Ellyn Fergusonreported on Saturday at Roll Call Online that, "Mississippi'sThad Cochran, the new ranking Republican on the Senate Agriculture Committee, could be thewild cardamong the congressional players involved in writing a farm bill that could have a chance of being signed into law this year.

"He took the top GOP seat at the start of the 113th Congress after asserting his seniority on the panel to movePat RobertsofKansasout of the spot. The change means not only new leadership but also aregional shiftin power that is likely to alter the Senate farm bill's direction.

"Cochran is expected to champion Southern growers who opposed the 2012 Senate farm bill written by Roberts and ChairwomanDebbie Stabenow, D-Mich. Despite opposition from Cochran and other Southern Republican committee members, the two leaders got the bill through the panel and the Senate floor with bipartisan support."

The Roll Call article pointed out that, "Onnutrition issues, Cochran may surprise those who want to see significant cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, a domestic food aid program for low-income people that constitutes more than half of all Agriculture Department and farm bill spending. The lawmaker says federal food programs such as SNAP and the national school lunch programhave benefited his state, which ranks among the poorest in the nation."

"So far, Cochran, a veteran of the Senate and a courtly practitioner of behind-the-scenes maneuvering, is keeping his farm bill plans to himself. He sayshe will seek consensus on a committee billand does not plan to block or delay the legislation," the Roll Call article said.

Meanwhile, anews releaseFriday from Rep.Ron Kind(D., Wis.) stated that, "[Rep. Kind] andEarl Blumenauer(D-OR) re-introduced legislation to put an end tothe $147 million in taxpayer dollars goingto the Brazilian cotton agribusiness each year…[T]his legislationstops all payments to the Brazilian Cotton Institute, andputs pressureon the House and Senate Agriculture Committees to make the necessary reforms to be World Trade Organization (WTO) compliant to ensure that American goods, services, and intellectual property aren't subject to future trade retaliations."

House Ag Committee MemberCheri Bustos(D., Il)indicated on Fridaythat, "I'm encouraged thatChairman Lucasrecently indicated he will move ahead with a farm billnext month, and wants to send a bipartisan farm bill to the floor of the House for a vote.As I travel around our region and talk to farmers, the one thing I hear over and over again is that they want certainty."

In more specific news regardingnutritionissues,David Rogersreported yesterday at Politico that, "'Where are the jobs?' SpeakerJohn Boehnerlikes to ask.But do his fellow House Republicans really want to kick the unemployed off food stamps if they can't find the jobs either?

"That's the question behind a simmering farm bill battle overreimposing work requirementson millions of able-bodied adults enrolled in the nutrition program. Most have no reported earnings, andwithout added job training or workfare slots, the change could spell real hardship in today's economy.

"For this reason, House Agriculture Committee ChairmanFrank Lucas(R-Okla.) isresisting the move. But back home, theOklahomastate Legislature recently took steps to reinstate work requirements. And the office of Majority LeaderEric Cantor(R-Va.) hasrepeatedly raised the issue with Lucas as a way to win conservative votes for his farm bill, now slated for markup May 15."

The article noted that, "Food stamps - officially known as SNAP or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program - offers a prime testing ground for Republicans trying to put a new face on their approach to poverty."

Mr. Rogers pointed out that, "The tug of war with Cantor is reminiscent of last year's farm bill debacle when the leadership ultimately blocked House floor action on Lucas's bill. Rep.Steve King(R-Iowa), who took over the nutrition subcommittee this year, shares Lucas's concerns that producers can't wait another year for farm bill action.

"Previously, King has taken a harder line on cutting SNAP than his predecessor, ex-Rep.Jean Schmidt(R-Ohio), who led the same subcommittee in the last Congress. For this reason, King is seen as a potential Heritage ally. But he's also a man eyeing a potential statewide race for an open Senate seat in 2014.

"'I want to get a farm bill through the committee and this Congress,' King told POLITICO. 'It's really the art of the possible.'"

Also,Teresa Watanabereported in Friday's Los Angeles Times that, "L.A. Unified teachers and administrators this week expressed wildly differing views of a classroom breakfast program intended to ensure that students don't start the day hungry.

"United Teachers Los Angelesgave the program a 'failing grade' Monday as it released results from an online survey that said the effort had increased pests, created messes and cut down on instructional time.

"ButDavid Binkle, the district's food services director, on Tuesday said that the program - which serves 193,000 students in 280 schools - was a 'smashing success.' Schools that participate have reported better attendance, less tardiness, calmer and more focused students and fewer visits to the school nurse, Binkle said."

