Legislative Action News, March 6, 2012

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CFTC to complete majority of Dodd-Frank rules by summer
By Sarah Gonzalez © Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

WASHINGTON, Feb. 29, 2012- Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) Chairman Gary Gensler told the House Agriculture Committee that he expects Dodd-Frank rule-writing to be completed by this summer; however, he noted it’s possible that a handful won’t be finished until later this year.

The House Agriculture Committee held a public hearing today to review the 2012 agenda of the CFTC as the agency continues to investigate the collapse of MF Global and finalize rules of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act.
Read more: http://www.agri-pulse.com/CFTC-House-Ag-Agenda-02292012.asp

Crop insurance payments burst $10 billion barrier
Southwest Farm Press

For the first time in history, crop insurance indemnities to farmers and ranchers have exceeded $10.08 billion to cover agricultural losses, underscoring last year’s high crop values and volatile weather.  This figure likely will climb as more than an estimatedfive percent of the claims remain outstanding. This surpasses the old 2008 record of $8.67 billion by more than 16 percent.
Read the entire story: http://westernfarmpress.com/government/crop-insurance-payments-burst-10-billion-barrier?NL=WFP-01&Issue=WFP-01_20120302_WFP-01_604&YM_RID=sgruba@asfmra.org&YM_MID=1295278

Farm Groups: Crop Insurance Top Priority
By Stephen Frerichs

During their annual meeting at “Commodity Classic” the National Corn Growers Association, the American Soybean Association, the National Association of Wheat Growers and the National Sorghum Producers release the joint statement below:

“Commodity Classic provides our organizations an opportunity to come together to discuss important policy issues facing our industry. As Congress continues work on the next farm bill, our organizations agree that an affordable crop insurance program is our No. 1 priority. We also stand ready to work with House and Senate Ag Committee leaders to create farm programs that provide risk-management tools to growers when they are facing a loss beyond their control.

We urge Congress to pass a new farm bill this year to provide the level of certainty in America that a short-term extension cannot. The nation is currently facing record high federal deficits and this requires difficult decisions. We stand ready to do our part to develop more efficient farm policy that will be responsive to taxpayers and effective in helping farms remain viable and productive.

Our organizations represent more than 70 percent of all crop acres in the United States. Agriculture is a bright spot in our nation’s economy, sustainably meeting the expanding demands to provide food, feed, fuel and fiber to the world. We are pleased to see the Senate and House Agriculture Committees have produced such an aggressive schedule and we thank them for their efforts.”

USDA Announces New CRP Initiative
By Stephen Frerichs

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced last week the opportunity for producers to enroll a total of 1 million acres of land in a new Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) initiative to preserve grasslands and wetlands acres.

Rather than wait for a general sign-up (the process under which most CRP acres are enrolled), producers whose land meet eligibility criteria can enroll directly in this “continuous” category at any time. Some of the changes brought on by the expansion will take place immediately and some will be initiated in the coming months. Changes include:

New Continuous Pollinator Practice – 100,000 additional acres
A new continuous practice to permit producers to develop pollinator habitat for many pollinator species.

Increase Acreage for Wetland Restoration – 200,000 additional acres
Two practices will expand that are designed to restore wetlands that are both within a 100-year floodplain and outside of a100-year floodplain. Last year’s floods were a strong reminder of the value of wetlands in absorbing storm water and slowing run-off.

Restoration of Critical Grassland Ecosystems
This initiative targets areas that can restore important habitats to protect threatened and/or endangered species, candidate species, or species of significant social/economic importance. The restoration work would be done through the following existing practices and sub-initiatives:

Increase Acreage for SAFE – 400,000 additional acres
SAFE practices provide the flexibility to meet the specific needs of high-value wildlife species in a participating state or region through higher-quality habitat. SAFE projects would be developed at the state and local level.

Increase Acreage for Duck Nesting Habitat – 150,000 additional acres
Restores wetlands and develops nesting habitat in areas deemed as the most critical waterfowl areas. Currently, there are 175,000 acres enrolled in this practice.

Increase Acreage for Upland Bird Habitat Buffers – 150,000 additional acres
Provides extremely valuable habitat for upland birds such as quail and pheasants. Currently, there are 244,000 acres enrolled in this initiative.

Provide Greater Incentives for Continuous CRP
To encourage producers to sign up their most environmentally valuable acres FSA will increase the Signing Incentive Payments (SIPs) to $150 per acre from the current level of $100 per acre. The incentive is offered on most continuous practices and will include wetland restorations, pollinators and upland bird habitat.

Recently, USDA announced two additional CRP sign-ups: a four-week general sign-up beginning on March 12 and ending on April 6; and a continuous sign-up for Highly Erodible Cropland beginning this summer, which seeks to protect the nation’s most environmentally sensitive lands. The Highly Erodible Cropland initiative permits landowners to enroll up to 750,000 acres of land with an Erodibility Index (EI) of 20 or greater.

