WASHINGTON, Mar. 22, 2017 - The nation’s largest farm groups are taking sides as the House nears a showdown Thursday over reforms to the Affordable Care Act. 

The American Farm Bureau Federation endorsed the GOP bill. In a statement, the group tells Agri-Pulse that “health care is primarily the responsibility of individuals” and that Congress should repeal the ACA mandates that force individuals to purchase insurance and employers to cover their workers. 

The National Farmers Union, however, is urging House members to reject the legislation, which would cut spending on Medicaid while also removing the insurance mandates and restructuring subsidies for buying insurance. In a letter to House members, NFU President Roger Johnson says the GOP bill “would have serious negative impacts on farmers’ and ranchers’ access to affordable health insurance.”

Johnson also says the bill’s Medicaid cap would have “devastating consequences” on rural hospitals. 

Trump goes on record on importance of ag trade. In between lobbying House Republicans yesterday on health care, President Trump used his proclamation of National Agriculture Day to make a pretty emphatic statement about the importance of farm exports to the U.S. economy.

Trump said that agriculture is the “largest positive contributor to our Nation’s net trade balance, generating 10 percent of our exports and millions of American jobs.” Trump’s statement is particularly notable considering the nervousness in agriculture about his trade policy.

The new White House agriculture liaison, Ray Starling, said the proclamation should be a sign that “the president will brag on ag.”

Speaking at the Agriculture Council of America’s Ag Day breakfast, Starling also said that Trump was committed to making sure farms have a reliable, affordable workforce. That will include improving foreign guest worker programs, Starling said. 

Cover crops getting research boost. The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research is joining today with The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation to announce a $6.6 million initiative to improve cover crops. The research is aimed at expanding the use of cover crops by improving the seed varieties available to farmers. 

Georgia doubles down with bipartisan Perdue endorsement. Georgia Democratic Rep. David Scott will join former Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss in introducing Sonny Perdue at his Senate confirmation hearing tomorrow. Trump’s nominee for agriculture secretary served two terms as governor of Georgia. 

Scott, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, said on his Twitter feed yesterday that Perdue “is the right person at the right time at the right place”

However, it could be several weeks before Perdue is on the job at USDA. A member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, told reporters yesterday that the Senate may not vote on Perdue until after the upcoming Easter recess.

Part of the delay could be related to confirmation procedures. After Thursday’s confirmation hearing, Perdue is expected to receive hundreds of written questions from members of the Senate Agriculture Committee and he’ll need to answer those as quickly as possible before full committee consideration. 

Another nominee who will be important to agriculture, Alex Acosta, Trump’s pick to run the Labor Department, is getting his confirmation hearing today. A variety of business organizations are backing the nomination, but farm groups are largely staying in the background.

Dairy producers making case for expanded program. The House Agriculture Committee dives into the complex details of dairy policy today as the panel continues its hearings on what should be in next farm bill. 

Jim Mulhern, president and CEO of the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF), will get a chance to defend the group’s proposals for overhauling the Margin Protection Program that was enacted as part of the 2014 farm bill. 

National Milk Producers Federation earlier this month released a series of proposals that included a cut that was made during debate over the 2014 bill. NMPF argues that the change to the formula used to calculate feed costs significantly reduced the program’s benefit to producers. “We had it right the first time,” Mulhern said at Agri-Pulse’s Farm Bill Summit earlier this week.

Dairy processors aren’t taking a stand on the issue for now. But Michael Dykes, president and CEO of the International Dairy Foods Association, says in his prepared testimony that IDFA supports “fine-tuning the farmer safety net so that it functions effectively” and doesn’t distort markets.

Dykes is separately asking lawmakers to expand a nutrition program that currently provides incentives for food-stamp recipients to buy fruits and vegetables. IDFA wants the incentives extended to dairy products. 

Livestock groups appeal for FMD vaccine funding. During a subcommittee hearing yesterday, the livestock industry was united in asking Congress to use the next farm bill to mandate $150 million for a vaccine bank to prevent foot-and-mouth disease. 

“If this country ever had an FMD outbreak, it not only would devastate my farm and the whole livestock industry but the entire U.S. economy,” said David Herring, a North Carolina pork producer who is vice president of the National Pork Producers Council.

The American Sheep Industry Association and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association joined NPPC in appealing for the vaccine funding.

Bumble bee gets protection for first time. The rusty patched bumble bee is officially an endangered species. It’s the first bee in the lower 48 states, and the first bumble bee in the entire nation, to be so designated.

The Fish and Wildlife Service listed the bee in January but delayed the effective date after the Trump administration put a hold on some regulations.

The agency says the causes for the bee’s decline include disease and parasites, pesticide use, and climate change.

Tester announces bill to ban Brazilian beef. Montana Sen. Jon Tester has introduced legislation to temporarily ban imports of Brazilian beef. His proposal follows news reports that Brazil’s federal police are looking into charges that meat packers have been bribing food safety inspectors to allow tainted product to be sold.

“We cannot allow harmful food to come into our markets and endanger our families,” the Democrat says. 

He said it.“I think my children still have PTSD from mutton busting…. You take a poor little kid, you find a sheep, and you attach one to another, and see how long they can hold on.” - Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch, during his Senate confirmation hearing, describing an event at Denver’s National Western Stock Show and Rodeo.

Steve Davies and Bill Tomson contributed to this report.