|NFU News Clips - April 27|
|Written by Administrator|
|Friday, 27 April 2012 10:24|
NFU News Clips April 27, 2012 PLEASE NOTE - Contents in the NFU News Clips are presented from their original sources. National Farmers Union & CDC does not have editorial control over the content. NFU & CDC does not endorse the views and issues contained in these articles and they do not necessarily represent NFU's or CDC's official policy and positions. The News Clips are intended to provide news stories as they are presented by the media.
Farm Bill Kicked to Senate by Ag Committee
It was obvious from the start that the 2012 Farm Bill was - on the whole - getting bipartisan support - and when the dust settled after a day of markup - the measure passed by a 12 to 4 voice vote. And for those against, it was more a matter of geography than party that made the difference.
The Southern contingent including Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., led the charge on key changes to this farm bill including payment limits and the end of direct payments, but all of the southern Senators on hand were against the changes including Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky; Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark.; Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss. The final nay vote came from Sen. Kirstan Gillibrand, D-N.Y., who disagreed with changes to the nutrition title cuts in the program.
At one point Chambliss pointed out that given the payment limits proposed - $50,000 - a peanut grower wouldn't qualify, and he objected to the move that in effect classifies all crops as if they are the same.
In a statement released by the Senate Ag Committee right after the vote, committee made the following statement: The bill reforms food and agricultural policy by eliminating direct payments and emphasizing the need to strengthen risk management tools for farmers, saving billions of dollars. Overall, the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012 will reduce the deficit by $23 billion dollars by eliminating unnecessary subsidies, consolidating programs to end duplication, and cracking down on food assistance abuse. These reforms allow for the strengthening of key initiatives that help farmers and small businesses reach new markets and create American jobs. The measure will now go to the full Senate for consideration.
In the statement, Stabenow says: " The Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012 will save taxpayers billions of dollars while promising a safe and healthy national food supply. By eliminating duplication, and streamlining and consolidating programs, we were able to continue investing in initiatives that help farmers and small businesses create jobs. This bill proves that by working across party lines, we can save taxpayer money and create smart, cost-effective policies that lay the foundation for a stronger, more prosperous economy. I am proud that once again the Agriculture Committee was able to work together in a bipartisan way to complete major reforms that save money and grow our economy."
Robert Stallman, president, American Farm Bureau Federation, released a statement after the bill passed noting the organization was encouraged that the bipartisan bill was sent on to the Senate for full consideration. "Chairwoman Stabenow and Ranking Member Roberts deserve praise for structuring this legislation with crucial risk management tools for farmers and doing so in a fiscally responsible manner during one of the toughest budget climates our nation has ever faced. The bill also provides a firm foundation for continued cooperative, incentive-based conservation efforts."
However, Stallman also says the organization will "continue to seek improvements in several areas as this bill moves forward, particularly in how to provide more equity among commodities, and ways to better address deep, catastrophic losses."
To view a copy of the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012, including the amendments that were accepted by the Committee, please visit the Senate Agriculture Committee website at www.ag.senate.gov/issues/farm-bill. A section-by-section summary of the bill is also available as well as an archived webcast of the markup procedures. A short summary of the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act is below. provided by the Senate Ag Committee:
The Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012 reforms farm policy, consolidates and streamlines programs, and will reduce the deficit by $23 billion. This bill saves taxpayers money while strengthening initiatives that help farmers, ranchers and small business owners create American jobs. The bill:
Eliminates Direct Payments while Strengthening Risk Management
Farmers face unique risks unlike other businesses. Weather and market conditions outside a producer’s control can have devastating effects. A risk management system that helps producers stay in business through a few bad seasons ensures that Americans always have access to a safe and plentiful food supply. The proposal:
Consolidates and Streamlines Programs
By eliminating duplicative programs, funds are concentrated in the areas in which they will have the greatest impact, making them work better for producers.
Improves Program Integrity and Accountability
At a time when many out-of-work Americans are in need for the first time in their lives, it is critical that every taxpayer dollar be spent responsibly and serves those truly struggling. By closing loopholes, tightening standards, and requiring greater transparency, the proposal increases efficiency and improves effectiveness.
