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Farm Policy Update January 31, 2007

Will Doha’s Engine Jump Start?

According to sources familiar with the discussions, trade negotiators from the US and the European Union are negotiating a deal that could restart stalled world trade talks. The fragile deal starting to emerge has yet to be finalized and comes amid tremendous uncertainty about whether negotiators can get the political backing to achieve a breakthrough in the Doha round of trade talks. The deal reported to be taking shape behind closed doors includes a proposal by Brussels to cut barriers to foreign agricultural products by an average of at least 54 percent, and a conditional offer by the US to lower the ceiling on its domestic farm subsidies to close to $17bn (EUR13.1bn, 8.6bn).

“I believe in supporting agriculture…. I think how you do it is a very critical issue. You can support farmers, but you have to do it in a way that provides for a safety net that is beyond [WTO] challenge.” -- Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns

There Are Two Farm Bill Debates this Year

Increasing demand for ethanol has driven the price of corn to the highest levels since 2002, affecting the baseline estimates of the cost of farm commodity programswith estimates ranging from seven to 10 billion dollars less than previous years. But the anticipated lowered agriculture baseline budget may put the squeeze on prospects for increasing benefits to the public. “So we have two farm bill debates this year: first in the Budget Committee to determine how much money we will have to spend, and then in the agriculture committees to decide how to allocate it,” says AFT president Ralph Grossi. “As the public, we have to decide how much money we want to allot to cleaning up the environment, improving our diets, helping rural development and feeding the hungry, and much more.”

Increasing Demand for Ethanol Spike Corn Prices

New Alliance Pushes for Bold Changes in 2007 Farm Bill

AFT joined a broad alliance [PDF] of family farm, rural, conservation, sustainable and organic agriculture, anti-hunger, nutrition, faith-based, public health and other groups to say the next farm bill should advance a new generation of farm and food policies that address some of the nation’s most pressing social, economic, environmental and public health challenges. Recommendations are detailed in the report, Seeking Balance in U.S. Farm and Food Policy [PDF].

Stewardship Is the Future of Agriculture

“Farmers in New England are very enthusiastic about the Conservation Security Program (CSP), however there are quirks in the program they would like to have fixed. Overall they feel it is the right direction for agriculture policy,” said Kathleen Merrigan, Ph.D., assistant professor of agriculture, food and the environment at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University. Dr. Merrigan presented the results of a study on the CSP, done in collaboration with AFT, to members of the Senate Agriculture Committee and called for a renewed effort to strengthen the program and provide it with full funding.

Media Update

Sen. Harkin Says Iraq War Will Affect Farm Payments
Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), “There is no way the next farm bill can escape the effects of the Iraq war on the budget.” Sen. Harkin says farm subsidies are likely to be reduced, because the Iraq war is becoming a “black hole” in the budget, having cost the United States nearly a half-trillion dollars so far.

Seven More Join the WTO Case Against US
Argentina, Australia, the European Union, Brazil, Thailand, Guatemala and Uruguay have all joined Canada in a multi-faceted complaint about U.S. support to corn growers, seeking a WTO consultation. At issue is whether U.S. subsidy payments violate international commerce rules, and whether U.S. export subsidies and other payments unfairly and illegally deflate world corn prices. Since the trade action is being brought by many of the world’s top ten corn exporting nations, it is bringing significant pressure on the possible resumption of the Doha round of WTO talks, and comes as Congress begins work drafting the 2007 Farm Bill.

Revenue Insurance Programs Get Deserved Attention
The Center for Agricultural and Rural Development (CARD) at Iowa State University has published a paper looking at how new revenue insurance programs might work for producers under the 2007 Farm Bill, and notes the work of American Farmland Trust and the National Corn Growers Association in this area.

Renewable Energy Spins Global Benefits
A new World Bank report [PDF] on the agency’s progress on renewable energy and energy efficiency notes the bank has nearly doubled its commitment to renewable energy projects for a total of $668 million in 2006. Why? Funding projects in 61 developing countries “is an environmentally sustainable way to address the problem of one and a half billion people in the world who do not have access to modern energy.”

A Farm Bill that Serves Us All
Syndicated columnist Neal Peirce notes the work of AFT in its farm policy campaign, and says “The time’s at hand to rescue the farm bill from its commodity prison and put its resources to work not just for a healthier farm sector, but a healthier nation.”

California’s Stake in the Farm Bill Debate; What’s Yours?
Former USDA Undersecretary Richard Rominger and Tom Nassif, president of the Western Growers, co-authored an op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle noting that California’s farmers do more than feed the world; they hold the key to maintaining the state’s environment. If the state’s Congressional delegation will work together, it can help fix the conservation provisions in the 2007 Farm Bill and bring more benefits to Californians. Is the same true in your state?

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