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Published October 21, 2013, 10:41 AM

AFBF, NFU send letter to farm bill conferees

The National Farmers Union also said in an Oct. 16 letter that maintaining the current permanent farm laws is a top priority, but it differed from Farm Bureau in other priorities.

By: Jerry Hagstrom, Agweek

WASHINGTON — Maintaining the current dating of the farm laws and the “marriage” between the farm program and nutrition programs are “overarching concerns” of the farm bill conference process, the American Farm Bureau Federation, the nation’s largest general farm group, said in a letter to conferees sent Oct. 16.

The National Farmers Union also said in an Oct. 16 letter that maintaining the current permanent farm laws is a top priority, but it differed from Farm Bureau in other priorities.

“For some time, the threat of reinstatement of the long-outdated policies of the 1938 and 1949 acts have served as strong motivation for Congress to enact new farm bills,” AFBF Bob Stallman wrote at the beginning of a five-page letter.

“Repealing those acts and making the 2013 farm bill commodity title permanent law could make it difficult in the future to generate sufficient political pressure to adjust the commodity safety net provisions should conditions in production agriculture change,” he continued.

“We also fear that a farm bill without a meaningful nutrition title will make it difficult, if not impossible, for the House and Senate to reach agreement on a final version that can be signed by the president,” Stallman said. “We urge you to move forward on a unified farm bill that continues the ‘marriage’ between the nutrition and farm communities and our constituents.”

The Senate-passed farm bill continues permanent law and has the reauthorization of the farm and nutrition programs on the same schedule, while the House bill would make the commodity title of the 2013 bill permanent and reauthorize nutrition programs for only three years and the farm program for five years.

The NFU is a Democratic-leaning group while AFBF members lean Republican.

In his letter to the chairmen and ranking members of the House and Senate Agriculture committees, NFU President Roger Johnson listed maintaining permanent farm law as the top priority, followed by a reference price-based commodity program in the House bill, the dairy program in the Senate bill and mandatory funding for energy programs in the Senate bill.

In the AFBF letter, Stallman repeatedly noted that Farm Bureau opposes means testing and payment caps for conservation, commodity and crop insurance programs. He said the 15 percent decrease in crop insurance premium subsidies for farmers who make more than $750,000 per year could lead to a 40 percent increase in premiums. That provision is in the Senate bill and at the urging of House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., the House passed a resolution urging its conferees to support the Senate measure.

Planted versus historical acres

On an issue that has split commodity groups, AFBF has come out in favor of a House provision making target-price-based payments on planted rather than historical acreage. The Senate bill makes the payments on historical plantings.

“We support payments being made on planted acres, but note it is imperative rates not be set too high as to encourage planting for government programs. We recognize this is a potential issue in tying a program to planted versus base acres,” Stallman wrote.

On other issues that are bound to be controversial, Stallman wrote that Farm Bureau:

• Supports the House provision introduced by Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, that would prohibit states from banning the sale of foods produced in other states because of objections over production standards.

• Opposes the Senate provision to require farmers to file a conservation compliance plan with USDA and follow for all crops planted in wetlands and for all annually tilled crops on highly erodible land in order to qualify for crop insurance premium assistance. Farm Bureau was part of a coalition of farm and conservation groups that favored conservation compliance but recently its board reversed that position.

• Opposes House provisions to repeal regulations on livestock and poultry practices that USDA’s Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration finalized in December 2011 that provide for treatment of producers of those animals. “This is especially harmful to the poultry industry,” Stallman noted.

• Opposes a House provision to repeal the authority for USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service to inspect catfish and move that responsibility solely to the Food and Drug Administration.

• Supports a House provision to require a scientific and economic analysis of the Food Safety and Modernization Act before final regulations are enforced. “The primary focus of the analysis will be the impact of the legislation on agricultural businesses of all sizes,” Stallman wrote.

• Supports a Senate provision to establish a new “Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research” to supplement USDA’s research activities and provide total mandatory funding of up to $200 million if the foundation secures an equal amount of non-federal matching funds.

In Johnson’s letter he said the NFU:

• Opposes additional studies of the country of origin labeling law and favors reauthorization for farmers’ market and local food promotion programs.

• Urged retention of both income eligibility limits and caps on government payments — a position that is the opposite of AFBF.

• Opposes any cuts to nutrition programs, but emphasized that any cuts should be acceptable to the Senate and to President Barack Obama so that he will sign the bill.

• Like the AFBF, NFU also opposes the repeal of the livestock regulations promulgated under the Packers and Stockyards Act.