Grows America’s Agricultural Economy
The proposal increases efficiency and accountability, saving tens of billions of dollars overall, while strengthening agricultural jobs initiatives by:
To view this story at its original source, follow this link: http://farmfutures.com/story.aspx/farm-bill-kicked-senate-ag-committee-8-59311
April 26, 2012
Under heavy pressure from farm groups, the Obama administration said Thursday it would drop an unpopular plan to prevent children from doing hazardous work on farms owned by anyone other than their parents.
The Labor Department said it is withdrawing proposed rules that would ban children younger than 16 from using most power-driven farm equipment, including tractors. The rules also would prevent those younger than 18 from working in feed lots, grain bins and stockyards.
While labor officials said their goal was to reduce the fatality rate for child farm workers, the proposal had become a popular political target for Republicans who called it an impractical, heavy-handed regulation that ignored the reality of small farms.
"It's good the Labor Department rethought the ridiculous regulations it was going to stick on farmers and their families," said Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa. "To even propose such regulations defies common sense, and shows a real lack of understanding as to how the family farm works."
The surprise move comes just two months after the Labor Department modified the rule in a bid to satisfy opponents. The agency made it clear it would exempt children who worked on farms owned or operated by their parents, even if the ownership was part of a complex partnership or corporate agreement.
That didn't appease farm groups that complained it would upset traditions in which many children work on farms owned by uncles, grandparents and other relatives to reduce costs and learn how a farm operates. The Labor Department said Thursday it was responding to thousands of comments that expressed concern about the impact of the changes on small family-owned farms.
"The Obama administration is firmly committed to promoting family farmers and respecting the rural way of life, especially the role that parents and other family members play in passing those traditions down through the generations," the agency said in a statement.
Instead, the agency said it would work with rural stakeholders, including the American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Farmers Union and 4-H to develop an educational program to reduce accidents to young workers.
Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., a grain farmer known to till his fields on weekends away from Washington, had come out strongly against the proposed rule. The Democrat continued to criticize the Obama administration rule even after it was tempered earlier this year, saying the Labor Department "clearly didn't get the whole message" from Montana's farmers and ranchers.
Tester, who is in a tough race for re-election, on Thursday praised the decision to withdraw the rule and said he would fight "any measure that threatens that heritage and our rural way of life."
To view this story at its original source, follow this link: http://billingsgazette.com/news/national/govt-backs-off-new-limits-on-child-labor-on-farms/article_bc857d43-d9a8-5405-8a79-fb36dd732e5f.html
April 26, 2012
The amendment was one of several offered during a committee mark-up of a 2012 Farm Bill proposal. The bill is expected to go to the Senate floor within the next few weeks, said Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., who chairs the committee.
Sens. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., and Richard Lugar, R-Ind., drafted the amendment, with another nine senators from both sides of the aisle signing on to the provision, which advocates say would encourage advanced biofuels production, as well as promote other renewable energy and energy efficiency projects in rural America.
A committee version of the 2012 Farm Bill proposal, which was released late last week by committee Chair Stabenow, D-Mich., would reauthorize a number of farm energy programs that originated with, or were restructured by, the 2008 Farm Bill. The 2012 proposal from Stabenow provided discretionary funding for all programs reauthorized, but no mandatory funding.
However, farm energy advocacy groups feared that without mandatory spending, little to no money will be authorized for programs they say have helped revitalize rural America, allow new agricultural markets emerge and reduce the need for direct payments to farmers. The programs, which have no authorization beyond the end of the current farm bill Sept. 30, are zeroed out under Congressional Budget Office baseline estimates.
The Conrad-Lugar amendment would set mandatory funding totaling $241 million over five years for REAP and $193 million for BCAP. Another $216 million would be required over the life of the new farm bill for the Biorefinery Assistance Program, $130 million for the Biomass Research and Development Program, while $15 million would be allotted for the Biobased Markets Program, and $5 million for a Biodiesel Education Program.
