Farm Bill Update |

Farm Bill Update

By Heather Smith Thomas for Tri-State Livestock News

            In recent months there has been a lot of talk about the 2023 Farm Bill and what might be in it.  This package of federal legislation— the most impactful piece of legislation related to agriculture — is proposed, debated and passed by Congress and then signed into law by the president every 5 years.  The original Farm Bill was enacted during the 1930s as part of the New Deal and had three main goals: Keep food prices fair for farmers and consumers; Ensure an adequate food supply for this country; Protect and sustain the country’s vital natural resources.

 The current Farm Bill, enacted in December 2018, expires in September 2023.  There will be a lot of interest as the House and Senate debate the next version of the Farm Bill, since it affects everyone to some degree and farmers and ranchers to a larger degree. Most farm and livestock organizations are very involved in trying to make sure that the final legislation is helpful and not harmful to producers.

NCBA – Kent Bacus, NCBA Executive Director, Government Affairs, says the new Congress will be debating the Farm Bill in early January, as soon as they are sworn in.  “There has been a lot of interest in the House, wanting to hold Farm Bill hearings and start working on some of the chapters that will be significant.  I think the Senate will also follow suit in the spring, but it’s a stretch to think that a new Farm Bill can be negotiated and completed and voted through Congress before the current one expires.  There’s a good chance they will need a short-term extension,” he says.

“With inflation, dollars will not stretch as far in the new Farm Bill, which means there must be some budget revisions and reductions in some of the programs.  This is likely where the big fights will be,” Bacus says.

“In the overall Farm Bill, about three-fourths of it goes to food assistance programs, and not actual farm programs.  All the important food programs are inside the Farm Bill so there will be many discussions regarding how that money is spent, where improvements need to be made, the role of different commodities, etc.  When we get into the actual Farm Bill, this is where most of the Ag Committee discussions will occur,” Bacus says.

Things that will be discussed include risk management tools, like livestock risk protection, crop insurance, disaster programs, etc. that are important for producers.  “For us, our priorities focus on some of those things, making sure we have these programs that can help producers hedge against price decline, extreme conditions, etc.”

The NCBA is also supportive of livestock indemnity programs, livestock forage programs, etc.  “The cattle industry is one of the best examples of return on investment from the EQIP (Environmental Quality Incentives Program) that helps producers with voluntary conservation efforts in investments they are making.  These are all very positive things that we need to make sure are included in the Farm Bill,” Bacus says.

“One of our big priorities in addition to risk management tools is to make sure we have animal health protections.  This includes things like the National Animal Vaccine Bank that houses our Foot and Mouth vaccines and other foreign animal diseases.  It’s important that we keep those protections in place, so we’d be able to address any potential outbreaks that could threaten our livestock industry,” he explains.

“We also need the appropriate diagnostic tools and response plans fully funded and up to date so that federal, state and local governments can work together along with stakeholders and animal health officials, to make sure we can respond quickly and have a recovery plan in place to restore our markets and our industry if something happened.  It’s not just cattle that would be affected if Foot and Mouth Disease gets into the U.S.  All cloven-hoofed livestock would be at risk.  This is something we need to pay attention to because Foot and Mouth Disease continues to spread across Southeast Asia, Africa, and South America.  We are fortunate here in North America; we haven’t had this disease in the U.S. since 1929 and we need to continue to be vigilant,” he says.

“Though this disease does not affect humans, it can be devastating for livestock.  We want to make sure we have programs in place so we could isolate, control and eradicate this disease as quickly as possible if it were to come to our shores.  We helped secure funding for that in the 2018 Farm Bill; that was a big win for the cattle sector and NCBA was a strong leader in helping secure this,” Bacus says.

“Just as important as what we need in the Farm Bill are things we don’t need in the Farm Bill.  In the past there have been efforts to try to include livestock titles that create more government intervention in our marketing and ability to raise cattle.  We want to make sure that we continue to promote the freedom of producers to market their cattle how they choose, and be able to respond to consumer demand.  A livestock title is unnecessary and creates opportunity for more restrictive measurements in our industry and doesn’t help us in competition—and certainly doesn’t help with transparency.  It just creates more regulatory burden for producers.  We have enough regulations already with EPA knocking on our door and government trying to limit emissions.  The last thing we need is more regulations from USDA that could negatively impact cattle operations.”

There is always risk that more restrictive measures will be included in a Farm Bill.  “Historically this happens; some people are trying to include different marketing mandates.  Some of the Senators from the left, like Cory Booker from New Jersey, are pushing for initiatives like animal welfare positions, climate change issues, etc.  We need a Farm Bill that is helpful for producers and allows us to respond to consumer demand.  What we don’t need are all these additional things that are pitched as good ideas; we’ve seen throughout history that these are usually detrimental to us.  A handful of people push these agendas, but we need to continue to strengthen the helpful tools that are already there and show that some of these other ideas are unnecessary,” he explains.

