AFBF's Stallman: Rural America still relevant

By Sarah Gonzalez

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

NASHVILLE, Jan. 13, 2013- Farmers, ranchers and rural Americans are still relevant, “in spite of reports you might have read,” American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) Bob Stallman told thousands of Farm Bureau members during the 2013 National Convention today.

“When you're keeping people fed I'd say you're pretty darn relevant,” Stallman told the crowd.

“While there may be fewer of us in rural America than in other places, we will work harder. We will work longer. We will always stand up for the values that are the bedrock of our nation.”

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He added that although Congress did not take up a new five-year farm bill, the process demonstrated that “we need the public's support to maintain a policy and a business environment in which farmers and ranchers can continue to be productive.”

“Congress finally addressed the expiration of the farm bill when the specter of $7-a-gallon milk made the news,” he said. “The farm bill debate has been a frustrating process, but it was actually refreshing to see an instance where the media connected the dots and the public began to understand that farm policy has important impacts for them at the grocery store.”

To great applause, Stallman expressed his frustration with elected leaders in Washington. “We just elected and re-elected leaders for a new term. We must let them know our nation can no longer afford political drama, manufactured crises and self-serving jackass stubbornness.”

“We've grown tired of that reality show,” he added. “Our economy has been taken to the precipice.”

However, Stallman emphasized a “long fought victory” in the fiscal cliff debate with the establishment of permanent reform for estate taxes and capital gains taxes. Congress set the estate tax at 40 percent on estates valued at $5 million. Without the reform, the exemption level would be $1 million with a 55 percent rate, kicking in on 120 acres of Iowa farm land, Stallman noted.

This year, immigration reform will be high on the agenda for Farm Bureau, as demonstrated by the organization's involvement in drafting a labor proposal with the Agricultural Workforce Coalition. “A credible, workable farm labor proposal sis taking shape,” Stallman said today.

Noting that the AWC's proposal is more workable that the current H2-A program, Stallman said under the drafted visa program, farmers can offer workers either a contract or at-will work.

He also highlighted the Farm Bureau's ongoing battles with Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), including a pending decision on a suit filed two years ago in Pennsylvania regarding Chesapeake Bay Watershed regulations.

“We argued that only states in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, not the federal government, can dictate how states change their regulations, land-use restrictions and economies to meet water quality standards,” he said. “If EPA can do it there they can do it anywhere and they will.”

Stallman's address honored the Alt family of West Virginia, which challenged the EPA's Clean Water Act permit requirements for their poultry farm. The West Virginia Farm Bureau and the Alt family brought the EPA to court. Stallman said West Virginia Farm Bureau and American Farm Bureau was joined the case and not long after, “EPA did an abrupt about-face and withdrew its regulatory action against the farmer.”

“It kind of sounds like they backed away from a fight they shouldn't have started,” Stallman added.

His address ended with a reminder to Farm Bureau members to “remain united” and noted that “up and down the halls of Congress, in our courts and in all the places where engagement takes root, respect for Farm Bureau is drawn from a deep well.”

“We are poised to push the agenda you give us like never before,” he added.


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