Monday, December 30, 2013

AFBF Op-Ed


Ag Agenda: Farmers have a full plate in 2014--AFBF President Bob Stallman


Bob Stallman-Ag Agenda Washington—The old expression “The more things change, the more they stay the same,” is fitting as we ring in the New Year.      

As we begin 2014, farmers are facing down many of the same legislative issues we were a year ago: farm bill, immigration, waterways infrastructure, taxes and the list goes on. But, while on the surface it looks like not a heck of a lot was accomplished in the past year, in spite of what was a contentious political year, solid progress was made on several of Farm Bureau’s priority issues.  
   
Moving the Needle     
As the popular Christmas/New Year song goes:  “What have you done? Another year over, and a new one just begun,” I can’t help but look back at 2013 and think that Farm Bureau definitely moved the needle on our key issues.  A farm bill will likely be completed early in the New Year, the Senate and House passed a waterways bill and the labor issue progressed further than it has in its history. I daresay that the issues on our agenda moved as far, or farther, than those of any other policy advocacy organization.    

Further, Farm Bureau had a huge judicial win with the Lois Alt case.  We joined Mrs. Alt in standing up to the Environmental Protection Agency when it threatened her with enormous fines for ordinary storm water runoff.  Unfortunately, agriculture is increasingly going to have to use the judicial branch to stop agencies like EPA from overreaching and trying to make political hay by targeting farmers. And rest assured that Farm Bureau will keep working to protect farmers and ranchers on these important issues.     

On the Horizon     
Looking ahead, farmers and ranchers will have a full plate in 2014. In addition to completing the farm bill and implementing a new five-year law, passing waterways and port infrastructure legislation out of Congress and continuing our work on ag labor, a lot more work remains on other important issues.    

Tax reform and the federal budget will take center stage as we continue pushing for rational budget reforms and prioritized spending cuts to put America’s fiscal policy back on track.  Instead of continually plunging off of one budget cliff and shooting down the rapids to the next, we must look for fair and balanced solutions.  In doing so, we need to make real progress on individual and business tax reforms that affect farmers’ and ranchers’ profitability. This, too, will help bolster economic recovery.     

Farmers and ranchers will continue to battle perennial regulatory creep in 2014, particularly as it relates to waters of the U.S.  Current proposed regulations that we know are under review completely ignore repeated U.S. Supreme Court decisions that uphold congressional intent and deny EPA the right to create law on a regulatory whim. If these regulations are adopted and enforced, farmers and ranchers can expect that nearly everything they do pertaining to water on their farms and ranches will be regulated by EPA.     

On a separate note, another year has passed and we are still awaiting Food and Drug Administration clarity on how various proposed food safety rules will affect farmers. With the complexity inherent in each of these rules, Farm Bureau is joining the call with other farm groups and state regulatory officials urging FDA to provide an adequate period of time to thoroughly review all of the “final” proposals together in order to avoid unnecessary, and potentially unfair, regulatory requirements that do little to improve food safety.    

So, while we have a lot on the horizon this coming year, Farm Bureau stands ready to take these challenges and opportunities head on.  It’s time to clean our plate. 

