November 20, 2017

North Dakota Soybean Council Bids Farewell to CEO

After seven years of service as Chief Executive Officer of the North Dakota Soybean Council, Diana Beitelspacher announced that she will be leaving her position on December 15, 2017.

“It has been an honor and a privilege to serve the soybean farmers in North Dakota and to have been a part of the significant growth of our industry these last seven years,” says Beitelspacher. “I have been blessed with the opportunity to develop relationships with farmers, international customers, media and industry leaders on a state and national level and appreciate all the opportunities afforded to me during my tenure,” she adds. “I leave the Soybean Council with a sense of accomplishment and with the confidence that our industry will continue to grow and thrive.”

“We appreciate all of Diana’s valuable contributions to the Council and to our industry,” says Joe Morken, Chairman of the Board. “We thank her for her leadership and service and wish her the very best in the future.”

Two U.S. Senators Propose Elimination of Harvest Price Option Subsidy

U.S. Sens. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) last week reintroduced the Harvest Price Subsidy Prohibition Act; a bill they say would eliminate a costly but little-publicized crop insurance subsidy known as the Harvest Price Option (HPO). The bill would save taxpayers $21.1 billion according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. A companion bill was also introduced in the House today by Congressman John J. Duncan, Jr. (R-Tenn.).

Under a traditional crop insurance plan, farmers will only receive a payout if they earn less money at harvest time than they were projected to make when they planted their crop. By softening the blow of unanticipated losses, traditional crop insurance serves as a safety net. However, under an HPO policy, if that crop’s price at harvest time ends up higher than the insured planting price the insurance payout is recalculated based on the higher price. The Senators suggest that by paying out more money than “the farmer ever anticipated earning”, HPO policies go far beyond the safety-net concept – they are simply a taxpayer-subsidized profit guarantee.  Advocates for the policy say the option is necessary as it allows farmers to more effectively manage their risk and more aggressively forward contract production without the fear of additional losses should they have to buy out of the contracts due to short production.

This is the the first time Senator Flake has attempted to eliminate the Harvest Price Option.  He offered a similar Harvest Price Subsidy Prohibition Act in 2013 as an amendment to the farm bill. In a statement Flake explained his reasoning this way:

“HPO is like insuring your car for $5,000, and getting a check for $10,000 after it’s totaled. It’s the kind of program that only makes sense in Washington,” saidFlake. “Making a living in agriculture isn’t easy or predictable, and there’s a case to be made for safety net programs such as traditional crop insurance. But HPO isn’t a safety net, it’s a taxpayer-funded windfall. With a $20 trillion national debt, taxpayers shouldn’t be expected to pay Big Ag billions of dollars for profits that they never expected to earn in the first place.”

Joining Flake in sponsoring the bill is Senator Jeanne Shaheen, a democrat from New Hampshire.  She said the legislation is a “smart,pragmatic bill that will provide our current crop insurance program with a much needed fix.  We ought to act on it immediately to save taxpayer dollars.” Lobbying groups offering support to the measure include Americans for Prosperity, National Taxpayers Union, Taxpayers for Common Sense, Coalition to Reduce Spending, The Council for Citizens Against Government Waste and the Environmental Working Group, among others.

NAFTA Debate Holds Up Another Agriculture Nominee

The contentious NAFTA re-negotiations are holding up another agriculture nominee in the Senate.  Arizona Republican Jeff Flake has put a hold on the confirmation of Gregg Doud, President Trump’s nominee to be the U.S. Trade Representative’s Chief Agricultural Negotiator.  Sources say the hold involves concerns surrounding a controversial produce proposal that the United States has introduced into the North American Free Trade Agreement Negotiations. The seasonal produce proposal is aimed at protecting U.S. farmers from cheaper Mexican imports.

Growers in the southeastern U.S. support the proposal. Flake argues that the move would raise the cost of production, reduce the selection of fruits and vegetables for consumers, and hurt growers in western states like Flake’s home-state of Arizona. The largest U.S. port of entry for produce is located in Arizona. Flake hasn’t said what it would take to get him to lift the hold. Flake wrote a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer asking him to commit to withdrawing the proposal at the next round of NAFTA talks in Mexico City. Flake wrote, “Efforts that lead to unnecessary restrictions on trade with our North American partners will have devastating economic consequences both in Arizona and nationwide.”

On the wholeDoud has been viewed as a favorable and non-controversial candidate.  He served for eight years as the Chief Economist for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association before moving on to serve as an economist for the Senate Ag Committee.  There, he worked under both Thad Cochran and Pat Roberts and was instrumental in crafting the 2014 Farm Bill.

Doud isn’t the only candidate held up as President Trump tries to fill positions during first year of office.  Iowa Ag Secretary Bill Northey, who flew through the confirmation process in October has a hold placed on him by Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, reportedly in response the Iowa and other Midwestern states ability to reverse a series of incoming regulations many viewed as anti-renewable fuels.