And DTN'sUrban C. Lehnerpenned an interesting update on Friday, "There's More Than One Way To Reform Food Stamps," that pointed to "a 2011 essay in the Maine Policy Review, 'Healthy Food Access and Affordability: 'We Can Pay the Farmer or We Can Pay the Hospital.''"

Mr. Lehner noted that, "In short, for most of the program's [SNAP] critics and supporters improving health and helping farmers are marginal concerns.

"Which is a shame, because the authors of the Maine Policy Review essay - August Schumacher, Michael Nischan and Daniel Bowman Simon - have someinteresting ideas for encouraging the use of SNAP benefits to promote more healthful eating and assist local produce growers."

In other policy news,Ken Andersonreported on Friday at Brownfield that, "U.S. RepresentativeKurt SchraderofOregonsays he plans to reintroduce the so-called 'egg bill' by the end of this month.

"The legislation would set federal standards on cages for egg-laying hens. Schrader and Sen.Dianne FeinsteinofCaliforniasponsored companion bills in the last Congress requiring egg producers throughout the country to switch to larger cages for hens."

From a political perspective,Corey Mitchellreported on Friday at the Minneapolis Star Tribune Online that, "Further evidence of the never-ending federal election cycle is cropping up in westernMinnesota.

"In its first targeted campaign of the season, the National Republican Congressional Committee, the campaign arm of House Republicans, aired televised attack ads this month against Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn. - more than 18 months before voters go to the polls."

Mr. Mitchell noted that, "But the numbers and rhetoric haven't added up for Republicans in almost two decades. That was the last time an election challenger came within 10 percentage points of Peterson. In 2012, Peterson captured 60 percent of the vote, defeating his opponent by 26 percentage points."


Agricultural Economy

Reuters writerKarl Plumereported on Friday that, "Barge shipping was halted on Friday on parts of the Illinois and Mississippi rivers as flooding forced the closure of several locks until at least the middle of next week, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said.

"The closures comethree months after near-record-low water along the Mississippi River nearSt. Louisthreatened to halt commercial barge traffic. Some 60 percent ofU.S.grain export shipments are moved on barges on theMississippiand its tributaries from production centers in the Midwest to export terminals at theGulf of Mexico."

The National Weather Servicetweeted on Saturdaythat, "Flooding will continue for several days in theMidwest," and provideda link to river level flood forecasts.

Also,Chicagoarea meteorologistTom Skillingtweetedon Fridaythat, "Check out thisMidwesternRegionalClimateCenterplot of rainfall the past 7 days."

Nick Timiraosreported in today's Wall Street Journal that, "Communities in six states along the upperMississippi Riverand its tributaries were hoping for a dry spell as heavy rains and melting snowthreatened to keep rivers at uncomfortably high levels this week.

"The U.S. Coast Guard said surging waters had caused114 barges to break loose just south ofSt. Louison Saturday night, prompting a shutdown of a 15-mile stretch of theMississippi.

"Officials said they will close a 3˝-mile stretch of theIllinois Riverto boat traffic on Monday due to high water. Travel was restricted on Sunday."

Abrief AP updatein today's Washington Post reported that, "Those who were fighting floods in several communities along the Mississippi River were mostly successful Sunday despite the onslaught of water,but an ominous forecast and the growing accumulation of snow in the upperMidwesttempered any feelings of victory.

"The surgingMississippiwas at or near crest at several places from the Quad Cities south to nearSt. Louis- some reaching 10-12 feet above flood stage. Problems were plentiful:hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland swamped as planting season approaches;three people dead; roads and bridges closed, including sections of major highways such as U.S. 61 inIowaandMissouriand crossings atQuincy,Ill., andLouisiana,Mo.

"The forecast calls for heavy rain Monday night and Tuesday throughout much of theMidwest."

Perry Beemanreported in Friday's Des Moines Register that, "Nearly the entireeastern halfof the state is now listed asdrought-free, but some parts ofwestern Iowaremain in severedrought, the U.S. Drought Monitor reported Thursday."

"The National Weather Service on Thursday said the next month is a coin flip inIowafor both temperature and precipitation. For the next three months, there's a slight chance of higher than normal temperatures,but no clear indication of whether precipitation will be above normal, below, or average," the Register article said.

