News Briefs

Farm Bill Positioning

pgfeb17-calendarBob Redding of the Redding Firm in Washington D.C. recently told a group of farmers that although there will be some changes in the House and Senate for the 115th Congress, most of the agricultural leadership will remain in place for the 2018 Farm Bill.

Redding says, “The Capitol Hill peanut leadership is well-positioned with regard to senior policy slots on both the authorization and appropriations committees.”

The Trump administration’s nominations will likely consume the Senate Agriculture Committee for the first quarter of the year. “We anticipate Farm Bill hearings in 2017.”

The replacement for Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala) is the most important near-term appointment and election for peanut growers. Sonny Perdue III, former governor of Georgia, is said to be President-elect Donald Trump’s leading candidate for Ag Secretary, according to reports, but is not final at press time.

ConAgra Case Settled

ConAgra recently pleaded guilty in federal court to a misdemeanor charge of shipping salmonella-tainted peanut butter that sickened hundreds of people in 2006-2007.

A federal judge in Albany, Ga., approved the $11.2 million settlement, including an $8 million fine and another $3.2 million in forfeitures to the federal government, the largest food safety fine in the history of the United States.

The settlement ends the case that began in November 2006 when approximately 625 people in 47 states became ill from salmonella. The contamination at ConAgra’s Sylvester plant was said to result from an old and failing peanut roaster, a storm-damaged sugar silo that allowed access to insects and birds and a leaky roof that allowed moisture to come into the production process.

ConAgra launched a huge product recall and has since spent $275 million on upgrades at the plant and adopted new testing procedures to screen for contaminants.

Sustainability In Peanuts

Sustainability is all about becoming more efficient, productive and profitable while at the same time benefiting the environment. Peanuts have a great story to tell, which is increasingly important to consumers. The American Peanut Council has established a Sustainability Task Force that is providing an opportunity to discuss Field to Market’s Fieldprint Calculator.

The Calculator enables growers to enter data on their fields and calculate the sustainability impacts, which can then be compared with national and regional data, providing them with a valuable management tool. This project will be a multi-year effort to develop a tool that is easy to use and helps the grower increase his productivity.

The Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture released its 2016 National Indicators Report in December. It analyzes eight environmental indicators and five socioeconomic indicators for 10 crops (barley, corn for grain, corn for silage, cotton, peanuts, potatoes, rice, soybeans, sugar beets and wheat) over a 36-year period at a national level. This is the first time peanuts has appeared and outlines the crop’s improvements.

WSJ Targets Farm Programs

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal called on President Trump to abolish farm programs. Regarding peanuts, specifically, the article stated, “In 2002, Congress abolished the quota system that required farmers to possess a federal license to grow peanuts. Yet, rather than trust free markets, Congress created a new price-support program. In 2014, Congress sharply increased peanut subsidies. Federal program outlays are forecast by the USDA to increase eightfold between 2015 and 2017, reaching almost $1 billion a year. As a result, the USDA is drowning in a sea of surplus peanuts that farmers dump on the government.”

Could the article have been more incorrect? As one peanut industry member stated, “USDA had 62 tons of peanuts forfeited in 2016. All other peanut marketing loans were repaid. With help from China, USDA has done a great job of selling, resulting in no surplus. The peanut program kicks in when peanut prices are low, increasing the reference price from $495 to $535. Forty dollars per ton over eight years is not a ‘sharp increase.’”