New farm bill gets varied reactions from ag groups

New farm bill gets varied reactions from ag groups

Above: The Senate Agriculture Committee marks up the Senate farm bill on May 14, 2013.

American Farm Bureau President Bob Stallman has written a letter to each member of the House and Senate to urge passage of the farm bill. He said it will provide farmers and ranchers certainty for the coming year, and allow USDA to plan for an orderly implementation of the bill’s provisions. Stallman says it’s imperative that all of agriculture unify behind this farm bill, for the good of the whole of American agriculture, consumers, America’s hard-working farm and ranch families and the rural communities they support.

National Farmers Union, at least upon initial review, is pleased with the farm bill conference report released Monday. NFU President Roger Johnson is encouraged to see provisions that benefit family farmers and ranchers in the bill, including approximately $4 billion in livestock disaster funds that are retroactively available to those who suffered tremendous losses last October. Johnson also notes the increased access for livestock producers to Environmental Quality Incentives Program benefits. NFU is also happy Congress didn’t make changes to the country of origin labeling law or major adjustments to protections for producers under the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration. The NFU Board of Directors will meet Tuesday to review the bill and compare it to the priorities the organization has put forward to all members of Congress several times. Still, overall, Johnson says the group is pleased to see the process move forward.

The American Meat Institute, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, National Chicken Council, National Pork Producers Council, National Turkey Federation and North American Meat Association say they will oppose the farm bill because it doesn’t contain provisions to change the country of origin labeling for red meat rules or restrict implementation of the provision from the 2008 Farm Bill to alter USDA’s implementation of the Packers and Stockyards Act. Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley has his own concerns. He says it appears the payment limit and actively engaged reforms have been watered down to the point they will likely have little to no effect. Grassley says that’s bad for agriculture, bad for taxpayers, bad for the nation’s credibility with trading partners and bad for the future of farm programs. Kansas Senator Pat Roberts has announced he will oppose the conference report. According to Roberts – the conference has missed an opportunity for greater and necessary reforms to the nation’s farm programs, federal nutrition programs and burdensome regulations. On the new target price program or Price Loss Coverage Program – he says it repeats a classic government subsidy mistake of setting high fixed target prices – which only guarantees overproduction with long periods of low crop prices – leading to expensive farm programs funded by the taxpayers. Roberts says the program simply creates planting and marketing distortions instead of letting producers respond to the free market and make decisions based on supply and demand.

The American Soybean Association supports the final version of the farm bill that was filed with the House clerk Monday night. The group says the bill provides for multiple soybean farmer priorities, most notably a flexible farm safety net that includes a choice between price-based and revenue-based risk management tools and maintains the decoupling of payments under both programs from current planted acreage. ASA President and Iowa farmer Ray Gaesser says the conferees and their leadership have produced a framework that will serve the best interests of soybean farmers. For the country as a whole, Gaesser says the bill provides for those in need of food assistance by preserving the balance and partnership between farm and nutrition programs and addresses the nation’s budgetary issues by cutting $24 billion over 10 years. He thanks the leaders of the Agriculture Committees for pushing the bill to the finish line and calls on the House and Senate to vote in support quickly to bring the process to a conclusion.

The bill includes a choice between an ASA-supported revenue program that covers both price and yield losses with county and farm level options, and a price support program that allows the optional purchase of insurance coverage under a Supplemental Coverage Option (SCO). The bill also eliminates Direct Payments while maintaining decoupled farm support programs that will minimize the possibility of planting and production distortions that could trigger new WTO challenges. The language in Title 1 allows producers to choose between maintaining existing crop acreage base or reallocating their current base acreage to reflect average acres planted to covered commodities in 2009-2012. Gaesser says the bill establishes practical risk management programs that will protect farmers in difficult times. He says that’s been the top priority of ASA from day one. Beyond that, Gaesser says ASA supports the bill because it strengthens crop insurance; includes a streamlining and optimizing of conservation programs; funds critical energy and agricultural research initiatives; and invests in the trade development programs that are so critical to the soybean industry.

