Ag Chairman Lucas Says “May 15th Is a Go” for Farm Bill Markup (via Oklahoma Farm Report)

Frank Lucas, Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee has been meeting with the House leadership to move forward with the 2013 farm bill.  He spoke with Radio Oklahoma Network’s Ron Hays and said the talks have produced a firm date for the bill’s markup.

“May 15th is a go.  We have not issued the official markup notice yet, but both the Ranking Member Peterson and myself are discussing this in public.  I think we have an understanding, leadership has been alerted.  May 15th, I believe that’s a Wednesday, we will markup the 2013 farm bill in the House Agriculture Committee.

“We will begin with a draft that essentially is the 2012 document.  There have been some adjustments in some points simply because of the various entities like OMB and CBO have rescored some or our expenditures, our savings, and we’ve had to make adjustments to reflect that.  But, we’re going to have choice.  We’re going to save money.  We’re going to do it in a bipartisan way.  We’re going to have a safety net for all crops in all regions.  And we’re going to make sure our fellow citizens who need help have something to eat.”

Some Republicans have said they want deeper cuts in the nutrition title.  Lucas said he believes he will be able to accommodate them by working on some practical reforms.

“We were focused last summer, and we’ll continue to be focused on things like categorical eligibility, ending the practice a number of states have used, a loophole in the 1996 welfare reform law that basically says if you receive this or that or one of several different versions of welfare assistance, then you automatically qualify for food stamps.  We’ll say in this farm bill that you have to demonstrate your income and asset level and if you qualify, we help you.”

Lucas said lawmakers would also look at closing another loophole that was used in Northeastern states that allowed individuals to receive a full month’s worth of food stamps if they had received as little as one dollar in state aid for heating oil.

He said that instead of $16.5 billion in reforms in the nutrition title as called for in the 2012 farm bill, this bill will contain about $20 billion in savings.  Lucas also said that some of his colleagues may offer an amendment when the bill is brought to the floor that would add a work requirement to the eligibility guidelines for receiving food stamps.

Overall, Lucas said he expects the bill will save about $38 billion dollars.  He said that if every committee had to shave the same percentage off of their budgets as has the Agriculture Committee, the U.S. budget would be a lot closer to being balanced.

One of the areas that Lucas believes will be targeted for additional savings when the bill reaches the floor is the crop insurance title.

“I think, I believe, the ag committee will be able to explain and justify everything that will be in the draft of the farm bill when it leaves the committee and goes to the floor, but it’s on the floor where crop insurance will come under assault.  It won’t be assaulted in the ag committee itself, because the membership understand how the program works and why it’s important.  And, in effect, it is becoming the safety net of the farm bill as these other programs change so dramatically.”

Lucas said he believes there is a good possibility that real consensus between conservatives and progressives can be achieved on May 15th before the bill goes to the floor.

Several agriculture groups that had been against target prices being included in last year’s farm bill seem to have moderated their tone, Lucas said.

“There are a number of groups out there who, perhaps, thought in recent history that because of other federal programs, because of where they were from weather and soil-wise and the crop that they had the ability to raise, that they were immune.  But the drought hurt everybody this last year.  It made an impression in the Southwest, in the Midwest, it hurt everybody.”

Lucas said that in the end, he expects the ag committee members to stick to the principles they agreed upon last year when writing the farm bill, but to achieve the $38 billion target for savings, “You might see some more CRP come out. You most assuredly will see more reforms in the nutrition title.  You’ll see some adjustments in the commodity title.”

This story can be accessed by visiting http://www.oklahomafarmreport.com/wire/news/2013/04/06320_LucasOnFarmBill04242013_160906.php#.UXlS5b4o7IU

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Fate of Immigration Bill May Hinge on Farm Districts (via The New York Times)

Any chance of getting immigration legislation through the House will most likely depend on representatives like Doc Hastings

While he has not been the most outspoken about immigration issues, proponents of an overhaul are counting on Mr. Hastings, a Republican, for one reason: His Congressional district, which cuts a wide path through the center of Washington State, depends heavily on agriculture, an industry with a significant stake in the outcome of the debate.

