John Deere counsel discusses key issues before Congress

Source: By Martha Blum, Agrinews • Posted: Thursday, May 27, 2021

Renewable fuels, sustainability, broadband on agenda

“It appears a lot more face-to-face business is occurring now,” said John Rauber, director and counsel of Washington Affairs for John Deere. “What happens to the unemployment rate, how businesses react to new policies and the reopening of the economy are important influences on how key issues before Congress will unfold over the next 18 months.”

During the past 21 years that Rauber has been with the John Deere, he has never seen as razor-thin margins in Congress as there are today.

“In the Senate, the two independents caucus with the Democratic Party, which means there is a 50-50 split and Vice President (Kamala) Harris holds the deciding vote,” said Rauber during a webinar hosted by the Illinois Agri-Women.

“In the House the margin is six votes for the Democratic majority since there are three vacant seats because of deceased members,” he said. “When the special elections occur they will more than likely be Democratic seats which will make it a nine-vote majority, so for any issue as few as five Democratic members can control the outcome if they decide to break ranks.”

So far, there has been very little sign of the Democrats breaking ranks from leadership on key issues, Rauber said, although he expects few bills to pass overwhelmingly.

“In the Senate there’s a filibuster rule that requires 60 votes to stop a debate on an issue and move it to a vote,” he said. “There has been a lot of speculation the Senate Democrats will try to eliminate the filibuster rule, which serves as a check and a tool that the minority party in the Senate can use.”

Pumped Up

Renewable fuels are one of the many issues important to John Deere customers and dealers. This includes both the importance of corn ethanol to the agricultural sector, as well as the renewable fuels standard that requires gasoline refiners to blend a certain amount of ethanol into their gasoline.

“We’ve seen a real turn in the last four to six months with a commitment to moving to an electrical vehicle transportation infrastructure,” Rauber said. “The president has visited Ford Motor Co. for the roll out of the new electric F150, and the administration is doing a lot to talk about electric vehicle opportunities.”

This is both a concern and opportunity for biofuels.

“The demand for corn ethanol would be significantly impacted by a switch over from liquid transportation fuels to electric vehicles, but we also know the transition is going to happen over many decades,” Rauber said.

“We’re trying to demonstrate the higher blend gasoline with ethanol is the cleanest burning liquid transportation fuel available, so ethanol has a really important place in this discussion,” he said. “Congresswoman (Cheri) Bustos introduced legislation last year to promote certification of higher ethanol blend fuels.”

Ground Control

In the area of climate change and sustainability, Rauber said, an important change has occurred over the past couple of years.

“There has been a realization from policymakers of the role agriculture can play in sequestering carbon.

“This is really a positive opportunity that producers need to be encouraged to participate in,” Rauber said.

Many of the agricultural groups are working through the Food and Agricultural Climate Coalition to provide recommendations to Congress and the U.S. Department of Agriculture about how to incentivize producers to generate carbon credits through practices such as planting cover corps and better management of inputs.

“There’s a lot of complexity to how this works,” Rauber said. “Many things are unknown such as exactly what methodologies are needed to measure how much carbon is sequestered in the soil, how it can be verified and who can do the certification of a producer’s practices and contributions.”

Legislation passed the Senate Ag Committee to give the EPA authority to set up a process for defining metrics for carbon sequestration, how the metrics are verified and the certification required for a third party to participate in the process.

Digital Divide

John Deere has spent a lot of time over the last several years stressing the importance of broadband connectivity in rural communities.

“For the 2018 farm bill, we worked with Congress to include a provision that created the Federal Communications Commission Precision Ag Connectivity Task Force to identify how to get farmers connected with broadband not just to the farm house, but into the field,” Rauber said.

This task force will conclude at the end of 2021, and it is helping to inform the FCC as they map areas of the United States that are currently underserved for broadband connectivity.

Part of President Joe Biden’s infrastructure plan includes $100 billion provision to build out broadband in unserved areas of the country.

“The plan tends to lean heavily towards fiber or wired connections,” Rauber said. “But for many ag producers that leaves out the last mile of connection because you can get the fiber to the farm house, but you can’t get it out into the field.”

Fiber connections are important, he said, however, they are not sufficient alone to support technology and broadband demand that is going to exist on farms.