The authors had originally proposed the mandatory spending be offset by removing funding for the Economic Adjustment Assistance to Users of Upland Cotton program and by reducing the premium for Catastrophic Risk Protection.
But an amendment from Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-GA., removing the offsets was adopted by the committee after CBO estimated this morning that total deficit reduction offered by the farm bill proposal would come in at $24.7 billion, an increase over the $23 billion projected last fall by congressional budget analysts.
The “committee print” of the farm bill offered originally by Stabenow would have reauthorized two high profile farm energy programs, the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP), and the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP), both at discretionary funding levels of $20 million per year.
REAP, which had $22 million in mandatory funds set aside for this fiscal year ($25.4 million total), offers grants and loan guarantee for farm and rural business renewable energy and energy efficiency projects. BCAP, which had new funding capped at $17 million this year, offers grants and loan guarantees to encourage feedstock production for nearby bioenergy facilities. The BCAP language in the proposal precludes any overlap of program money and payment received under the Conservation Reserve Program.
Other programs authorized in the committee print include the Bioenergy Program for Advanced Biofuels at $20 million per year ($65 million authorized for this fiscal year), and the Biobased Markets Program and the Community Wood Energy Program, both at $2 million per year.
To emphasize a focus on bioenergy by-products, another section of the 2008 Farm Bill, the Biorefinery Assistance Program, would be renamed the Biorefinery, Renewable Chemical and Biobased Product Manufacturing Assistance and be allocated $150 million annually in discretionary funding. No new funding was authorized for the program for fiscal 2012.
The Biomass Research and Development program would get an annual allotment of $30 million (compared with $40 million this fiscal year), and the Secretary of Agriculture would be required to commission a study of the economic impact of the biobased products industry.
The Repowering Assistance Program, which was designed to convert oil burning ethanol plants to gas or biofuel energy, would be repealed, as would the Forest Biomass for Energy Program.
The Conrad-Lugar amendment also carries language from a Lugar legislative proposal last year that would authorizes discretionary funding under another title of the farm bill for a Rural Energy Savings Program. The initiative would allow rural electric cooperatives to provide customers with low-interest loans for energy efficiency upgrades, to be paid back on monthly electric bills. The provision has no mandatory funding.
To view this story at its original source, follow this link: http://agri-pulse.com/Farm-Bill-amendment-adds-mandatory-funding-farm-energy-programs-04262012.asp
DTN/The Progressive Farmer
It's called the farm bill because that's what they fight about -- the farm programs.
The passage Thursday of a five-year farm bill out of the Senate Agriculture Committee brought a broad array of reactions with most criticism coming over what are seen as disproportionate cuts to some commodity programs. Others complained about cuts to nutrition aid.
As Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said after the bill was passed, "Farm bills of never easy. Certainly in an age of reform and deficit reduction it's even more challenging."
House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., commended Stabenow and ranking member Pat Roberts, R-Kan., for getting a bill through committee. However, Lucas added that the bill his committee will eventually pass will do a better job treating farmers more equitably.
"I am disappointed by the Senate bill's commodity title because it does not work for all of agriculture. It fails to provide producers a viable safety net and instead locks in profit for a couple of commodities," Lucas said. "I have made it clear that my chief priority is making certain that the commodity title is equitable and provides a safety net for all covered commodities and all regions of the country. A shallow-loss program is not a safety net. It does not provide protection against price declines over multiple years and it does not work for all commodities."
Lucas' ranking member, Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., said the Senate bill should encourage the House to mark up its bill quickly.
"The strong, bipartisan tone set by the Senate mark-up makes me more confident that we can get past some of the recent partisanship and get a farm bill done this year. We know there will be differences between the House and Senate bills, but I am confident that, if permitted, we can work through these differences in conference committee."
American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman said Farm Bureau is encouraged that the Senate Agriculture Committee approved its bill and sent it forward to the full Senate. Stallman added that changes are needed as the bill moves ahead. "The bill is not perfect, but it is a suitable policy vehicle with solid framework on which to make further improvements. Certainly, having a bill in place this year is in the best interests of all farmers.
