WEEKLY NEWS HIGHLIGHTS

NEWS BRIEFS COMPILED BY THE RED RIVER FARM NETWORK 

Congress & White House in a Stare-down — The House has passed the emergency supplemental spending bill. The most controversial aspect of the bill is language imposing a September 2008 deadline for withdrawing all American troops from Iraq. The package also includes support for agriculture disaster assistance. House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson said the supplemental spending bill was likely the last chance to pass disaster relief. "By putting it in this emergency bill, we can fund this as an emergency, rather than with the pay-go rules.

"'This Ad Hoc System is Not Working"Only farmers who had insured their crops would be eligible for the House-passed disaster package. American Farm Bureau Federation lobbyist Mary Kay Thatcher says that is a sign of things to come. "I think this is a real indication that this ad hoc disaster assistance is not going to continue forever." Improvements to the crop insurance program or passage of a permanent disaster program are recommended.

Senate Extends MILC — The Senate Appropriations Committee has extended the Milk Income Loss Contract program by one month, allowing the dairy safety net to be included in the budget baseline. The House extended the MILC program for 13 months, but only as a discretionary spending program. That means budget offsets would be necessary to maintain the program in the House bill.

SAFE Initiative Unveiled — The Farm Service Agency has unveiled a new 500,000 acre Conservation Reserve Program practice to improve habitat for high priority wildlife species throughout the US. The State Areas for Wildlife Enhancement (SAFE) initiative is a locally led, results-oriented effort to address high-value wildlife habitat restoration and Cooperative Conservation goals. FSA state offices will accept proposals beginning in August 2007.

Lamy Wants Action — Speaking in Mexico City, WTO Director General Pascal Lamy said the United States needs to make a new offer to reduce farm subsidies. Even if Congress does not approve fast track trade authority, Lamy also said the Doha Round will go forward.

US-South Korean Negotiations ContinueSouth Korean and US trade envoys are seeking last minute compromises to meet a March 31st deadline for a free trade agreement. The talks are expected to last all week on disputed sectors, including agriculture. Last week, the two sides failed to reach an agreement on agriculture in Seoul, where a separate dispute over a previous deal on US beef imports clouded the discussions. Without a resolution on beef, National Cattlemen's Beef Association Economist Gregg Doud says "we're all whistling Dixie; this thing isn't going anywhere." Doud was in South Korea last week to monitor the negotiations.

Lawmakers Threaten Sanctions — South Korea's failure to normalize beef trade with the United States may result in trade sanctions. Kansas Congressman Jerry Moran says the threat of sanctions got the attention of Japanese officials and may be needed to get South Korea's attention. South Korea continues to resist efforts to expand beef trade with the United States, which is putting the proposed free trade agreement in jeopardy.

COF ReactionAccording to USDA?s monthly cattle on feed report, the inventory is four percent below year ago levels. Placements are four percent larger and marketings are up seven percent. AgriVisor Senior Livestock Analyst Dale Durchholz says the marketings number was a mild surprise. "The number of market ready cattle that we have at this particular point of time is getting on the tight side." The cattle market is expected to strengthen over the next few weeks, but Durchholz is worried about high beef prices, relative to pork and chicken. "Will retailers use beef as aggressively for featuring?

"USCA Formed — A new cattle industry trade group has been formed. The United States Cattlemen's Association will focus its work in Washington, DC. The group is concerned about mandatory country of origin labeling, trade, market competition, the beef checkoff and animal ID. A California cattle producer, Jon Wooster, has been named the organization's interim president. Wooster is a former R-CALF USA regional director and is included in the flurry of board members and committee chairs that recently left R-CALF.

Feed Barley Gains Interest — The expansion of the ethanol industry offers an opportunity for the feed barley industry. NDSU Animal Scientist Vern Anderson says barley and distillers grain complement each other in ruminant diets. Anderson says new barley varieties are being developed at NDSU that are suitable for feed production and the malting industry.

On-line InfoUniversity of Minnesota Extension Swine Specialist Mark Whitney says high corn prices will be with us for some time. To deal with that reality, producers are encouraged to scrutinize the swine diet. "Make sure you aren't spending excess money on nutrients that you don't need and evaluate alternative ingredients." The extension service and Minnesota Pork Board are sponsoring a live webcast on rising corn prices and options for the pork producer. The Wednesday agenda starts at 1 pm. Go to www.extension.umn.edu/swine to join the mid-week on-line seminar.  

Bush Proposed Energy Plan — President George W. Bush toursed a General Motors plant in Kansas and a Ford plant in Missouri this past week. Bush promoted his new energy proposal, which calls for a 20 percent reduction in gasoline use over the next decade. Renewable fuels, like ethanol and biodiesel, were cited as solutions to the the energy issue.  

North Country Ethanol in Expansion Mode — The Rosholt, South Dakota plant is currently producing about 30 million gallons of ethanol per year. When the expansion project is complete, ten million gallons of capacity will be added. Manager Tom Lane admits the ethanol industry is nervous. "We were selling ethanol at $3.00 and buying corn at around $2.00; things change in a hurry when ethanol is trading at $2.00 to $2.20 and you are buying corn for $3.40 to $4.00."

Farm Program Enrollment Period Extended — Farm Service Agency Administrator Teresa Lasseter has extended the sign-up deadline for the 2007 Direct and Counter-cyclical Program to August 3rd. Problems with the FSA?s web-based computer system caused agency officials to extend the June 1st deadline in order to ensure adequate opportunity for all producers to participate in the sign-up. While the sign-up deadline is extended, the cut-off for participation remains September 30, 2007.

Bills Introduced to Stop FSA Office Closures — South Dakota Senator John Thune has introduced a bill that would stop any potential Farm Service Agency office closures until the Secretary of Agriculture conducts a study on cost savings at the three FSA headquarters locations and all state FSA offices. Representative Stephanie Herseth has introduced similar legislation on the House side. Earlier this month, the FSA announced plans to close six county FSA offices in South Dakota.

FSA Tommorrow Consolidation Plan in Place — South Dakota Farm Service Agency Executive Director Steve Cultler has submitted his consolidation plan to Washington. The plan includes the closure of county offices, prompting concern at the local level. "People generally agree with you on a general premise that we need to be efficient with taxpayer dollars and we need to equalize work load and do what we can do to provide efficient service," Cutler said, "But, anytime you talk about the specifics of which offices would be consolidated, those local folks get concerned." Before final decisions are made, Cutler says the FSA will seek public input.

Biotech Vote Delay — Brazil?s biotechnology council delayed action on a new biotech corn product after Greenpeace interrupted their closed door meeting. Brazil has approved biotech soybeans, but has not endorsed the use of the technology in corn. The vote has been pushed back until April 18th.

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