Monday, March 30, 2015

Sen. Charles Schumer and Payment LImitation

The good senator from New York was precocious, winning election to the State Assembly and then to the US House in his twenties.  He's notorious as a publicity hound, and I strongly suspect in his early days aggravated his elders and betters.  That, I speculate, is why an early committee assignment was to House Agriculture Committee--why else would one stick someone so obviously and completely a city slicker on that committee if not to embarrass him?

I don't remember all the ins and outs, but I do remember that Schumer was active in pushing payment limitation provisions.  And here's a GAO report back to Schumer and Conte on their proposal to change the provisions in the 1985 farm, to tighten them up.   In considering the 1990 farm bill he proposed an adjusted gross income limitation, which was defeated then, but which finally passed.

A lesson for farm state legislators: never agree to put ambitious urbanites on your committee.  As Shakespeare warned:

Let me have men about me that are fat,
Sleek-headed men and such as sleep a-nights.
Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look,
He thinks too much; such men are dangerous.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Tell Me What You Really Think

Conor Friedersdorf on Ted Cruz:
That such a brilliant, accomplished man so regularly comes off as a petulant, short-sighted phony is inextricable from the demands of the conservative base, and the sorts of personas that it tends to reward.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Rice and "Actively Engaged"--the First Shot Fired

From the chairman of the House subcommittee on farm programs:
Chairman Crawford cited the need for action by the Department to address the collapse in cotton prices due to actions taken by the Chinese government, stating, “USDA has the authority to address an issue that is making the marketing of cotton extremely difficult for cooperatives and marketing pools at a time when the markets are already beating them down.”  The Chairman called newly proposed “actively engaged” regulations "arbitrary and capricious," noting that the regulation "ignores the remarkable diversity and complexity in agriculture today."[emphasis added]  And, the Chairman called on RMA Administrator Willis to ensure that margin coverage being developed works for rice growers.
Do I have to say that cotton and rice growers are the most affected by potential changes to payment limitation rules?

Hat Tip to Farm Policy, which is shutting down next week.

What Washington Really Thinks of Tourists

"On Washington, D.C. tourists: “You can always tell when it is summertime because you can smell the visitors. The visitors stand out in the high humidity, heat, and they sweat.” (April 2008)

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Politico on Farm Bill Costs

David Rogers at Politico analyzes potential costs of the 2014 farm bill.  It's too detailed for me, but I think the bottom line is he believes it will cut costs, unlike some publications which believe it will increase costs, over its lifespan.  However, I think he's saying that the cut will be much smaller than anticipated when the bill was passed.

Hill's Algebra

Textbooks need not be politically neutral.  Dead Confederates quotes from a pre-Civil War Algebra textbook.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

After 29 Years, "Actively Engaged" in Farming

FSA published a proposed rule defining "actively engaged" in farming--from their press release:
Under the proposed rule, non-family joint ventures and general partnerships must document that their managers are making significant contributions to the farming operation, defined as 500 hours of substantial management work per year, or 25 percent of the critical management time necessary for the success of the farming operation. Many operations will be limited to only one manager who can receive a safety-net payment. Operators that can demonstrate they are large and complex could be allowed payments for up to three managers only if they can show all three are actively and substantially engaged in farm operations. The changes specified in the rule would apply to payment eligibility for 2016 and subsequent crop years for Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) and Price Loss Coverage (PLC) Programs, loan deficiency payments and marketing loan gains realized via the Marketing Assistance Loan program.
It's been a while since the 1985 farm bill, which I think may have been the first time "actively engaged" was used in payment limitation language.  As I've blogged before, I remember the DC bureaucrats trying to comprehend the statutory language and come up with regulations and handbook instructions. Was that when the "left hand" and "right hand" first entered the picture (a farmer had to contribute labor, management, capital, equipment, etc. to the operation, but not all of them so we tried to clarify which combinations would qualify by using the two categories).  Anyhow, after long effort ASCS got the rules out and the training prepared only to have enough big shots exert enough influence on their Congressional representatives to force ASCS to reverse directions.  Again, if memory serves, and it's less reliable these days, the biggest loophole was managerial contribution: in effect, if John Goldbrick Doe, living as a beach bum in Key West, but one of the heirs to Sam Hardworking Farmer Doe, participated in a conference call with the other heirs and agreed to a share lease of the inherited land to Joe Dirty Hands Farmer, JGDoe could get a share of the payments.  (I may be exaggerating.)

The bottom line is "actively engaged" is a judgment call, and there's a Heisenberg principle at work: issue a regulation and the lawyers will change the reality, at least the legal reality, so the regulation won't work as it was originally intended.

Sen. Grassley has said the FSA proposal isn't as tough as he proposed.  We'll see if it survives the comment period.

PS: this issue shows the irrelevance of the President to much bureaucratic work.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Expansion of the Bureaucracy

I remember when a hurricane hit Guam, I think it was, and two WDC employees were sent out to help the Hawaii office administer the provisions of the disaster program (late 80's maybe).  One of the big problems they had was the fact that land was communally owned, or at least that's how I remember it.  In rhe continental US we take our land tenure system for granted, at least we whites do.  The periphery still has remnants of other systems, the Spanish system in NM, perhaps the French in LA, the native American on some reservations.

Anyhow, my mind wanders.  The trigger for this post is this post, on an attempt to get an FSA employee assigned to Saipan, out of the Guam office. (Not clear what CNMI stands for--Micronesia probably.) It's the logic of a bureaucracy: institute a program with universalist parameters and it will get applied everywhere possible.

[Update: CNMI is on the site: "Marianas Variety"]

Monday, March 23, 2015

Dairy Down Under

From a post at Crooked Timber on New Zealand [hat tip Marginal Revolution]:
Then you drive through a town like Edgecumbe, past something which looks for all the world like an oil refinery, and realise that it is in fact a dairy, the size of an oil refinery. Four million litres of milk go through that particular plant every day (one litre for every New Zealander), and it’s not even one of the top three Fonterra plants. A lot of the milk is converted into powder, which is sold to the Asian market. This was my first clue that I might be heading into some interesting economics – at the duty-free shop in Auckland Airport, one of the things that they pile up high next to the scent and booze is great big tubs of infant formula.
From the context sounds like CAFO's have yet to come to the land of the hobbits.

Have I mentioned the David Hackett Fischer book:  Fairness and Freedom, which compares the histories of the US and NZ. The post touches on the history of the white settlers with the native Maoris.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Agriculture and Drones

An old story and a little confused.  The guy was a fighter pilot, but operated drones in Iraq and Afghanistan, so I guess he was a converted fighter pilot.  Anyhow he's got a drone business in Idaho, has FAA approval to photograph farms, and charges $3 an acre for the data.

I wonder how FSA/USDA aerial photography and drone photography will impact each other?