Farm bill momentum continues – POLITICO

 In Politics

With Helena Bottemiller Evich, Catherine Boudreau and Alex Nieves.

FARM BILL MOMENTUM CONTINUES: Fresh off a nail-biting victory in the House, farm bill backers are now anxiously waiting to see how quickly the Senate can follow suit this week.

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The Senate plans to vote on a motion to invoke cloture tonight — a procedural step that paves the way for consideration of the farm bill on the floor.

Grassley’s revenge: Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) is widely expected to put forth an amendment related to his signature farm policy crusade — tightening the rules governing subsidy payments given to farmers. Grassley is coming in hot from the last farm bill when his subsidy limit amendment passed the Senate but ultimately was stripped during conference.

Thune’s conservation compromise: Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) has been working behind the scenes with Senate ag leaders to craft an amendment tweaking the Conservation Reserve Program. At the farm bill markup, chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) and ranking member Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) promised Thune that they’d put their heads together to incorporate some of his CRP proposals in a package they all can agree on.

A sign from Mitch: If Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell limits amendments to move things along quickly, you can expect this show to wrap up soon. Of course, the majority leader would like to see his language legalizing hemp make it to the finish line sooner rather than later.

Playing ‘what if’ in the House: As more folks analyze the House vote, many what if’s are being raised. Four House lawmakers didn’t show up to vote on Thursday, two Democrats (Reps. Donald Payne (D-N.J.) and Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.)) and two Republicans (Reps. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.) and Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa)). In such a close vote, just about any combination of those lawmakers showing up could have changed the outcome. Reps. Jeffries and Payne have been chided on Twitter for missing the vote. Payne’s spokesman said he was home sick and hadn’t been expecting the last-minute vote; Jeffries was attending his son’s eighth-grade graduation, his office said.

HAPPY MONDAY, JUNE 25! Welcome to Morning Ag, where your host found she had a receptive audience this past weekend for the newly published book Look See the Farm— a children’s book about organic farming. It’s worth checking out for the young farm lovers in your life. Send your news tips, and other good ag reads, to [email protected] or @chaughney. Follow the whole team: @Morning_Ag.

— CONSERVATIVE GROUPS LOSE IN HOUSE FARM BILL PASSAGE: The House’s very narrow passage of its version of the farm bill was a loss for many groups, including conservative organizations like Heritage Action, Americans for Prosperity and the R Street Institute. In an interview with POLITICO Influence, Caroline Kitchens, federal affairs manager at the R Street Institute, attributed the House’s passage of the bill to “political dynamics and gamesmanship.” She noted that many Republicans viewed the bill as an opportunity to pass a small slice of welfare reform. In addition, she said even though Freedom Caucus members didn’t necessarily like the bill, “they decided that getting a vote on immigration was more of a priority.” Brent Gardner, chief government affairs officer at Americans for Prosperity, agreed that outside forces influenced the House’s passage of the bill. “The farm bill deserves to have its own day,” he said.

—Moving forward, the R Street Institute will push for an open amendment process on the Senate floor, Kitchens said. “We have a pretty well-organized coalition of conservative, taxpayer and environmental groups, so it’s a really broad coalition of people on the left and the right,” she said. “We’re hoping to get some reform in the Senate version of the bill.”

— But the House passage of the bill was a big win for farm groups. “Members of the House recognized the serious economic challenges facing farmers and ranchers across the country” American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall said in a statement.

CAN CONSUMERS DRIVE ENVIRONMENTAL CHANGE? When Americans go to the grocery store, their purchases are largely driven by price and personal health, not whether products contain ingredients grown using practices that benefit the environment — or are sourced from an operation that pays workers a fair wage, among other external factors. While wealthier Americans may pay more for foods that account for such external factors, there’s little incentive for mass adoption across the food supply. So can consumers’ eating habits, which are skewed toward unhealthy options, really be a force for improving the environment and creating a more equitable food system?

During a panel discussion on Friday at The Breakthrough Institute’s annual dialogue in beautiful Sausalito, Calif., experts weighed in. Josette Lewis, associate Vice President of ecosystems at the Environmental Defense Fund, said the crops with the largest environmental footprint like corn and soybeans are primarily used in animal feed or processed food — making it challenging to translate incentives to consumers. Lewis emphasized the importance of corporate commitments to reducing emissions in supply chains. But she acknowledged that right now, many companies don’t see an economic reason to collect data on environmental issues and set targets.

What about a new label? Dave Douglas, Vice President of Applied Invention, proposed the creation of a new, data-centric food label backed by a set of standards that go beyond the practice-based USDA organic seal — a nearly $50 billion industry that has been successful at driving demand among consumers. It could reflect fertilizer and weed management, input use like water and pesticides, as well as technology used for production like genetically engineered seeds or hydroponics. The standards could easy apply to all crops, Douglas said.

** A message from the Alliance for Fair Sugar Policy: We believe farmers and families depending on food manufacturing workers should be central to this country’s ongoing conversation on agriculture policy. Thousands of small, family-owned businesses think so too. Shouldn’t sugar processors agree that farmers and food manufacturing workers are integral to the 2018 Farm Bill? Learn more at FairSugarPolicy.org. **

TARIFFS PILE ON PORK INDUSTRY: Few industries have been hit harder by President Donald Trump’s tariffs than pork, where producers have gone from predicting growth at the beginning of the year to worrying about losing market share in two of their three biggest markets, Mexico and China. Pork producers already took a blow in 2017 when Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, putting producers in an awkward position with Japan — the biggest importer of U.S. pork by value, according to the National Pork Board.

Pork has been targeted by tariffs at every step of the way, first showing up on a retaliatory list released by China after the Trump administration imposed $3 billion worth of duties on steel and aluminum in March. China is the third largest importer of U.S. pork, buying a little more than $1 billion worth of product in 2017. But producers are much more concerned about losing market share with our neighbor to the south. Mexico’s 10-percent tariff on pork will jump to 20 percent on July 5, and the largest importer of American pork by volume is already in discussions with the European Union about ramping up cross-Atlantic imports.

The USDA’s livestock, dairy and poultry outlook report released June 18 predicts hog prices are expected to average 19 percent lower in the third quarter and 17 percent lower in the fourth quarter, compared to prices from last year, in part due to price adjustments to Mexican tariffs.

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