Friday, December 27, 2013

President's Editorial


BLM Priorities Askew
by Frank Priestley, Idaho Farm Bureau President
In its selection process of a route for a massive power transmission line across southern Idaho, the Bureau of Land Management listed eight criteria used in the decision making process.
“Route on public land where practical,” came in 7th.
The purpose of the Gateway West Transmission Project, proposed by Rocky Mountain Power and Idaho Power, is to route energy generated in Wyoming to population centers on the West Coast. Any benefits to Idaho residents are negligible. In fact, it’s not even on Idaho Power’s list of needed improvements over the next ten years. However, it will place major constraints on some of the most productive farmland in the state where it crosses Power and Cassia counties. In those two counties, 75 percent of the route will be on private property.
On one hand, it’s astonishing that the right to own private property, one of the most basic freedoms outlined by our nation’s forefathers, slips to 7th place on a list like this. On the other hand, when analyzing the six criteria deemed more important than private property rights, it’s shocking how insignificant individual liberty has become in the view of our federal government.
There are literally hundreds of quotes made by our forefathers about private property rights and their connection to our basic freedoms. James Madison said “Where an excess of power prevails, property of no sort is duly respected.” President Calvin Coolidge said “Ultimately property rights and personal rights are the same thing.” Northern Nevada rancher, the late Wayne Hage, summed it up as well as anyone when he said “If you don’t have the right to own and control property then you are property.”
So without further adieu, here’s what it’s come down to folks. Following are the six criteria established by the BLM as more important than your right to own property:
  • Avoid BLM-identified preliminary priority sage-grouse habitat and Wyoming core habitat areas.
  • Avoid designated areas such as National Monuments, Wilderness Study Areas, National Landscape Conservation System areas and State and local parks.
  • Avoid Visual Resource Management Class II areas.
  • Follow existing corridors or linear structures.
  • Avoid sensitive species habitat, including bald eagle nests and big game winter range.
  • Avoid cultural and natural resource areas.
Sage grouse habitat is more important than private property. We heard a rumor several years ago that by the time all was said and done, sage grouse would make the spotted owl controversy seem small in the realm of economic devastation. This could be a preliminary indication of that prediction coming true. While no one can see into the future, it certainly makes you wonder if the farmers and ranchers who settled southern Idaho by developing the water and hacking a living out of the sage brush would have done so knowing that one day the presence of bird habitat would become more important than farms and ranches.
Wilderness Study Areas are more important than private property.  This is possibly the biggest kick in the guts on the list. It takes an act of Congress to establish a Wilderness Area and judging by recent memory, we all know Congress doesn’t act on much of anything.  In light of that fact, our federal land management agencies have the power to establish a Wilderness Study Area – a de-facto Wilderness Area on their own. We would be surprised if the BLM could find one acre south of the Snake River in Idaho that meets the true definition of a Wilderness Area – “untrammeled by man.” Yet, here we have another instance of federal agencies running our state.
Follow existing corridors or linear structures. Isn’t Interstate 86 an existing corridor for infrastructure?
Big game winter range and bald eagle nests are more important than private property. One of the true benefits of living in Idaho is an abundance of wildlife. Many farms and ranches support wildlife during different times of the year and some incur significant damage. But we don’t understand how the presence of wild animals is more important than the presence of Idaho’s hardworking farm and ranch families. In addition, we believe those hardworking families have established a firm record of living harmoniously with our abundant wildlife. How a federal agency establishes this as criteria to justify the taking of private land is astonishing.
Private property is an integral part of the engine that powers Idaho’s economy.  Private property helps pay a lot of mortgages in this state – sage grouse don’t. The biggest threat to sage grouse is fire. This tells us that BLM needs to do a better job of managing public land and never be allowed to dictate how and where the rights of private property owners will be violated.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Just in


Poultry Grower Prevails Against EPA, EPA APPEALS

WASHINGTON – Poultry and livestock farmers declared victory on Wednesday when a federal court ruled in favor of West Virginia poultry farmer Lois Alt in a lawsuit she brought against the Environmental Protection Agency. The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia ruled that contrary to EPA’s contention, ordinary stormwater from Alt’s farmyard is exempt from National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit requirements.

The EPA and Environmental intervenors immediately filed an appeal in the Alt case. The issue of Clean Water Act permit requirements for farmyard rainwater will now go to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.
Alt filed suit against EPA in June 2012 after the agency threatened her with $37,500 in fines each time stormwater came into contact with dust, feathers or small amounts of manure on the ground outside of her poultry houses as a result of normal farm operations. EPA also threatened separate fines of $37,500 per day if Alt failed to apply for a NPDES permit for such stormwater discharges. AFBF and the West Virginia Farm Bureau intervened alongside Alt as co-plaintiffs to help resolve the issue for the benefit of other poultry and livestock farmers.

In ordering Alt to seek a permit, EPA took the legal position that the Clean Water Act’s exemption for “agricultural storm water discharges” does not apply to farms classified as “concentrated animal feeding operations” or “CAFOs,” except for areas where crops are grown. In other words, any areas at a CAFO farm where crops are not grown, and where particles of manure are present, would require a permit for rainwater runoff.
In April of this year, the federal court rejected efforts by EPA to avoid defending its position by withdrawing the order against Alt. In opposing EPA’s motion to dismiss, Alt and Farm Bureau argued that farmers remained vulnerable to similar EPA orders, and the important legal issue at stake should be resolved. The court agreed.
“This lawsuit was about EPA’s tactic of threatening farmers with enormous fines in order to make them get permits that are not required by law,” said Stallman. “Lois Alt was proud of her farm and her environmental stewardship, and she stood her ground. We’re proud to have supported her effort.”

