetables and even dictates the nutritional content of dog food.”

The document also called for repeal of the Renewable Identification Number system used to administer the federal biofuel mandates. The document said the RIN program benefits “Big Oil” to the detriment of small and mid-sized refineries. 

Bankers, farm groups seek USDA loan funding. The banking industry is joining farm groups in appealing to Congress to increase funding for farm loans. In a letter to appropriators, the groups say that a continuing resolution lawmakers are expected to consider next week should include temporary flexibility for the Farm Service Agency to deal with a backlog in loans. The Small Business Administration was given similar relief a year ago, the letter says.

The groups also want a funding increase for loans when the final appropriations legislation for fiscal 2017 is written later this year.  FSA is expected to start FY17 on Oct. 1 with a $215 million backlog in farm operating loans.

The diverse coalition behind the letter includes Farm Aid, the Farm Bureau, American Banking Association, Farm Credit Council, National Farmers Union and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.

US, EU look to October talks. President Obama continues to try to nail down an elusive trade deal with the European Union. U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman met with his EU counterpart, Cecilia Malmstrom, yesterday to talk about their next steps.
Afterwards they released a brief statement say they told their respective negotiating teams to “make as much progress as possible” during the next round, set for the first week of October in New York.

Time for Farm Aid 2016. If you’re in the Washington area this weekend and looking for something to do, Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp, Neil Young and Dave Matthews will be headlining this year’s edition of Farm Aid.  

Nelson, the music legend who founded Farm Aid in the 1980s and is still its president, says: “Folks are educating themselves about where and how food is grown- they’re hungry for the truth.”

He said it. “We’ve never had any EPA folks out to Dodge City. I’m not sure they’d ever get back.” - Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., after Indiana Democrat Joe Donnelly described a visit by EPA officials to his state.


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