Weekend Roundup: Congress Cuts

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The headline in the New York Times was “A Tough Day for Farmers as Lawmakers Look for Cuts.” No kidding. 

The House voted 217 to 203 to cut spending for the Ag Department and the Food and Drug Administration by 13 percent. International food assistance would be cut by more than 30 percent. 

In the House vote, every Democrat voted against the budget measure. They were joined by 19 Republicans.

The House did turn back an effort to tighten eligibility for crop subsidies for landowners with more than $250,000 in gross income.

The Senate, meanwhile, voted to end subsidies for ethanol.

We turn to Chris Clayton at DTN, who has collected comments from all the major players on what the week meant to American agriculture. This is what House Ag Ranking Member Collin Peterson of Minnesota had to say:

Agriculture is under assault in this Congress. We first saw it with the Ryan budget, which cut $178 billion from agriculture programs. And today, Congress approved a bill that makes disproportionate cuts to agriculture, including vital conservation and nutrition programs.

Additionally, the bill includes an unprecedented nearly $2 billion in changes to mandatory spending, taking funds from carefully negotiated farm bill programs. Furthermore, the funds that would allow the CFTC to move ahead with financial reforms and bring about a more open and transparent derivatives market were slashed.

I fear that if Congress continues to chip away at farm programs we will be left without an adequate safety net and the end result could potentially cost the government more money, not less.

• The Yonder 40 stock index was up last week and is now about even with the Dow Industrials for the year. The DY40 is made up of 40 stocks that reflect the rural economy.

The DY40 is up just over 3% this year; the Dow is up 3.7% and the S&P 500 is up just over 1%. 

The Yonder 40 is coming up on its fourth anniversary, the beginning of July. We’ll have a full accounting then.

• We like them baked, with butter, but we’re sure there are other ways to enjoy Vidalia onions that can be learned at the newly opened Vidalia Onion Museum in, where else?, Vidalia, Georgia. 

• As we noted above, the Senate had the votes to end a 30-year-old subsidy for corn ethanol, voting the end of the week to abolish the 45-cent-a-gallon tax credit received by refiners. The Senate also ended a tariff on imported ethanol.

Both subsidies were scheduled to go away at the end of this year, reports Philip Brasher in the Des Moines Register, but the Senate is willing to end them sooner.

Moreover, Brasher writes, the vote was largely symbolic, since the vote came on a bill that is unlikely to become law. 

Railroads in the flooding Missouri River valley are raising their beds, and that worries residents who believe the new construction could exacerbate problems with high water.

Big Lake, Missouri, has filed suit against the Burlington Northern line, claiming its higher railway beds could worsen flooding in the Holt County town. 

Politico reports that a Republican bill already cuts $1.14 billion from WIC nutrition programs and the international Food for Peace, but that further cuts in food programs have brought resistance from within the party.

• Economist Ed Glaeser weighs in on the locavore call for cities to grow more of their own food. 

Glaeser, who teaches at Harvard, says he’s for it. He likes the taste of local food (“especially oysters”) and thinks kids could learn a lot from growing their own vegetables.

“But while neighborhoods benefit from the occasional communal garden, it is a mistake to think that metropolitan areas could or should try to significantly satisfy their own food needs,” Glaeser writes. “Good environmentalism is smart environmentalism that thinks through the total systemic impacts of any change. Farm land within a metropolitan area decreases density levels and pushes us apart, and carbon emissions rise dramatically as density falls.”

Very little of the carbon emissions produced in food production come with transportation, Glaeser writes. The best thing cities can do to reduce pollution, Glaeser writes, is to gain density — and to leave farming to farmers. 

 

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