President Donald Trump is scheduled to attend the American Farm Bureau Federation’s annual convention in Nashville next week, and his appearance will likely spice up a meeting that is expected to touch on farm and conservation policy, while debating a dues increase.
Farm Bureau sources tell Agri-Pulse that farm bill discussions were, for the most part, settled at last year’s convention and throughout the year, meaning there’s not a whole lot to resolve next week in Nashville. Blake Hurst, president of the Missouri Farm Bureau, pointed to those previous talks as his reasoning for less anticipated discussion.
“We’ve spent some time both as a resolutions committee and as a delegate body going through (farm bill issues), so I would not think that we’re going to see a lot of contention,” he said.
However, the legislation lawmakers hope to reauthorize before the end of September won't be totally ignored. AFBF lobbyist Mary Kay Thatcher says cotton and dairy remain big issues for Farm Bureau members as well as the broader farm bill coalition, but she expects dairy policy to command more attention at the convention. And when it does come up, delegates may suggest changes, not mere tweaks to the farm bill's current Margin Protection Program (MPP).
"Most of our members are not crazy about MPP or even a revised MPP," Thatcher said. She noted that discussions have taken place about considering a change to a program that would focus more on a reference price - akin to the Price Loss Coverage program in crop production - rather than the current margin-based system.
Many southern states have also been vocal about their displeasure with the current state of cotton policy, but Thatcher suspects that sector might "wait and see what the Senate decides to do with the disaster provisions." The House passed an $81 billion disaster bill with assistance for the cotton sector before going home for Christmas, but that legislation has not seen movement in the Senate. Sources also point to differences of opinion in desired approaches between Texas and other cotton-producing states.
A contentious issue at last year's convention could also be revisited when delegates from the Prairie Pothole region propose changes to the farm bill's language tying conservation compliance to crop insurance. South Dakota Farm Bureau is preparing a handful of resolutions targeting wetland treatment and conservation compliance, hoping to leverage the upcoming legislation as a way to ease fulfillment issues that can sometimes be specific to the state and surrounding region.
“I think our members are just seeing this being a year with the farm bill coming up as an opportunity to make some changes to how wetlands are regulated,” Krystil Smit, SDFB’s executive director, tells Agri-Pulse.
SDFB is pursuing a change to provisions in the farm bill that bar an entire operation from participating in certain farm programs if certain acres fail to fall within conservation compliance. Smit says in some cases, wetland determinations are under appeal by the producer, but that can be a lengthy process during which the farmer may opt to put the acres in question into production. As a fix, the group is proposing to only bar the affected acres rather than the whole farm.
Last year, North Dakota Farm Bureau successfully led an effort to decouple conservation compliance from receiving crop insurance premium subsidies, but a vote later in the day ultimately repealed that change. Opponents of decoupling said then - and reiterate now - that arguing against conservation compliance can make relationships among the farm bill coalition, specifically between farm and environmental groups, unnecessarily dicey.
Among other things, SDFB will also seek to use site-specific rainfall information in wetland determinations rather than regional data, allow certified private wetland specialists to have their wetland determination work accepted by NRCS, and to tweak data requirements from a quantitative to a more qualitative approach when determining wetland mitigation.
Aside from farm bill issues, look for Farm Bureau delegates to also discuss issues surrounding right to repair - an ongoing discussion dealing with repair of more technologically-inclined farm equipment and concern over what maintenance producers and independent repair technicians are allowed to do without voiding equipment warranties - and rural broadband.
The body will also be asked to discuss a rate increase that would increase AFBF dues to $5, an increase from the current $4. National dues haven’t been increased since 2003, and leaders are hopeful that a slight uptick in purchasing power could help Farm Bureau through a period of relatively flat membership.
“I just think, in order to keep up with the increase in costs that we’ve seen over the past decade and a half … that we have to take that into account,” Hurst said of the increase. AFBF ended the 2017 membership year with just shy of 6 million family memberships, meaning the $1 increase would yield the organization a financial boost of nearly $6 million.
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