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Newton makes presentation at AFBF convention on the state of farm policymaking

ATLANTA — John Newton, the chief economist for the Republicans on the Senate Agriculture Committee and the former chief economist for the American Farm Bureau Federation, made a presentation here this week to the Farm Bureau convention on the state of farm policymaking.

Using a set of slides, Newton started off by noting that ad hoc disaster assistance to farmers is continuing through several programs, but that farm income and exports to China are up. Crop prices are up except for peanuts and rice, he noted. Those positive indicators are countered by a tight labor market and rising inflation, particularly for fertilizer. Still, his slides showed, farmland values are up 18%.

Newton, who works directly for Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., noted that Republicans call the Democrats’ Build Back Better proposal “Build Back Broke.” But his slides included a factual presentation of the contents of the BBB.



Newton also noted that climate change is a “priority” for the Biden administration and presented a slide on the administration’s plans to increase spending on Agriculture Department conservation programs. He said that if the BBB passes this year, the Democrats want to take what has not been spent of the estimated $90 billion in agricultural and nutrition programs and use it to provide money for programs in the next farm bill.

(At the moment BBB negotiations appear to be stalled, but some Democrats have said that popular items such as increased agricultural and nutrition spending might be taken out and passed as a separate package.)



Although the House version of the BBB did not include any of the proposed changes to the stepped-up basis system of valuing estates, Newton said Republicans are still worried that Democrats could revive that proposal if they are looking for increased revenue to fund the BBB.

Newton noted that dairy farmers are considering changes to the milk marketing order system and that there is a big debate among cattle producers about how to address the low prices they are getting for cattle while consumer prices are high.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and others have produced a bill that would require a certain percentage of cattle be sold through the cash markets. But Newton noted that this could interfere with beef contracts based on quality premiums, and presented a slide showing that the biggest increase in the percentage of the beef dollar has gone to retailers, not packers. But he also noted that retailers say they have had increased costs, particularly related to transportation.

The next farm bill is likely to cost more than $1 trillion, particularly because the Biden administration raised the level of benefits for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Newton said.

With so many weather disasters in recent years as well as the trade problems with China during the Trump administration and the coronavirus pandemic, there has been talk about creating a permanent disaster program in the farm bill. Newton showed a map of the country that portrayed the frequency of disaster declarations throughout the country and asked how much a disaster program would cost. He also raised the issue of how a disaster program would interact with the crop insurance program.

Newton also said the increased use of soybeans to make biofuels compared with food use could revive the debate over whether farm land should be used for fuel rather than food.

In conclusion, Newton noted that Boozman has pointed out that there have been no hearings on the agricultural and nutrition provisions under the BBB and no opportunity for the Republicans to offer amendments to this bill that would be considered under reconciliation rules, meaning only 51 votes would be required for passage.

Boozman has called for a return to regular order, Newton said.


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