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Just in


Proposed food safety rules miss the mark



Leafy greens smallWashington—The first major reform of food safety laws in seven decades, the Food Safety Modernization Act, was enacted in January 2011 with the intent of making food safer and reducing foodborne illness.  However, the Food and Drug Administration’s plans to put FSMA rules in place are too broad to do the job well, according to farmers.  

Among Farm Bureau’s top concerns with the proposed regulations is FDA’s apparent unwillingness to focus on commodities that are associated with foodborne illness.

“We urge FDA to reconsider standards that take into account the relative risks and comparative benefits associated with individual commodities. FDA should initially propose regulations for only those commodities with a history of microbial contamination,” Farm Bureau wrote in lengthy comments recently submitted to the FDA. 

Only once those regulations are successfully put in place and enforced, should FDA even consider expanding regulations to cover other commodities.

“We know that there have been problems with E. coli in leafy greens or with salmonella in tomatoes, for example, and the industry has voluntarily taken the initiative to curb some of those problems,” said Kelli Ludlum, American Farm Bureau Federation food safety specialist.  “That’s where it really makes sense for FDA to focus their efforts.  Unfortunately, they’ve chosen to go significantly broader than that and regulate a whole scope of commodities that have never had foodborne illnesses, and, because of the way they’re grown and consumed, are very unlikely to have those issues.” 

Including low- and no-contamination risk commodities is a waste of both growers’ and the governments’ time and money.

“Instead of shrinking the size of the haystack in which they’re looking for that public health threat needle, by choosing to regulate all produce, they’re only making that haystack bigger, which neither farmers nor government inspectors and regulators have the resources for,” Ludlum said. 

Firm in its opposition to regulating all produce, Farm Bureau said that if FDA retains lists of “covered” and “exempt” produce, “the factors and/or standards that cause a specific commodity to be listed must be clearly explained and justified by science-based risk status.”
In addition, FDA must establish a process for regular review of the lists and clarify whether and how a commodity can move from one list to another. 

Also in the comments, Farm Bureau raised red flags about other aspects of FSMA, including a regulatory process that could prevent a scientifically sound and effective set of rules. 
While appreciative of FDA’s approval of Farm Bureau’s comment extension request, the organization said it still has concerns about the regulatory process.  Specifically, because considerable changes to the draft rules are expected to be made as a result of public comments, Farm Bureau believes a second draft of the proposed rule should be put out for public comment. 

“Given the complexity of the proposed rules, the current process of responding to comments on this draft rule with a final rule as a next step does not allow FDA to craft a sound and operable food safety framework.  An interim step, such as a second draft rule or interim final rule, is needed to work through the regulatory process with adequate stakeholder input. ”
Congressional lawmakers are also calling for another round of comments.  In a recent letter to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, 75 Democratic and Republican members of Congress called for a second draft of regulations for public comment before issuing final Food Safety Modernization rules. The 30 senators and 45 House members said they were concerned about the impact of proposed rules on farmers and businesses that an additional comment period could help alleviate.

“Despite your agency’s efforts to engage with stakeholders during the rulemaking process, we remain concerned about the ambiguity surrounding many aspects of these proposed rules,” the letter said.

Additionally, because many of the FSMA rules overlap, farmers and others who will be affected by them should have the opportunity to evaluate them as a complete package, Farm Bureau noted in its comments.

“We encourage FDA to release a second draft of the combined produce safety, preventive controls for human food and animal feed, foreign supplier verification program and third-party audit certification rules to allow for sufficient review as to how all the rules are intended to work together,” Farm Bureau wrote.   

Monday, December 23, 2013

Just in



Scientists in Seed case remain in custody

Little Rock--A federal judge in Arkansas has ordered agricultural scientists from China accused of conspiring to steal seeds to remain in custody. Wengui Yan of Stuttgart, Ark., and Weiqiang Zhang of Manhattan, Kan., are accused of conspiring to steal seeds from a research facility in Kansas and pass them to a Chinese delegation that visited the United States this year.

Yan and Zhang are charged with conspiracy to steal trade secrets. Prosecutors say they arranged for a Chinese delegation to visit the U.S. this year and that customs agents later found stolen seeds in the delegation's luggage as it was preparing to return to China.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Just in



Call for HIT repeal grows more urgent


Washington—With the impending implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) and the health insurance tax (HIT) that comes with it, farmers, ranchers and many other small business owners are anxious for action on The Jobs and Premium Protection Act (S. 603, H.R. 763), which would repeal the tax. 