Much of Washington’s $46 billion agriculture sector is in Mr. Hastings’s district, where farmers grow everything from apples to wheat. Local agribusinesses there rely on a work force largely composed of immigrants, thousands of whom are believed to be in the country illegally.

A coalition of 11 agriculture groups has launched a major lobbying campaign in support of an immigration overhaul. Members of the effort, known as the Agricultural Workforce Coalition, see representatives from districts where thousands of jobs depend on agriculture as key to any effort to pass the legislation.

Agriculture Department data shows that Republicans represent 17 of the top 20 districts where agriculture is a major industry. And farm groups are hoping that local concerns will trump national politics as the legislation moves forward in the Republican-controlled House, where it will most likely face a tough challenge from conservatives who have been hostile to previous attempts to change the system.

“Republicans from big agriculture districts will definitely be the deciding factor in getting any type of immigration reform through the House,” said Dean Norton, a dairy farmer who is president of the New York Farm Bureau. “There is a lot of clamoring in these districts to do something about immigration.”

Mr. Hastings has not said if he would support the immigration legislation introduced in the Senate, but he has backed efforts to help the farm sector in the past.

Neal Kirby, Mr. Hastings’s spokesman, said the congressman “has long advocated for a guest worker program for agriculture that is workable and will provide central Washington farmers with the legal work force they need to fill jobs that Americans are not” willing to do.

“Developing a workable program as a part of immigration reform is critical to central Washington’s economy,” he said.

The farm sector has been a core constituency of the Republican Party for many years. Campaign contribution data from the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington research group, shows that since 1990, agriculture interests have mostly given to Republicans in Congress.

Last year, farm-heavy districts voted overwhelmingly for Mitt Romney. Tom Nassif, president of the Western Growers, and Chuck Conners, president of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, two of the organizations pushing for immigration legislation, were advisers to Mr. Romney during the campaign.

Agriculture’s main focus is on changing the H-2A visa program, which allows fruit and vegetable growers, slaughterhouses and other agribusinesses to hire temporary workers for jobs that cannot be filled by Americans.

The system allows foreign workers to enter the country on a visa for no longer than one year.

But agriculture officials say the current system does not work because industries like dairy farming and meat production are year-round enterprises and are unable to fill their need for workers. They also say the program is overly bureaucratic.

Among the changes the farm sector wants to see is the replacement of the seasonal visa program with one that would allow workers to accept a job under a three-year visa.

The agriculture groups, which lobbied heavily on Capitol Hill as a group of senators worked to draft an immigration bill, say they will soon began a similar campaign in the House.

“We will bring the weight of growers in all 50 states to the Senate and the House in support of this legislation,” said Tom Stenzel, chief executive of the United Fresh Produce Association, a trade group of fruit and vegetable growers.

Despite high unemployment in Mr. Hastings’s Washington district, growers and other farm interests there say they still suffer from worker shortages because of current immigration laws.

Mr. Kirby, Mr. Hastings’s spokesman, said the congressman had met with the farm lobbying coalition and had been in contact with growers. “This has been a longtime priority of Congressman Hastings,” he said.

This article can be accessed by visiting http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/19/us/immigration-bills-fate-may-hinge-on-farm-districts.html?_r=2&

Issue Update: Immigration Reform

Immigration Reform Begins to Move in the Senate

Historically, a primary issue for the agricultural sector has been the ability to determine the legal status of prospective employees – a variable that has proven to be a challenge, if not impossible. Employers are strictly limited in what they may ask prospective employees in determining their authorization to work and could be subject to a Justice Department investigation or lawsuit for unlawful discrimination if they request more or different documents than those allowed by law.

Despite advancements in technology, modern agriculture remains labor intensive.  It is also conducted in all seasons and is often transitory.  As farmers and ranchers have continued to face a shortage of workers who are willing and able to work on farms and in fields, they have had to do so within the context of both labor market demands and the overall political environment.    Not only must agricultural employers attract sufficient numbers of competent and able employees in order to sustain and enhance production, they must continue meeting the needs of a growing world population.