Stallman added that Farm Bureau will continue to push for a commodity program to better help farmers who face heavier losses. "We will continue to seek improvements in several areas as this bill moves forward, particularly in how to provide more equity among commodities, and ways to better address deep, catastrophic losses," Stallman said.
The National Cotton Council Chairman Chuck Coley highlighted the $23 billion in projected savings -- actually scored at $24.7 billion over 10 years. Coley said critics of farm programs should note that commodity programs make up the bulk of the cuts.
"We need some certainty and predictability regarding farm programs," Coley said, "as we look at the long-term investments necessary for maintaining our productivity and economic viability so we can meet this nation's food and fiber demands."
The bill includes NCC's Stacked Income Protection Plan (STAX) and modified marketing assistance loan program, the cotton council added.
Still, the cotton council expressed concern that the commodity programs don't meet the needs of rice and peanut producers. Coley said, "The NCC is committed to continue to work with those growers and their organizations to successfully modify the legislation before it reaches the Senate floor vote to ensure that Sunbelt farmers get the much-needed economic benefit of an adequate safety net. While it is important for cotton to have a workable program, many of our growers also rely on peanuts, rice and other crops for their livelihood and need viable cropping options."
Further, the cotton industry also has concerns with provisions regarding new lower payment limits at $50,000, a significantly lower adjusted gross income eligibility test at $750,000 and changes to the actively engaged in farming provisions used to determine eligibility for revenue and loan programs.
Ferd Hoefner, policy director for the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, called the changes in the bill "historic reforms." Under current law, farms can collect multiple payments worth millions of dollars through passive investors and landowners who are counted as farm managers.
"We applaud the Senate Agriculture Committee for including commonsense rules to commodity payments and ending years of abuse by closing program loopholes," Hoefner said. "Thanks to Senator Grassley's, R-Iowa, tireless leadership, the committee was able to make sure that hardworking farmers -- not mega farms and absentee investors -- are the key beneficiaries of farm programs."
The committee also enacted a nationwide "Sodsaver" provision to protect native grass and prairie lands. The provision reduces crop insurance premium subsidies and tightens program rules in a manner that will reduce the taxpayer-funded incentive to destroy important grassland resources.
Other groups that support the shallow-loss provisions also praised the legislation. Illinois farmer Garry Niemeyer, president of the National Corn Growers Association, said NCGA realizes a great deal of work went into the bill over the past week.
"While no legislative product is perfect, we believe the bulk of the legislation passed by the committee is consistent with corn growers' policy," Niemeyer said. "We look forward to working with Senate Ag Committee members and the entire Senate to get a bill passed on the floor in the month of May."
Tom Zacharias, president of National Crop Insurance Services, commended the committee for passing a bill that saves money and also protects the crop insurance industry, which has faced cuts in recent years.
"The bill passed out of the committee today responded to calls from growers of most major crops by keeping crop insurance strong and ensuring that it will remain at the forefront of modern-day farm policy," Zacharias said. "We appreciate the committee's efforts to improve the crop insurance title and limit the adverse impacts of other programs on crop insurance. The fact that farmers are in the fields planting following a difficult 2011 growing season shows how well the current crop insurance system is working."
Craig Cox, senior vice president for Agriculture and Natural Resources at Environmental Working Group, said the legislation should not be considered a "reform" bill when it cuts food aid and conservation but creates a new commodity program for producers.
"A real reform bill would have ended direct payments, rejected new farm entitlements and made important reforms to crop insurance subsidies that are slated to cost $90 billion over the next 10 years," Cox said. "Modest reforms to these heavily subsidized insurance programs, such as payment limits, could provide significant savings and eliminate the need to cut conservation and anti-hunger programs, as well as allowing for additional investments to support healthy diets and access to local food."
Some Democrats were upset by the nutrition restriction in the Senate bill, prompting Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., to be the only Democrat to vote against it.
Still, groups who work on international aid were nonetheless supportive of the bill.
"The reforms to U.S. food aid outlined in the Senate Agriculture Committee's Farm Bill are a critical step toward reducing hunger and poverty in Africa by empowering small-scale farmers, who make up a large majority of the population in most African nations and in many countries around the world," said Michele McNabb, president of the Partnership to Cut Hunger and Poverty in Africa.