R-CALF USA – Brett Kenzy, a South Dakota cattleman and president of R-CALF USA says we’ve recently seen increased calf prices but it’s sad that it took catastrophic multi-year multi-region drought and runaway inflation to bring this about.  “Some people want to think things are back to ‘normal’ but the cost of everything has gone up.  Our actual income won’t be much better this year than it was previously,” he says.

            “We haven’t released our official Farm Bill platform yet, but R-CALF will still be calling for the same fundamental reforms we’ve been asking for, for many years.  We want to get MCOOL (Mandatory Country of Origin Labeling) back again, to honor consumers’ wishes to enable them to make accurate choices, and allow American cattlemen to compete in the market.  Whether cow-calf producer, backgrounder or finisher, everyone helps support rural America when we raise USA beef.  MCOOL is so commonsense and would be so easy to do,” Kenzy says.

            “For me, number two priority would be to restore competition to the market.  There’s been a lot of work done to try to get the Packers and Stockyards Act enforced.  There are ongoing investigations but nobody knows where it’s at; if we could have that Act ready to go, it would really help.  I think all our problems have flowed from the lack of enforcement of that 100-year-old law,” he says.

            “Probably a third priority for us would be Check-Off reform.  We’d like to see it promote USA beef (and not USDA-inspected beef that might be from a foreign country).  We also feel Check-Off funds should not be run through lobbying organizations.  That’s why R-CALF has never sought Check-Off funds, and never will.  We are a lobbying organization, and that’s not what the Check-Off was intended to do.”

            There are many other things that are also important.  “We’d really like to see the halting of beef imports from Foot and Mouth Disease countries like Brazil.  Their imports into the U.S. dramatically increased this year, and they’ve been allowed to bring fresh meat in, which is risky,” Kenzy says.

            “We support the safety net for producers, but hope it remains just a safety net and not a lifeline for survival.  We want to work for the market and not for the USDA!  We need to keep the emphasis on the market, but also be open to safety net provisions.  Many producers would be gone right now without the disaster relief that was available over the past years; droughts have been widespread and of long duration.  We need to take a hard look at food security for this country,” he says.

            “Our goal for this Farm Bill is to gain reforms that break the trend of dwindling numbers of producers.  Since the 1980’s we’ve lost 40 percent of our cow herd and 70 percent of our independent feeders.  We’ve seen the percentage of the consumer dollar that goes to producers and rural American continue to shrink.  These are long-term trends that are longer than any one administration.  We’ve seen per capita beef consumption continue to decline, and imports continue to rise.  My goal for this Farm Bill is to break those trends.  We can’t turn this ship around overnight, butw e need to bottom out these trends and start growing again,” Kenzy says.

            “This administration is warning people to prepare for food shortages.  Numbers of producers continue to shrink.  The average age of American farmers has increased; in one generation (from 1982 until 2017) we’ve gone from average age of 52 to 59; not enough young people are coming into this business.  Young people raise families, and families need an income!” Agriculture is a tough way to make a living.

            “My personal goal is to see the various organizations come together in public and promote and defend their platform and what they believe in, and take questions from the crowd.  I think we could move years ahead if we could do that—to get the real pulse of America.  Maybe this could be a Farm Bill priority, too, to get us all together.  There is a lot riding upon getting it right.  If we don’t get this Farm Bill right, we might never need another one!”

USCA – Justin Tupper, a South Dakota rancher and President of the United States Cattlemen’s Association, says the policy priority of USCA is strengthening the bottom line of U.S. cattle producers–everything from working towards fair and balanced trade agreements to reestablishing a country-of-origin labeling program and protecting the health of the domestic herd.  “We just finished our annual meeting in Nashville, where the Farm Bill was a large portion of the topic.  We worked on several strategies and ways we could keep marketing and competition in the forefront, along with working on LRPs (Livestock Risk Protection programs) and making sure indemnity programs are functional.  These are all big parts of the Farm Bill, for the cattle industry,” he says.

            “We had lively discussions about what we should be backing and pushing into the new Farm Bill.  It’s important to find ways to get the competition piece back in there, and making sure the LRPs have funds for those programs.  We also need indemnity programs when we have ‘black swan’ events like huge blizzards and heat waves that result in cattle losses.  We need programs that can help producers through those rough times, making sure these are fully funded,” he explains.

            “There is incentive now within Congress to make beneficial changes, especially regarding indemnity and insurance programs, and we need to continue to push that forward.  We also need to make sure mandatory price reporting gets reauthorized in a way that’s beneficial to producers—and if it’s not, we need to figure out a way to make sure the information that was meant to be  used for us is not being used against us.  There are the discussions we’ll be having as we get closer to the new Farm Bill,” Justin says.

            “The USCA looks forward to having a seat at the table during these discussions, working with our Congressional people to make sure that important issues for cattle producers get brought to the forefront.”  We need advocates for the beef industry.