Buoyed by encouraging economic data, a rebounding stock market, and five interest rate cuts by the Federal Reserve this year, investor and consumer optimism is growing.
From Wall Street to Main Street, the sluggish economy appears to have turned the corner. Despite a rapid rise in gasoline and other energy prices, government numbers show inflation is in check. The Fed's reduction of the interest rate banks charge each other puts that figure at its lowest level in 7 years. And, the Index of Leading Indicators, which gauges future economic activity, climbed in April after a two-month decline.
Ensuring farm country also has an economic pulse is a challenge for policy-makers, who this week pondered the cost and effectiveness of more tightly regulating large-scale agriculture.
While concerns over the specifics abound, the broader issues involve how much authority the EPA has to regulate certain aspects of farming, such as manure application, and whether waterway cleanup and protection is more effective through federal mandates or state regulations.
Rep. Nick Smith (R), Michigan: "Why not increase state and local input and ideas into animal waste management programs by providing the kind of state alternatives to EPA's, what I consider, over-zealous, one-size-fits-all permitting that was mentioned by some of your members of the committee.."
Jane Nishida, Maryland Department of the Environment: "A national approach to the regulation of CAFOs is essential to insure consistency among states. Without a national approach, we could create a situation where large animal feeding operations may move from state to state to find the state with the least degree of regulatory protection."
The comment period ends July thirtieth and the EPA has until December of 2002 to issue final regulations.
USDA this week confirmed what many livestock producers already assumed -- that the new price-reporting system miscalculated wholesale beef prices for the first six weeks it was in use. The system is intended to provide accurate and timely marketing data to farmers and ranchers. But officials admit producers may have lost millions of dollars because of inaccuracies. Contracts between packers and producers are tied to the reports, which made wholesale beef prices seem lower than they were. USDA has ordered a review of the system, including whether it has jurisdiction to reimburse farmers for their losses.