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Published February 11, 2013, 10:42 AM

Talking policies

State ag officials share perspectives at stock show roundtable.

By: Mikkel Pates, Agweek

RAPID CITY, S.D. — The world wants consistent, high-quality food and the Upper Great Plains can capitalize on that, say state ag officials from South Dakota, North Dakota and Wyoming.

Top ag officials from the three states participated in an ag roundtable at the Black Hills Stock Show and Rodeo in Rapid City, S.D. The Jan. 26 roundtable featured South Dakota Secretary of Agriculture Walt Bones, North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring, and Douglas Miyamoto, deputy director of agriculture for Wyoming. Montana officials were invited but could not attend, event officials say.

The forum was moderated by Ron Frederick, executive director of the South Dakota Beef Industry Council.

Here are some of the talking points:

•Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) — Bones says COOL has had problems with trade restrictions. It was hoped the law would increase cattle prices and expand markets, but “it doesn’t seem like it’s done that,” Bones says. He says producers haven’t done a good enough job communicating the value of having the country-of-origin label on food. Miyamoto says it the U.S. beef label seems to mean more to foreign consumers than to U.S. consumers who Bones says are “spoiled” by America’s abundant supply of safe food. Goehring says needed changes in the U.S. COOL law to make it World Trade Organization-compliant will likelier be through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s rules changes than through legislation.

•Free Trade Agreements — Miyomoto says that as world affluence grows, the demand for U.S. beef will increase. Goehring says FTAs help fight protectionism, tariffs and allow greater access to U.S. production. Bones gave kudos to the North Dakota Trade Office as “something we should emulate in South Dakota,” and he says he was asked to travel to China a year ago with a North Dakota trade team.

“They are so far ahead of us, and we’re trying to catch up,” he says, noting his state has a half-time person on exports, while North Dakota has eight to 10 people. Bones says the FTAs “are where we need to go” not only because they reduce tariffs, but also because they allow the U.S. to bid on certain government projects and have a voice in countries about regulations.

•Export developments — Half of South Dakota soybeans are exported, and half of those exports go to China, Bones says. South Dakota swine veterinary experts consult with Chinese producers to increase pigs-per-litter. The Chinese have “10 times more sows than we do, but their production is not that much greater,” Bones says. Goehring says the world middle class is expected to grow from 750 million people today to nearly 3 billion in the next several years, an opportunity for U.S. meat-related exports.

•Federal farm bill — Goehring says it is unfortunate that House leadership didn’t allow the passage of the U.S. Senate and House versions of the bill in the last Congress. The stalled 2012 House and Senate versions would have committed $664 million to livestock and fruit-and-vegetable industries who hadn’t been insured, Goehring says.

•Combining federal agencies — Some budget-cutters have advocated combining similar USDA functions with the Food and Drug Administration and the Food Safety and Inspection Service. Bones says he’s in favor of the government streamlining or eliminating redundancies.

But Miyamoto says meat needs to stay in the USDA, adding, “I would prefer that things move in the direction of the USDA, instead of toward the FDA. If you want to combine, let’s get it closer to ag.” Similarly, Goehring agreed, saying the problem is who is appointed to oversee the combined organizations.

“In the last three years, we’ve had some knock-down drag-out fights with FDA because they don’t think about something before they react,” Goehring says.

•Environmental regulations — State ag departments have regulative authorities and a voice on federal regulations, including proposed dust regulations, Goehring says. Miyamoto says that when it comes to federal clean water and clean air regulations, states “have to assert ourselves for primacy to make sure those are state-managed programs to whatever extent they can be.” Goehring warns that while farm groups have prevailed for now on the dust matter, the agencies will revisit the issue in three years.

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