EWG pushes for conservation cross compliance with crop insurance
By Sara Wyant © Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

WASHINGTON, Feb. 27 – Just one day before the Senate Agriculture Committee will hold a hearing on conservation issues in the 2012 Farm Bill, the Environmental Working Group (EWG), released a new paper to make the case for linking crop insurance benefits to conservation cross-compliance and updating farmers’ conservation plans.

Since the 1985 Farm Bill, farmers have been required to meet certain conservation practice requirements in order to be eligible for direct payments, conservation programs and other federal farm program benefits. Since 1996, these requirements have not applied to subsidized crop insurance—in part because they were viewed as an impediment to moving away from ad hoc disaster programs and encouraging more crop insurance coverage.

Given that direct payments, are likely to be eliminated in the next farm bill, EWG says it’s time to require that anyone purchasing crop insurance also meet the conservation requirements. If enacted, cross-compliance could impact an estimated 53,000 farms with 17 million crop acres who received neither conservation payments nor direct payments in 2010, but did purchase crop insurance, according to USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS). However, ERS noted that some of these farms may already be subject to compliance requirements because of disaster payments.

Farm Bill Hearings
By Stephen Frerichs

Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) moved-up their last scheduled farm bill hearing to March 14, instead of March 21, 2012. At the same time, she signaled that the earlier completion of the Senate farm bill hearings will give the Senate more time to write the farm bill.  The goal, as of now, is for the Senate to attempt to complete a committee mark-up sometime in April or May.

The House Agriculture Committee meanwhile has scheduled a series of field hearings. Chairman Lucas (R-OK) has indicated he wants the Senate to go first, but that doesn’t mean the House Agriculture Committee does nothing while the Senate proceeds.  If you attend one of the hearings, please send me an email and let me know what transpires. The House hearings scheduled are:

Friday, March 9, 2012 – 9:00 a.m. EST
North Country Community College, Sparks Athletic Complex
23 Santanoni Ave
Saranac Lake, NY 12983

Friday, March 23, 2012 – 9:00 a.m. CDT
Carl Sandburg College, Student Center Building B
2400 Tom L. Wilson Blvd.
Galesburg, IL 61401

Friday, March 30, 2012 – 9:00 a.m. CDT
Riceland Hall, Fowler Center
Arkansas State University
201 Olympic Drive
State University, AR 72467

Friday, April 20, 2012 – 9:00 a.m. CDT
Magouirk Conference Center
4100 W. Comanche
Dodge City, KS 67801

USDA Forecasts More Planted Acres, Lower Commodity Prices
By Stephen Frerichs

Last week during the annual Agricultural Outlook Conference hosted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Chief Economist Joe Glauber presented the USDA outlook for commodities. USDA expects farmers will plant more acres to all major commodities in 2012. Planting of the eight major crops in the United States were forecast to rise 2.2 percent to 254.4 million acres from 2011. It would be the largest area sown to wheat, corn, sorghum, barley, oats, rice, soybeans and upland cotton since 258.6 million acres in 1997.

The estimate was up 1.3 percent from a projection made in early February, due to more soybean and wheat acres. Farmers are expected to plant some 94 million acres of corn this year, enough to grow the first 14-billion-bushel crop. The plantings would be up 2 million acres from last year. The extra supplies will help boost corn stocks, along with slowing demand for ethanol. U.S. corn prices,  could retreat 20 percent this year to around $5 a bushel while farm income would shrink 11.5 percent, USDA forecasted.

Bank Accused of Appraisal Fraud
By Bill Garber

A whistleblower complaint that alleged Countrywide Financial fraudulently inflated appraisals used for government-insured home loans was unsealed Feb. 24 in U.S District Court in New York, Reuters reported.

The complaint is related to a $1 billion settlement between Bank of America, which owns Countrywide, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of New York, and incorporated into the $26 billion settlement that five major banks reached with state attorneys general and the U.S. Department of Justice. 

Federal prosecutors told Reuters they had been investigating Bank of America and Countrywide since 2009 over allegations that they had defrauded the Federal Housing Administration by originating loans based on inflated appraisals.

The complaint alleged “corrupt underwriting and appraisal processes” at the Countrywide appraisal unit in Plano, Texas. The whistleblower, Kyle Lagow, worked at that Countrywide office from June 2004 to November 2008, Reuters reported.

Lagow could earn up to 25 percent of the settlement amount under the False Claims Act. In a similar case, a Citigroup whistleblower will receive $31 million of the $158.3 million the bank agreed to pay Feb. 15 for allegedly misleading the government into insuring thousands of risky home loans.

The False Claims Act is a federal law designed to recover money taken from the government by fraud and to discourage further wrongdoing.

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