ASA notes that on crop insurance, the bill makes enterprise units permanent, allows growers to purchase enterprise unit coverage for both irrigated and dryland crops, authorizes a new Supplemental Coverage Option (SCO) and will help to strengthen the next generation of agriculture by providing a 10% increase in premium support to beginning farmers and ranchers. The bill also secures several other ASA priorities, including agricultural research programs like the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) and the new Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR); the export promotion work done by the Foreign Market Development (FMD) and Market Access Program (MAP) on which soybeans depend as the nation’s top farm export; and key energy programs, including the Biodiesel Education Program and a strengthened Biobased Markets Program. Additionally, the bill consolidates 23 previous conservation programs into just 13, while focusing conservation efforts on working lands.

The United States Cattlemen’s Association is pleased policymakers have decided not to intervene in the country of origin labeling program. USCA President Jon Wooster says that decision will allow the World Trade Organization process to proceed appropriately. Wooster says the group is also pleased that additional restrictions concerning revisions to the Grain Inspection Packers and Stockyards Act won’t be authorized. He says the bill delivers necessary livestock disaster assistance and other support programs that producers have waited patiently for despite weather-related catastrophes. According to USCA Executive Vice President Jess Peterson, production agriculture, as well as consumers who benefit from a healthy and affordable food supply, are all winners thanks to the Farm Bill principals. USCA is urging swift, bipartisan passage of the bill in the House and Senate as to allow for a quick signature and final seal of approval by President Obama.

National Association of Conservation Districts President Earl Garber says the farm bill conference report is evidence of a strong, bipartisan understanding of the true value conservation brings to the landscape and the economy. He notes the conference report provides an increase in funding and the establishment of permanent baselines to critical programs like the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, or EQIP. NACD says the conference report includes two of the group’s top farm bill priorities: conservation compliance tied to crop insurance and language to streamline the conservation Technical Assistance delivery process. Garber says linking conservation compliance to crop insurance will further the conservation of natural resources while protecting the producer’s bottom line. NACD has also been an advocate for changes to streamline the TA delivery process by giving decision-making authority to the Secretary of USDA for effective implementation of conservation programs. NACD is calling on all parties invested in conservation to urge their members of Congress to vote in favor of the farm bill. Garber says the nation’s farmers and landowners deserve to have long-term certainty to effectively and efficiently manage their land, resources and businesses for the years ahead.

After all of the difficulties in writing the dairy title of the new farm bill, the National Milk Producers Federation and International Dairy Foods Association have both endorsed the measure. NMPF President and CEO Jim Mulhern says his group worked with agriculture leaders the past week to develop a margin insurance program that will offer dairy farmers an effective safety net in the absence of the market stabilization component featured in their original program. Mulhern says despite its limitations, NMPF believes the revised program will help address the volatility in farmers’ milk prices, as well as feed costs, and provide appropriate signals to help address supply and demand. IDFA had opposed what House Speaker John Boehner had referred to as supply management in the dairy title. The group says the report released Monday represents historic reform of the nation’s dairy policies. IDFA called the agreement a major step toward moving the dairy industry away from the failed agriculture policies of the past and toward policies of the future that will enable the industry to grow and capture new markets. The group says the conference report rejects a proposed new regulatory burden on dairy food manufacturers and will allow dairy companies to continue to grow and create thousands of new jobs.

The Humane Society of the United States is also urging passage of the farm bill conference report. That’s because the group is claiming two major wins on animal welfare issues. First, the amendment sponsored by Iowa Representative Steve King isn’t included. His amendment would have prevented states from banning the sale of an agricultural product because there are objections to production methods. The group also praised the inclusion of a provision making it a federal crime to attend or bring a child under the age of 16 to an animal-fighting event.