Bloomberg writerWhitney McFerronreported on Friday that, "U.S.winter wheat cropsdeveloping in theGreat Plainsare at risk from another round offreezing temperaturestoday after the region was hit by cold weather earlier this month.

"InKansas, the biggest wheat-growing state,temperatureswere as low as 25 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 4 degrees Celsius) in Liberal andDodge Cityas of 3:52 a.m. local time, according to the National Weather Service. InHereford,Texas, in the panhandle southwest ofAmarillo, it was 23 degrees Fahrenheit. Areas ofTexas,OklahomaandNew Mexicoare under a hard freeze warning until at least 9 a.m., in which temperatures will be low enough to kill or harm crops, the weather service said."

On Friday, USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) released itsCattle on Feed report, which stated in part that, "Cattle and calves on feed for slaughter market in theUnited Statesfor feedlots with capacity of 1,000 or more head totaled 10.9 million head on April 1, 2013.The inventory was 5 percent below April 1, 2012[related graph]."

In itsMilk Production reporton Friday, NASS indicated that, "Milk production in theUnited Statesduring the January - March quarter totaled 50.5 billion pounds, down 1.1 percent from the January - March quarter last year[related graph]."

Intradenews, Reuters writerKaori Kanekoreported on Saturday that, "Japan won approval from participating countries to join talks on a U.S.-led Asia Pacific free trade agreement, central to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's plans to open the economy to more competition and revive growth.

"The formal invitation forTokyoto join the negotiations was extended at a meeting of members of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) on Saturday on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation gathering inSurabaya,Indonesia, according to a joint statement.

"Japan will join 11 nations already in talks on the TPP:the United States, Canada, Mexico, Peru, Chile, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, Australia and New Zealand. Members hope to reach a deal by the end of this year."

In addition, anupdate posted on Saturdayat the Southeast Asia Real Time Blog (The Wall Street Journal) indicated that, "The acting U.S. trade representative,Demetrios Marantis, spoke late Saturday with The Wall Street Journal'sBen Otto."

According to the update, which contained atranscript of the interview, acting USTR Marantis stated that, "IntegratingJapaninto the TPP does a number of things. One, it helps to realize the goal of TPP as being a platform for integration in the Asia-Pacific, and having Japan and the size of its economy and population increases the economic significance of the TPP not just to the U.S. but to all the TPP countries. It provides a huge market for exports and for the jobs that are supported by those exports. Bringing Japan in really just increases the economic significance of the TPP."

In a separate trade related issue,Steve Connerreported late last week a The Independent (UK) Online that, "The case for genetically modified (GM) food is getting stronger because of its importance as a tool to feed a growing global population, according to the Government's new chief scientific adviser.

"SirMark Walport, who is one month into his new job, said today that he will aim to offer ministers the best and most accurate advice on all aspects of science policy,including the introduction of GM crops.

"'The issue is European regulation, which is that Europe grows remarkably little genetically modified crops so I don't think this is something that is going to change overnight,' Sir Mark said.

"'But I think it is inexorably rising up the agenda again because as a technology it is showing its value more and more obviously in terms of the crops that are able to feed the world,' he said."



Nancy Cookreported late last week at National Journal Online that, "Just one day after the Senate failed to pass any gun-control measures,the prospect of a spring budget deal seemed equally elusive.

"There is no formal budget conference on the horizonbetween House Republicans and Senate Democrats to reconcile the two parties' wildly different visions and blueprints for spending and taxes. This is after weeks of both parties promoting the benefits of 'regular order,' during which Congress conducts its business through committees instead of looking to leadership to cut deals.

"The other path to a budget compromise-the White House's charm offensive and its private dinners and lunches with lawmakers-seems similarly stalled."



Christopher Doeringreported in yesterday's Des Moines Register that, "The battle between U.S. ethanol producers and oil companies has reached a turning point, with the winners poised to gain an advantage over the future of the country's energy mix and the losers forced to cede profits and jobs to their bitter rival.

"Ground zero of the battle is the country'sRenewable Fuel Standard- an 8-year-old law that requires refiners to produce alternative fuels from corn, soybeans and other products in an effort to reduce the country's dependence on foreign oil.

"The drop in corn production caused by last summer's drought pushed the mandate into the spotlight. Critics complained the requirement led to higher corn prices and more expensive feed costs for livestock producers while forcing consumers to pay more for meat at the supermarket. In an unusual alliance, representatives from the livestock industry and consumer and other groups joined forces with the powerful oil and gas industry to attack the embattled policy."