American Farmland Trust President Jon Scholl sent a letter this week to the Bi-Cameral Task Force on Climate Change in response to a request for input from the task force. AFT’s letter presented information to the task force on opportunities for Congress and the administration to act on climate change, both in terms of helping agriculture mitigate its effects and also to adapt to greater weather variables. The task force is co-chaired by Congressman Henry Waxman (D-Calf.) and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.).
The U.S. Department of Agriculture hosted the 2013 Ag Outlook Forum: Managing Risk in the 21st Century, February 21 and 22 in Crystal City, Va. The event kicked off with keynote speeches from Secretary Tom Vilsack, Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan, USDA Chief Economist Joe Glauber and former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle. The opening panel’s remarks focused on the need for the agriculture industry to remain a strong part of the rural economy, for greater policy certainty surrounding the farm bill, particularly in light of the ongoing drought, and for more collaboration and innovation within the sector.
The 45th General Signup of the Conservation Reserve Program was announced Saturday, February 16 at the annual Pheasant Fest and Quail Classic in Minneapolis, Minn. Secretary Vilsack announced the sign up will be May 20 through June 14 and highlighted the many ecosystem benefits of CRP including wildlife habitat, wetland restoration, nutrient reductions and carbon sequestration.
Secretary Vilsack also recently sent a letter to Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) outlining cuts the department will be forced to make should sequestration take effect on March 1. The letter and attached documents outline specific, agency level cuts the department is prepared to make should the Congress not pass alternative legislation. Specific to conservation, the sequester will mean the loss of $222 million in financial and technical assistance to approximately 11,000 farmers and ranchers. Those funding cuts would come from the discretionary Conservation Operations account which funds technical assistance, as well as from mandatory programs authorized under the 2008 Farm Bill.
USDA also this week issued its annual Farms, Land in Farms and Livestock Operations report. The report provides a snapshot of farming operations on a national basis. The report estimates that the number of farms in the U.S. fell by more than 11,000 in 2012. The report also estimates that farmland in production is 3 million acres less than in 2011.
Oral arguments were presented this week before the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Bowman v. Monsanto. The agriculture-related case before the high court involves questions surrounding patent law and the ability for farmers to produce and re-use seeds containing patented technology. The case involves an Indiana soybean farmer Vernon Hugh Bowman, who purchased seeds from a grain elevator and later discovered the seeds were in fact Monsanto’s Roundup Ready seeds. A lower court had ruled in favor of Monsanto but that decision was appealed by Bowman citing the first sale doctrine that rights of patent holders are expired after the first authorized sale of a product.
Previewing next week, the House Agriculture Committee has scheduled a hearing on Tuesday, February 26 to review the state of the rural economy where Secretary Vilsack is scheduled to testify. The Senate Agriculture Committee will hold an oversight hearing on Wednesday, February 27 on the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC). CFTC Chairman Gary Gensler will be testifying.