News Briefs

In Brief:

• President Bush says again he will only sign a Farm Bill that contains program reforms.

• Crop insurance planting deadline May 31, with 15-day late planting period.

• Groups say new beneficial interest rules give market gains to purchaser.

• Inspectors sickened by peanuts retain lawyers for worker’s compensation case.


Farm Bill Extended Until April
Congress has agreed on legislation to extend the Farm Bill to April 18, 2008.

In a statement released from the White House, President Bush indicated he would sign the legislation to avoid disruptions that would result if the current law was allowed to expire, while again threatening to veto the Farm Bill if it does not contain program reforms.

“Farmers and ranchers deserve to know the structure of policies that affect their day-to-day business activities, and right now they face uncertainty,” Bush says in the statement.

He reiterates that his goal has been to sign a reform-minded and fiscally responsible approach to supporting America’s farmers and ranchers.

“My proposal would provide agriculture producers with a safety net that better targets benefits and provides funding for emerging priorities. Today’s farm economy is very strong, and Congress should not miss this opportunity to reform current farm programs,” he says.

“We have offered legislative language and a list of potential spending offsets to ensure Congress does not increase taxes, and while insisting on significant reforms, we have demonstrated flexibility on how to achieve real reform.”

Bush again makes it clear that a Farm Bill that includes a tax increase or does not include program reforms will be vetoed. However, he also says that if a final agreement is not reached by April 18, he will call on Congress to extend current law for at least one year.

“While long-term extension of current law is not the desired outcome, I believe the government has a responsibility to provide America’s farmers and ranchers with a timely and predictable farm program – not multiple short-term extensions of current law. Without a predictable policy, agriculture producers will be unable to make sound business decisions with respect to this year’s crop,” he says.

In closing his statement, Bush says, “I am eager to sign a Farm Bill that provides a safety net for farmers, includes significant farm program reform similar to the Administration’s Farm Bill proposal and does not include tax increases. I have made clear the framework of an agreement that will garner my signature and urge Congress to pass a bill that meets these criteria.”

Crop Insurance Planting Deadlines
Knowing when to plant involves many considerations. Some decisions are factored around the Peanut Disease Risk Index and the threat of Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus. However, crop insurance is another consideration.

The final planting date for peanuts to be covered by crop insurance is May 31, which coincides with the optimal planting window as determined by researchers for the disease risk index. A 15-day late planting period begins the day after the May 31, final planting day. The production guarantee per acre is reduced 1 percent per day for each day the crop is planted after the final planting date.

Changing Rules On Beneficial Interest
Although a final Farm Bill has not been approved by Congress or signed by the president, questions surrounding beneficial interest have arisen from several commodity groups.

The Bush Administration’s proposal is for base loan repayment rates and loan deficiency payment (LDP) rates to be effective on the date a producer loses beneficial interest.

The National Cotton Council and the Southern Peanut Farmers Federation have notified Mark Keenum, Under Secretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services, that they strongly oppose any changes in the rules of beneficial interest.

The groups, and their farmer-members, say that this proposal would limit a producer’s marketing flexibility and options under the current marketing loan program and eliminate any existing marketing incentives. In effect, producers would be prohibited from repaying the loan or receiving any LDP when prices are low, with the hope the market might improve allowing them to sell at a later date and obtain a greater return from the marketplace.

The farmer would be forced to lose beneficial interest, giving any advantage to the purchaser for any market gains. The organizations say that it would lead to more loan forfeitures since there is no incentive for producers to redeem their loan if prices remain depressed.

Cotton, peanuts and rice have asked the USDA and the administration to reconsider their proposal.

No Drought Declaration In Georgia
The Georgia Environmental Protection division director, in consultation with the state climatologist and the state geologist, have determined that a severe drought declaration will not be made this year for the lower Flint River Basin.

The 90-day precipitation forecast, current stream flows and groundwater levels do not support the drought declaration, said director Carol Couch.

Ill Inspectors Plan Legal Action
A dozen peanut graders who worked for the Georgia Federal State Inspection Service have charged that they became sick after inspecting peanuts in October and have hired an attorney to represent them in a worker’s compensation case. The peanuts were graded at Shann Peanut Company in Ambrose, Ga., a buying point serving Tifton Quality Peanuts (TQP).

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration conducted tests on the peanuts that had reportedly caused skin irritations and respiratory problems. FDA said the testing was a collaborative effort between the FDA, the Farm Service Agency, USDA Agricultural Marketing Service and Agricultural Research Service, the Centers for Disease Control, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, the Georgia Division of Public Health and the Georgia Department of Agriculture.

Stephanie Kwisnek, of the FDA, said that samples were taken at the buying point and the storage warehouses. “All samples tested negative. Authorities could not find any evidence that suggested the peanuts violated the laws and regulations enforced by USDA.”

Bill Park, chief executive officer of TQP, said, “They didn’t find anything wrong [with the peanuts] and they have been released. They are still here, and we have not shelled them yet.”

Amanda Conley of Parsons Law Group in Marietta said, “They are all under medical care and have been every where for treatment. They don’t know what was on the peanuts.”

Frank Bodiford, with GFSIS, said “Georgia Federal State Inspection Service has paid all the medical bills and sent the employees to all types of physicians. Since they have retained an attorney, our worker’s comp will address all the issues.”

GPC Testifies On Southeast Water Issues
Total peanut losses due to the drought in Baker County, Ga., were $4 to $8 million in 2007, says Tim Burch, farmer and Georgia Peanut Commission board member from Newton, Ga. in Baker County. Burch testified before the U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee on water resources and environment on Wed., March 11, 2008.

Attesting to the drought and the need for continuous irrigation in the face of soaring fuel costs, Burch said, “Increases in energy costs have only made our drought problem worse. There is no indication that energy costs will diminish for the 2008 crop year.”

According to the Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development at the University of Georgia, drought conditions during 2007 cost Georgia nearly $800 million. These losses came primarily from hay and pasture, cotton, peanuts and corn. The greatest losses were in pasture at approximately $265 million. Output losses, which are the total sales lost to the Georgia economy due to these direct losses reported for each commodity, had a total impact of $1.3 billion.

With these estimates for the 2007 crop year, Burch emphasized the importance of Georgia’s water as a shared natural resource to help save farmer’s money in 2008.

Through a collaborative effort, Georgia crafted a water management plan that has now passed the state legislature and become law. The plan establishes a framework for moving forward on Georgia’s water issues, and Georgia’s many commodity producers and producer organizations will continue to participate as the plan evolves.

Burch closed his testimony by stating, “We have very serious water issues in our state and the Southeast. As one segment of Georgia’s economy, we are striving to use the best technologies and conservation practices available to protect our water resources.”