Farm Bill back and forth • Zip line insanity • How Obama and Rep. Ryan differ on the Farm Bill • Timber resurgence on the West Coast • Silly season in coal country
Who’d a thunk the Farm Bill would be such a big deal in the presidential campaign?
Well, it was yesterday, thanks to the harshness of the drought and the fact that Iowa is a swing state. President Obama was in Iowa yesterday, visiting a farm and the state fair. Here is what he had to say:
Today we are here at the McIntosh Family Farms, here in Missouri Valley, Iowa, and we just got a tour from Dean, Don, Richard and Roger. And like a lot of families in this area and across America, the McIntoshes are suffering under one of the worst droughts in 50 years.
We’ve just been through the warmest 12-month period ever recorded, and right now more than 60 percent of the country is under drought conditions. It’s hot, it’s dry, and the summer is not over yet.
Things are especially tough for farmers and ranchers, like the McIntoshes, who depend on a good growing season to pay the bills and keep a roof over their heads. The McIntosh family has been farming in the Missouri Valley for 96 years, so they’ve seen just about everything, but this is the worst drought they can remember in decades. As a result, their corn yield is off by about a third, and some of their neighbors in surrounding areas are struggling even worse.
Here in Iowa, almost half of the corn crop and more than a third of the soybean crop is in poor or very poor condition. Livestock producers are having trouble feeding their herds. Crops and livestock are a $30 billion business in Iowa, and that’s a huge chunk of the economy that’s being put at risk. And states all across the heartland have it just as bad.
Now, the best way to help these states is for Congress to act. They need to pass a farm bill that not only helps farmers and ranchers respond to natural disasters, but also makes necessary reforms and gives them some long-term certainty. But the folks suffering from this drought can’t wait for Congress to do its job. So in the meantime, I’ve made sure that my administration, under the leadership of Secretary Tom Vilsack, is doing everything we can to provide relief to those who need it.
Farm Bill: Romney and Obama
Chris Clayton parses the differences between candidates Romney and Obama when it comes to the Farm Bill:
(Vice Presidential candidate Paul) Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, crafted a budget plan to cut $5.3 trillion from the federal budget over 10 years. His proposed cuts for farm programs were comparable to President Obama’s budget proposal to eliminate direct payments and cut the crop-insurance premium subsidy. Still, the Des Moines Register quoted Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who spoke prior to Obama in Council Bluffs, as saying Ryan’s budget plan “destroys the safety net” for farmers when they are vulnerable.
Ryan’s budget proposal last May recommended $30 billion be cut out of farm programs over 10 years by reducing “fixed payments” and by reforming “the open-ended nature” of crop insurance.
The Obama administration proposed $32 billion in overall budget savings over 10 years, largely through eliminating direct payments and cutting subsidies to crop insurers.
A Timber Comeback
The Wall Street Journal reports that the “West Coast’s beleaguered timber industry is making a comeback, boosting the economies of rural towns that remain otherwise hard hit by the economic downturn.”
The paper says that timber harvests are up by 20 percent or more, driven by exports. California Gov. Jerry Brown is pushing legislation that would reduce regulation of the timber industry.
Rural Newspaper Vitality
The Rural Blog tells us of a new study finding that weekly newspapers are increasingly rural.
In 1997, 45 percent of the nation’s weeklies were in towns of under 10,000 people. Most weeklies then were in suburbs of larger cities.
By 2009, 67 percent were in small towns. Nearly two-thirds were part of ownership groups, up by half from 1997.
Romney and Ryan head off straightaway to rural North Carolina. Then the President speaks at an Iowa farm and the state fair. Vice President Biden is off to campaign in southern Virginia.
Farm Subsidies Included in Cuts
The Washington Post notes that if a budget deal isn’t reached in Congress before the end of the year, not only defense spending will be cut.
Yes, some programs are exempt from “sequestration” required by law if there is no budget deal, such as food stamps and veterans’ health care. But farm subsidies would be cut, as would money for the National Weather Service.
Drought and Crop Insurance
The drought could cause farm losses covered by crop insurance of up to $18 billion, says Vincent Smith, a Montana State economist. Of that amount, taxpayers might have to pay $10 billion, and that is in addition to the $9 billion the federal government provided farmers to reduce the cost of insurance premiums.
These kinds of numbers have everyone looking at a move in this year’s Farm Bill debate to expand crop insurance.
Archer City’s Bookstore
Author Larry McMurtry auctioned off 300,000 used books from his Archer City, Texas, bookstore over the weekend, about two-thirds of the stock of his Booked Up bookstore.
McMurtry started his bookstore in Archer City in 1988. Archer City has about 2,000, is located 150 miles northwest of Dallas and served as the setting for “The Last Picture Show,” McMurtry’s novel about a small Texas town that was turned into a movie.
McMurtry thought of Booked Up as a kind of economic development project, and, in fact, thousands of people came to Archer City to see what became America’s most famous used book store.
According to a story in the New York Times, some people came to the book sale hoping to copy Archer City’s success. “Archer City is the story of trying to revitalize a town,” said one couple. “We’re looking to take Larry’s model and bring it to Pennsylvania.”
Zip Line Slowdown in Colorado
People zinging overhead on zip lines are causing travelers on I-70 just west of Denver to do such heavy gawking that they are causing traffic jams.
St. Louis Farmers Market to Close
The market was owned at one time by the Missouri Farmers Union, but the market couldn’t compete against larger markets and groceries.
What We Need in Marshalltown
Writer Clare Leschin-Hoar writes that President Obama will be in her hometown of Marshalltown, Iowa, this morning. She tells the President what her town needs to hear.
Too many people in town have diabetes, she writes, and the administration has been too friendly to GMO crops that haven’t produced promised crop yields.
Silly Coal Talk
“The coal industry is having none of what Sen. Jay Rockefeller has encouraged — a toned-down, more nuanced, and more reasoned approach to trying to tackle these kinds of challenges,” writes Ken Ward Jr. “So far, the Republicans certainly haven’t headed in that direction. And while he apparently thinks (correctly) that the political media heads for the least-common denominator of shallow discourse, President Obama’s own campaign certainly hasn’t done much to rise above that level thus far in its limited discussion of coalfield issues.”
The discussion among politicians in Appalachia have ignored the issues that really do face coal communities, Ward writes. Such as:
“Increased competition from natural gas and other coal regions, a declining base of economically extractable reserves, serious water quality and human health issues linked to large-scale surface mining, the deadly toll of black lung disease.”
Drought and Suicide
Studies of Australian records finds that men are more likely to commit suicide during times of drought.
Wind Turbine Layoffs
The world’s largest producer of wind turbines is laying off workers because of uncertainty over the extension of the wind power tax credit. That uncertainty is causing a slowdown in demand for wind power equipment — and that has resulted in the layoffs.
President Obama predicted last week during a speech near the plant in Pueblo, Colorado, that the failure of Congress to extend the credit could cost “37,000 American jobs, including potentially hundreds of jobs right here.”