Future decisions in Washington, D.C could potentially affect all farmers and ranchers
Looking outside the pasture gates, decisions made by elected officials in Washington, D.C. directly impact the way ranchers do business back home. Keeping a watchful eye on Capitol Hill, Kristina Butts, executive director of legislative affairs for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), updated producers on issues coming down the pike for America’s beef producers.
A markup draft of the 2012 Farm Bill was released on April 20, with many organizations urging the committee to push it forward.
“Many people are surprised to learn that 80 percent of all funding goes to nutrition programs as appropriated by the USDA, so this is actually a food bill, not a farm bill,” Butts said. “Our elected officials representing urban areas want to slash the rural support in the bill, while increasing the nutritional side.”
However, agriculture has already taken its fair share of cuts.
“The research title in the farm bill hasn’t seen an increase in funding since the 1970s,” she added. “With the current obesity epidemic in the U.S., the USDA is focused on health and food programs. This administration isn’t too focused on animal agriculture.”
According to NCBA, the farm bill should minimize direct federal involvement in agriculture production and preserve the individual’s right to manage land, water and natural resources. The farm bill should also support existing conservation programs, encouraging voluntary participation by beef producers. The research title should be strengthened to help support studies that improve the sustainability of the U.S. beef cattle industry.
Another issue facing cattlemen is the death tax.
“Although not new, the death tax is still a big topic of discussion,” Butts said. “If Congress doesn’t act by the end of 2012, the death tax will return to previous levels of $1 million exemption with a threshold of 55 percent tax-rate.”
The Death Tax Permanently Repeal Act was introduced by Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX) and Sen. John Thune (R-SD); however, Butts said with the nation’s deficit, there isn’t much support to repeal the death tax. Currently, there is a temporary estate tax relief that allows for estates worth more than $5 million/individual or $10 million/couple to be taxed at the rate of 35 percent.
“We are working to gain enough signatures to expand the $5 million with inflation, but we are facing a lame duck session, so no major decisions will be made on taxes between now and the election,” she said. “We need to explain to Congress that this isn’t a tax on the wealthy elite in America. It’s a death warrant for small-to-medium sized family farms and ranches.”
The Department of Labor’s (DOL) proposed on-farm child labor regulations caused the most alarm among ranchers, and rightly so, according to Butts.
“This has been the most closely-watched issue as of late,” she said. “The child labor restrictions hurt family farms and 4-H and FFA youth. We need to educate our elected officials on the opportunities for youth in rural America and how this regulation would impact agriculture.”
The proposed regulation would prohibit young people from working on operations not owned and operated by their parents. It would also eliminate the USDA Extension Service and other vocational agriculture programs. It would prohibit hired labor under the age of 16 to work with equipment and livestock. In February 2012, the DOL announced it is revising the parental exemption portion of the proposal and anticipates releasing a final rule this summer.
“While the Humane Society of the U.S. (HSUS) and the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) haven’t been successful in passing legislation banning antibiotic use in livestock, these activist groups are now going through the FDA,” explained Butts.
On March 22, the courts ruled that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) must undergo an administrative process to prove the safety of certain antibiotics in animal feed, penicillin and tetracyclines. The policy documents were published April 13, 2012.
Butts said other issues coming down the pike include a livestock production mandate, similar to the European Union’s mandated production practices, which have been costly to both consumers and farmers.
Additionally, U.S. Senators John Barrasso (R-WY), Dean Heller (R-NV) and Jim Inhofe (R-OK) have introduced the Preserve the Waters of the U.S. Act (S. 2245), which would prevent the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from using their clean water guidance to expand regulatory regime over landowners. The EPA has also introduced overreaching regulations side effects of production agriculture like dust.
In closing, Butts stressed the importance of keeping an eye on the issues and developing a relationship with elected officials in Washington, D.C.
“If you don’t have a relationship with your member of Congress or their staff, I urge you to start making those connections,” she said. “There are so few members of Congress who actually understand where their food comes from. If we take the time to educate them, they are willing to learn. Start having conversations with these folks. Our future in agriculture depends on it.”