To view this story at its original source, follow this link: http://www.dtnprogressivefarmer.com/dtnag/common/link.do?symbolicName=/free/news/template1&product=/ag/news/topstories&vendorReference=eddd1310-50bf-4ee7-adbd-597512891e22&paneContentId=70109&paneParentId=70043
The president of the National Corn Growers Association today told a House Agriculture subcommittee that "it's important to acknowledge that farm bill conservation programs have had significant positive impacts over the past several decades, which have led to lasting environmental improvements on agricultural lands."
But NCGA's Garry Niemeyer, who was also testifying on behalf of a coalition of farm and commodity groups, said the organizations "recognize the monumental task before this committee to advance a new farm bill that addresses a broad range of nutrition and agriculture concerns across the country," especially "in light of the extremely difficult fiscal and economic conditions that our nation faces today."
"Fortunately," Niemeyer told the Subcommittee on Conservation, Energy and Forestry, "we believe there are opportunities in the conservation title to consolidate or eliminate duplicative programs in order to achieve savings, while also working more effectively for producers."
Niemeyer, who was testifying on behalf of corn, soybean, wheat, cotton and rice grower groups, as well as the American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Farmers Union, said the coalition supports the (conservation) "Title II framework" in the 2012 Farm Bill that the Senate and House Agriculture Committees began developing last fall.
That proposal would consolidate 23 conservation programs into 13, "while maintaining the same tools that were available to farmers in the past," he said.
Niemeyer said growers "are seeking simplification, flexibility, and consolidation in these programs and we believe these goals are achieved in the Senate Agriculture Committee’s recent draft language." The Senate Agriculture Committee began its markup of a 2012 Farm Bill today.
In his testimony, Niemeyer offered specific coalition support for the Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) and Conservation Reserve Program (CRP).
"As regulatory pressures on agricultural producers continue to increase, working lands programs have become essential to achieving environmental goals," he said. "[EQIP] remains a popular program that delivers effective conservation dollars to assist landowners who face natural resource challenges on their land."
Niemeyer called CRP "the largest and one of the most important USDA conservation programs, providing many benefits including wildlife habitat, water quality improvements, and outdoor recreation." However, he said the coalition continues to support a gradual decrease of the CRP cap to 25 million acres to achieve savings. Still, "environmentally sensitive or fragile lands should be the program’s priority, with the focus on targeted enrollment and reenrollment of field borders and filter and buffer strips."
Meanwhile, Randy Gordon, acting president of the National Grain and Feed Association, a trade group that has long protested policies accommodating the growth of the ethanol industry that has increased corn - and subsequently feed - prices, offered a series of "reforms" to CRP. He said the modifications to the program would ultimately bring millions of acres out of the program now capped at 32 million, to levels well below the 25 million eyed in current legislative proposals.
Gordon said improved technology has enhanced crop production and minimized the impact of production on what might have formerly been designated sensitive lands. "The CRP has not kept up with that technology," he said, suggesting that too much land currently enrolled in CRP is viable crop production acreage that owners have put in the program to earn generous rental payments. His group is calling for a limit on those payments in the next farm bill.
Subcommittee member and the full ag committee's ranking member, Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., said the pressure on retaining CRP acreage being applied by soaring crop prices and production land rental rates is resulting in "land that should not be farmed being broken up; treelines going down; old homesteads getting bulldozed."
CRP rates, he said, run about 25% of land rates on the commercial market. "Instead of freezing CRP rates, we need to think about raising them," Peterson said.
"The real pressure is on the big tracts (of land) in the CRP," he said. "If we lose those big tracts, we're going to a lot of the wildlife (habitat) benefits they offer," as well as significant soil and water quality benefits.
Peterson took aim at feed and livestock industry criticism of CRP restraints on using what program officials say is sensitive land for crop production. "We need to focus on the real issues rather than focus on this ideology that we need to take all of this land out of CRP and grow a lot more corn," he said.