WASHINGTON, January 11, 2012 -With the U.S. farm sector enjoying an unprecedented period of profitability, the largest U.S. farm organization will turn its lobbying focus in Washington, DC in the year ahead on Obama administration rules and regulations the group says could have the potential to restrict the ability of farmers and ranchers to run their operations as they see fit.
Delegates to the 93rd annual meeting of the American Farm Bureau Federation made quick work – less than three hours ‑ of sections of the group’s 350-page policy document dealing with taxes, energy, trade, environmental protection, and animal and plant pest control, standards and inspections. Debate on resolutions covering the farm bill, agricultural biotechnology and immigration lasted much longer.
Recognizing the increasingly important role of risk management, AFBF delegates asked Capitol Hill budget-cutters to leave crop insurance alone and encouraged development of separate policies for different types of farming practices, including drop and pivot irrigation.
The delegates spent almost an hour debating the future of farm programs, particularly the Systemic Risk Reduction Program (SRRP), a catastrophic revenue loss plan proposed by Farm Bureau leaders that would let producers purchase insurance products to further protect individual risk. They removed all references to SRRP, but embraced its basic principles and, on a 112-199 vote, defeated an attempt to broaden AFBF’s safety net policy to embrace regional commodity differences. “Our guys don’t like the name, but they like the principles,” said Stallman about SRRP after the voting session. “They provided clear direction as to which way we want to proceed on a new farm bill.”
On a voice vote, they also rejected an amendment offered by the Georgia delegation to fight for the continuation of direct payments in the next farm bill.
“Can you look people in the eye when you’re selling $7 corn and say, ‘We need direct payments,’” asked Wayne Wood, president of the Michigan Farm Bureau. His subsequent argument - that agriculture must be “part of the solution to deficit reduction” and that opposing the amendment was an opportunity to do that - drew applause from a majority of delegates.
They did add in a provision, offered by the Arkansas and Illinois delegations, supporting the current marketing loan assistance program with rates established to better reflect market values.
Delegates came out in opposition to the United Egg Producers-Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) agreement that calls on Congress to mandate specific national animal care standards for egg production. “Dealing with an organization such as HSUS is like peeling an onion,” said Zippy Duvall, president of the Georgia Farm Bureau. “We’ve got to stand together and not allow them to peel us apart and divide us and conquer us.”
On biotechnology, AFBF stated its opposition to any policies, “such as the creation of an indemnity fund, that tax or penalize growers for choosing to use approved biotechnology traits.”
Earlier, the 369 voting delegates unanimously adopted a “Sense of the Delegate Body” resolution urging President Obama and Congress to work in a bipartisan manner in an election year to fashion a plan to achieve fiscal sustainability by the end of the decade. The resolution called for an annual reduction in the federal deficit, reaching not only full balance but to begin lowering the debt by 2019, “and that such action be achieved primarily through spending restraint rather than by increasing taxes.”
Doing so, the resolution stated, will “unleash private business investment, foster technological innovation, and put Americans back to work.” AFBF, which represents more than 6 million families, maintains that fiscal and regulatory uncertainty is impeding U.S. economic recovery and job growth.
Delegates said the Environmental Protection Agency and other federal agencies should not pass any rule that changes the way citizens normally do business without congressional approval.
They specifically urged an easing of restrictions on farm fuel storage, advocating no limits on the number of above-ground tanks per farm and nixing requirements for smaller tanks to be diked.
While reiterating their support for permanent repeal of federal estate taxes, the delegates said until that occurs, the current exemption of $5 million per individual or $10 million per couple should be increased and indexed to reflect rising land values instead of inflation. Farmland prices in much of the central U.S. surged more than 25% in 2011, according to the Federal Reserve.
Following congressional repeal of the ethanol blender’s tax credit and import tariff, the general farm organization reaffirmed its strong backing of biofuels, voting to support tax incentives for gas stations to install blender pumps and dedicated ethanol pipelines. It also rejected an attempt to withdraw support for the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS).
“Much of the strength that we see in the ag sector all across this country, because all commodities are inter-related, is based much upon the ethanol expansion that we have currently,” Don Villwock, president of the Indiana Farm Bureau, reminded the delegate body. “If we do away with the RFS, the ethanol industry would not survive and ‘Big Oil’ would once again take over control of this country.”
With a record 45 million Americans currently receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, AFBF delegates encouraged Congress to require increased verification of SNAP recipients’ identities, employment and wages to help minimize the potential for fraud and abuse.
In anticipation of a renewed emphasis on conservation compliance in the next farm bill, they endorsed a two-year statute of limitations for FSA and NRCS prosecution of wetlands violations, as well as a standard for determining fines of such violations. On water quality, delegates stated their strong opposition to efforts by EPA to “approve, demand or direct state implementation of Total Maximum Daily Load plans either directly or through threats of federal backstops.”
In a debate dominated by delegates from states with lots of specialty crop production, AFBF went on record against mandates on employers to use E-Verify until an acceptable ag worker program is in place that provides authorization for workers not currently authorized. They recommended establishment of a new ag visa for current and future workers that is portable and addresses ag sectors that need year-round workers. In the meantime, they recommended shifting administration of the existing H-2A guest worker program from the Labor Dept. to USDA.
To ensure a plentiful supply of food and fiber for a growing global population, Farm Bureau inserted language opposing funding cuts for agricultural research and extension that exceed the overall percentage reduction in federal spending.
Original story printed in January 11, 2012 Agri-Pulse Newsletter.
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