We know that Congress has a busy agenda ahead. How does the congressional agenda align with what some of the leading ag, biofuels, and food policy groups have on their 2019 wish list? Here’s what they told Agri-Pulse they will be focusing on this year:
The nation’s biggest farm organization - and many others - want to see trade issues with China resolved in 2019.
Andrew Walmsley, director of congressional affairs for the American Farm Bureau Federation, said AFBF members who "are with the president on this journey will eventually like the destination, but might be getting a little sore in the saddle on the way there."
The administration continues working on an agreement with China within a self-imposed 90-day window ending at the beginning of March. Soybean growers would also like to see a resolution soon, as they were caught in the middle of the “tit for tat” trade war last year.
“We’re hoping to seek an outcome that removes these tariffs and allows more soybeans to be sold to China,” said American Soybean Association President Davie Stephens.
The National Farmers Union worries that the trade disputes will have a long-lasting impact. “As a country, farmers and ranchers will be faced with the after-effects of this trade disruption and a severely tarnished reputation," NFU President Roger Johnson said.
Corn growers and other groups hope to see the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement approved by Congress.
“We absolutely have to get this agreement done because Mexico is our largest purchaser of corn, but Canada is also a big customer of ours, whether it’s corn, ethanol or other products,” National Corn Growers Association CEO Jon Doggett said.
The National Association of Wheat Growers also wants to see the Trump administration remove the Section 301 and 232 tariffs on steel and aluminum and intellectual property rights respectively, because they have resulted in retaliatory tariffs being imposed on U.S. farm commodities.
“We continue to communicate … the negative impact retaliatory tariffs are having on the price of wheat, on farmers and segments of the wheat value chain,” said Josh Tonsager, NAWG vice president of policy and communications.
NAWG also will push for a new bilateral trade agreement between the U.S. and Japan.
Breaking with other farm groups, Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund United Stockgrowers of America (R-CALF) CEO Bill Bullard said the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade deal would do nothing for the beef producers he represents and that the administration should concentrate instead on their domestic concerns.
Farm Bill Implementation
Many of the groups mentioned above will also be watching closely to make sure the farm bill is implemented correctly. Walmsley has confidence in both House Ag Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., and Senate Ag Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., to get the job done.
Sugar producers hope higher loan rates in the new farm bill will boost profits for growers.
“This bill gives us the ability to make long-term plans and gives our lenders the confidence they need to extend the capital necessary to cash-flow our farms,” said American Sugarbeet Growers Association President Rick Gerstenberger, a Michigan farmer who grows sugar beets.
“It really has policies in place to help the rural economy recover,” American Sugar Alliance spokesman Phillip Hayes said of the bill. “Things are tough in rural America. Commodity prices are low. We’ve been dealing with extreme weather lately.”
Organic Trade Association CEO Laura Batcha said the farm bill contains provisions to protect against fraudulent imports.
“We’ll look at things like grower groups globally, certification for importers, the requirement for import certificates for every transaction coming into the country,” Batcha said. She said OTA constantly sees importers and handlers operate without an organic certification. The bill directs the Department of Agriculture to complete the rulemaking in two years.
Along with getting good trade deals and farm bill implementation, the National Pork Producers Council and the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) also want to see America’s labor challenges addressed. Legislation to replace the H-2A visa program so that farms can import workers for year-around employment went nowhere in the last Congress. H-2A visas are limited to seasonal labor.
“We have to take care of our animals,” NPPC President Jim Heimerl said. “We can’t just rely on seasonal labor in our business because our pigs need to be fed every day out of the year. We need a year-round labor force.”
He said an immigration bill introduced by the retiring Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., was a good starting point, but ultimately didn’t gain any traction.
“Both parties are in the ditch and pulled to the extremes… with ending (2018) by debating the wall” NMPF CEO Jim Mulhern said.
Mulhern said 75 percent of the milk produced in the U.S. comes from farms employing immigrant labor. The industry knows how much of the labor it uses is undocumented, "so this issue is existential for the future of many of our farms."
Both groups hope Democrats and Republicans come together on the issue.
Food Regulation and Safety
The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and U.S. Cattlemen’s Association’s major priority this year will be focusing on the regulation of cell-cultured meat.
“Nomenclature will be a huge consideration for us, so we are trying to support USDA in their efforts to play a really strong role in regulatory oversight,” Danielle Beck, NCBA senior director of government affairs, said. The group wants regulatory oversight from both USDA and the Food and Drug Administration.
“We feel this as a threat because we have current processes invested in this and it is very much a large concern to establish a definition of cell-cultured meat,” USCA President Kenny Graner said. USCA filed a petition with USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service on the definition of beef and meat in February 2018 because of the new cell-cultured protein companies are developing.
The Natural Resources Defense Council will be “heavily concentrated on overuse of antibiotics in animal agriculture,” NRDC Senior Director of Health and Food Erik Olson said.
Olson hailed as good news a recent FDA report showing less use of antibiotics in animals, but said more needs to be done. He wants the FDA to prohibit the use of antibiotics for disease prevention, which would restrict use of the drugs to treating ill animals.
Center for Science in the Public Interest Policy Director Laura MacCleery said CSPI would like to see FDA follow the group's recommendations on food labeling.
“We made recommendations that FDA focus on whole grain labeling because there is not clarity on the consumer end on how much whole grains a product has – whether it’s bread, cereals or other grain products.” CSPI also thinks there should be joint oversight from USDA and FDA when it comes to regulating cell-cultured meat.
With a new Democratic House coming into power, there have been more conversations about climate change. This should allow the biofuels industry to go on offense when advocating to maintain the Renewable Fuels Standard and implement E-15 year-round.
“With the Democrats controlling the House, it’s going to bode well for the RFS,” Renewable Fuels Association CEO Geoff Cooper said, adding it will make it harder for RFS critics to pass legislation to weaken the law.
Advocating for timely implementation of E-15 with a final rule in place before June will be Growth Energy’s top priority. “This is an initiative which has already received support from Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler,” Growth Energy CEO Emily Skor said.
The National Biodiesel Board plans to keep an eye on EPA as it moves ahead on renewable volume obligation proposals, and will closely watch efforts to formulate a reset rule. “We’ll see how that treats biomass-based diesel for 2021 and 2022 and advanced biodiesel for those years,” NBB Vice President of Federal Affairs Kurt Kovarik said.
He also would like to see a long-term biodiesel tax credit in place to provide certainty for more biofuels producers. Each year the credit has been implemented retroactively, causing headaches for producers.
All three biofuel groups said it will be critical for EPA to curb small refinery exemptions to the RFS after former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt granted 29 of the waivers for the 2017 compliance year, up from 20 in 2016 and 14 in 2015.
For more news, go to: www.Agri-Pulse.com