D.C. Watch: Congress urged to keep up momentum

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USDA projects record agricultural exports of $140 billion for fiscal year 2013. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack tied the announcement to frustration with Congress over lack of progress on a new farm bill.

 “We’re counting on Congress to help keep up this momentum. With just a few weeks left before expiration of many Farm Bill programs, including trade promotion programs that return $35 in economic benefits for every dollar invested, producers and rural communities need passage of a comprehensive Food, Farm and Jobs Bill as soon as possible,” Vilsack said in a statement.  

Vilsack also links immigration reform to sound future for U.S. ag trade.

After noting a new farm bill was vital, he added this kicker: “America’s farmers and ranchers need a reliable and stable agricultural workforce to keep up production. House passage of the commonsense immigration reform measure already approved by a bipartisan majority in the U.S. Senate, would further strengthen American agriculture and keep the U.S. on solid footing to maintain strong exports in the years to come.”

While the average size of U.S. crop farms has changed little in three decades, the, USDA says in a new report that this seeming stability masks important structural changes in the farm sector: growing numbers of very small and very large farms and declining numbers of mid-sized farms. In the process, cropland acreage is moving toward much larger farms.

The acreage shift is substantial and widespread and follows from developments in technology and in farm organization. In 2011, 1.68 million U.S. farms had cropland, and the average size is 234 acres.

But there’s no such thing as an “average” farm according to the new report in the previous item.

Reason: Huge variation in farm size and skewed distribution.

For example, 80 percent of farms are smaller than the average 234 acres and the statistical median (where half the farms are smaller and half are larger) is just 45 acres!

On the other hand, the great majority of the cropland itself is in much larger farms — those with 1,000 acres or more. (With operations defined as cropland operated by a farm, both owned and rented, minus any cropland rented out to others.)

Other Washington news:

  • USDA’s Climate Change Program Office seeks public comments on a major new report just issued by the Office of the Chief Economist: Science-Based Methods for Entity-Scale Quantification of Greenhouse Gas Sources and Sinks from Agriculture and Forestry Practices. The report is the work of 38 scientists from across academia, USDA and the federal government, who are experts in greenhouse gas (GHG) estimation in the cropland, grazing land, livestock and forest management sectors. The report can be downloaded at www.usda.gov/oce/climate_change/index.htm. There are detailed instructions for submitting comments included at the site. (They must be submitted within 45 days of the Aug. 28th Federal Register announcement.)
  • An estimated 14.5 percent of American households were still “food insecure” at least some time during the year 2012 according to a new USDA report, meaning they “lacked access to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members”. The slight decline from 14.9 percent in 2011 is not considered “statistically significant” and the prevalence of “very low” food security didn’t drop at all. It was unchanged from 2011 at 5.7 percent. The numbers are rather puzzling in light of food stamp recipients soaring by 74 percent (to a record 47 million) and spending more than doubling (to a record $78 billion) since 2008.
  • FY 2013 Ethanol Feedstock Flexibility Program (FFP) results reported. This program authorizes the Secretary of Agriculture to purchase sugar (that would otherwise be forfeited to the Commodity Credit Corporation) and sell it to bioenergy companies as a feedstock for ethanol instead. In this first bidding process, CCC purchased 7,118 short tons of refined beet sugar in August for approximately $3.6 million (the same amount as if that sugar had been forfeited). CCC then re-sold the sugar to a bioenergy producer for approximately $900,000, resulting in a net cost to CCC of $2.7 million. Oops! The goal was to have no net cost by avoiding forfeitures. (CCC is now evaluating options to avoid September forfeitures.)


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