The HIT, set to begin in 2014, will increase health insurance costs for farmers, ranchers and other small businesses by imposing a levy on the net premiums of health insurance companies.  This additional cost will be passed on to those who obtain their health insurance through the fully insured market.

“The cost of health insurance is a major concern for farmers and ranchers,” said Pat Wolff, American Farm Bureau Federation tax specialist. “Health insurance costs already have gone up more than 100 percent since 2000 and the HIT will impose even more devastating costs on America’s farmers, ranchers and small businesses.”

A Congressional Budget Office report released earlier this year confirmed that the HIT “would be largely passed through to consumers in the form of higher premiums for private coverage.” Health insurance costs for small businesses are already rapidly trending higher, and the new tax would raise insurance costs even more, making it harder for farmers and ranchers to purchase coverage for themselves, their families and their employees.

“Most farmers and ranchers do not have large enough pools of employees to be self-insured,” explained Wolff. “Instead, they purchase health insurance directly from an insurance company whose premiums determine how much HIT an insurance company must pay. Because of this, the cost of this tax will be passed through to small businesses that purchase those plans.”

Farmers and ranchers have also noted that the HIT has nothing to do with reforming the health care insurance system but was included in PPACA as a way to raise revenue to offset the cost of the legislation. During 2014, $8 billion dollars is expected to be collected. In 2018, that will rise to $14.3 billion and continue to climb to reach $101.7 billion in the first 10 years.
The Farm Bureau-supported Jobs and Premium Protection Act is sponsored by Sens. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) in the Senate and Reps. Charles Boustany (R-La.) and Jim Matheson (D-Utah) in the House.

Acknowledging how difficult repealing the HIT would be, Boustany and has been joined by Rep. Ami Bera (D-Calif.) in offering legislation (H.R. 3367) that would to delay the new tax until 2016 and to provide a process to return any premium increases attributable to the HIT for 2014 and 2015 to consumers.  A similar bill is pending in the Senate. 

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Just in from Capitol Hill


Farmers, ranchers reflect on legislative successes


 Washington—With a new Water Resources Development Act and farm bill expected to be enacted in early 2014, farmers and ranchers are checking two big items off their to-do for Congress.  Still, with ag labor reform and other critical issues left undone, agriculture has no intention of letting lawmakers off the hook next year. 

“As the saying goes, ‘timing is everything.’  Had we not driven as hard as we did to get WRDA and the farm bill so close to the goal line this year, we would have been racing against the clock of the mid-term elections next year,” explained Dale Moore, American Farm Bureau Federation executive director of public policy. 

The Senate took the lead with both WRDA and the farm bill, passing those bills in May and June, respectively.  The House caught up a few months later, but its late-fall passage of the measures set the conference wheels in motion a little too late to finish work before Congress’ year-end adjournment this week. 

Still, that they were done at all is a testament to farmers’ and ranchers’ tireless efforts to educate their congressional delegations and spur lawmakers to action, according to Moore.
Capitol and BTHOne of the most prominent examples of that this year was Farm Bureau’s Bring the Heat campaign, through which Farm Bureau members made sure Congress’ August recess was hardly a vacation. 

As part of this grassroots effort, farmers and ranchers spoke out at town hall meetings, had one-on-one conversations with lawmakers and their staff and made quite a few phone calls to get legislators fired up about finalizing the farm bill and moving waterways transportation legislation.
Top farm lawmakers have been conferencing on the farm bill since early November.  While there is agreement on a number of issues, like expanding crop insurance for farmers, there are also considerable differences of opinion, especially when it comes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps.  The House wants to reduce SNAP by $40 billion over 10 years, while the Senate farm bill calls for a significantly less $4.5 billion in cuts. 

Farm Bureau’s two overarching goals with the Senate-House conference are ensuring that permanent law is not repealed and a complete, unified farm bill continues.  Beyond that, the organization is working to ensure the final bill provides safety net and risk management options that work for farmers in all regions, including those provisions across the many titles that would help livestock and specialty crop producers.

For most commodities, the farm bill extension expired on Sept. 30.  While the House has approved another extension through Jan. 31, 2014, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said his chamber will not consider an extension before its Dec. 20 adjournment. 
Between the Senate’s WRDA and the House’s Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2013 there are far fewer contentious areas.  Plus, both chambers passed their bills with overwhelming bipartisan support. 

Another big issue for farmers is immigration reform legislation that meets agriculture's labor needs. 

The Senate in June passed a balanced, Farm Bureau-supported immigration reform bill that includes a fair and workable farm labor provision.  The House, on the other hand, has gotten only as far as passing a series of immigration reform bills at the committee level. 
That hasn’t deterred farmers and ranchers, though.  Not only did they rally around the issue as part of the Bring the Heat campaign, but in October they joined hundreds of business owners, faith leaders, law enforcement officials and conservatives in meeting with members of Congress and making a compelling case for action. 

“Considering how charged and complex the issue of immigration reform is, the chances of congressional action during an election year are slim, but that does not minimize farmers’ and ranchers’ success in coming together to work with Senate lawmakers to draft and pass a bill that would meet all of agriculture’s labor needs,” noted Moore. 

In 2014, farmers and ranchers have no intention of letting up on immigration reform or many other important issues, such as tax reform, renewable fuels, the Clean Water Act and food safety.  

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Just in



Don't Expect '14 Congress to do much

Washington--During this year of standoff and stagnancy, one of the few things Congress managed to do was shut down the federal government. When that's your crowning achievement, it's hard to find much to brag about. "At least we're not actually making things worse," said Rep. Steve Stivers (R-Ohio).

After starting the year with an ambitious agenda that included everything from tax reform to immigration reform to an overhaul of the No Child Left Behind education law, little has been done. And there are about two weeks left before Congress adjourns for the year. The House plans to recess after this week; the Senate returned Monday after a recess but will quit for the year around Dec. 20.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Just in


     
 China Rejects Corn Shipment

Washington--China rejected a shipment of U.S. corn cargo this week after detecting an unapproved genetically modified strain. The Asian nation has blocked a total of five cargoes of U.S. corn since mid-November, fuelling concerns over a slowdown in demand from the world's second-largest corn consumer. Corn futures declined after news of the rejection hit the streets.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Just in



Chinese National Nabbed for Stealing Biotech Corn

Washington--Mo Hailong, a Chinese national, was arrested earlier this week for stealing biotech corn from Monsanto and DuPont Pioneer. Hailong worked for a seed company in China and has been charged with conspiracy to steal trade secrets. 

The CEO and several other employees of the company he worked for are co-conspirators but live in China or Canada and have not been apprehended. Hailong is facing up to 10 years in prison and a $5 million fine if convicted.


Friday, December 13, 2013

Just in



Farm Bill Extension Looking Likely

Washington--Last night, the House Rules Committee approved a bill to extend the 2008 farm bill until Jan. 31, 2014, by a vote of 9-3. The bill is expected to be debated on the House floor today or Friday. Farm Bureau continues to push for completing the farm bill quickly and has not taken a position on the extension bill.

The House will adjourn for the year this on Friday. House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) has said his bill to extend the 2008 law is necessary to ensure there are no increases in retail dairy prices when those provisions expire Dec. 31 (much of the remainder of the bill expired in September). There is nothing "magical" about a Jan. 1 implementation date. The Agriculture Department has a significant amount of flexibility in when it implements permanent law. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has said numerous times that he does not intend to implement the permanent law provisions on Jan. 1.

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) do not support a one-month extension of the legislation, so it is not expected to come up for consideration in the Senate before adjournment on Dec. 20.


Thursday, December 12, 2013

Just in:



No Farm Bill in 2013

Washington--Farm bill negotiators conceded Tuesday that they will not finish their work before Congress goes home for the year, but insisted that they are close to a final deal and working toward floor action in early January. 

"We are very confident that we are going to have an agreement," Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) said. "We will be ready to vote in January." The next few days remain pivotal as lawmakers wait on final scores from the Congressional Budget Office related to the commodity title. 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Just in



Farmers, Ranchers Call for Action on Water Rights Bill

Washington--Farmers and ranchers are urging House members to act soon on a bill that recognizes states' long-standing authority to confer water rights and retains the position that the federal government will respect those lawfully acquired rights. The measure, the Water Rights Protection Act (H.R. 3189), was recently approved by the House Natural Resources Committee and is ready to be taken up on the House floor. 

The legislation "does not expand rights for individuals at the expense of any federal agency, nor does it in any way limit or constrain existing rights held by the U.S. Forest Service or the Bureau of Land Management," American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman noted in a letter to House Resources Committee members. Read more on the FBNews website.


Wind Generation Benefits Farmers, Rural Communities and Environment Op-Ed by Robert Giblin Washington—U.S. ener...