Within the construct of the recently introduced Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act (S. 744) are a number of provisions supported by the agriculture sector.  The Senate legislation aims to tighten border security, increase available visas for foreign workers, and increase penalties for U.S. employers who knowingly hire undocumented workers.  The full text of S. 744 can be accessed by visiting http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/thomas.

Under the proposed Senate legislation, “agriculture” is defined as: “includes the cultivation and tillage of the soil, dairying, the production, cultivation, growing, and harvesting of any agricultural or horticultural commodities, the raising of livestock, bees, fur-bearing animals, or poultry, and any practices (including any forestry or lumbering operations) performed by a farmer or on a farm. Term includes the handling, planting, drying packing, packaging, processing, freezing, or grading prior to delivery for storage of any agricultural or horticultural commodity in its unmanufactured state.”

The bill includes a new “blue card” program for experienced farm workers and a new version of the current agricultural worker visa program.  The new agricultural worker program would establish two work options: a portable, at-will employment-based visa and a contract-based visa program.  Undocumented farm workers would be eligible to obtain legal status via the “blue card” program for experienced farm workers, as well as the revised version of the current agricultural worker visa program.

Farm workers who fulfill blue card work requirements, pay all their taxes, have not been convicted of a felony or violent misdemeanor, and who pay a $400 fee would be eligible for the current green card.  Those work requirements include performing at least 5 years of agricultural employment for at least 100 work days per year, or performing at least 3 years of agricultural employment for at least 150 work days per year.

Employers of workers under the program would have to register with the USDA as a designated agricultural employer.  In addition, workers who become unemployed for more than 60 consecutive days would lose their status and would have to depart from the United States.

The H-2A program would sunset one year after the new visa program is enacted. The new program, administered by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), would provide three-year visas.

The atmosphere surrounding the issue of immigration reform, however, continues to be politically charged and the intricate dance of navigating differing agendas – policymakers, employers, and unions – will remain a challenge.

One provision that continues to be a cause for concern is a requirement that all employers utilize the government-run, Internet-based federal work verification program known as E-Verify.  Over a five-year phase-in period every non-citizen would be required to show his or her “biometric work authorization card,” or his or her “biometric green card.”  Employers with more than 5,000 employees would be phased in within two years, more than 500 employees would be phased in within three years, and all employers, including agricultural employers would be phased in within four years.

Operated by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the E-Verify system compares information provided by job applicants with databases compiled by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Social Security Administration (SSA) to let employers quickly know if the applicant has the right to work in the United States.

Although the system is supposed to guard against the hiring of undocumented immigrants, concerns have been raised as to its reliability For example, during a recent interview with reporters, United States Senator Al Franken (D – MN) noted that the rate of mistakes by E-Verify – approximately 1 in 140 false positives – is too high to impose on small businesses, especially the Minnesota dairy farms that rely on immigrant labor.

Although concerns persist that, due to malfunctions in the identity verification process legal workers could be denied jobs (thereby subjecting employers to lawsuits), a complete exemption from E-Verify for small businesses appears unlikely.  Although confirmation of legal status when hiring farm workers is now optional, it is nearly impossible to envision a scenario where comprehensive immigration reform moves forward with an exemption of small businesses.

Whereas the majority of attention has been on the Senate, there are two immigration “vehicles” that have been moving in the United States House of Representatives.  A bipartisan working group is attempting to finalize its “comprehensive” proposal but House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R – VA), whose committee has jurisdiction in relation to immigration reform, has a different view as to how best to proceed.

The preference of Mr. Goodlatte is for the House to follow “regular order” as the chamber strives to advance immigration reform – thereby ensuring that his committee not only retains its jurisdictional prerogative but that members have an opportunity to assist in crafting immigration reform legislation.

During a recent interview with Congressional Quarterly, Mr. Goodlatte noted that “we have a lot of people in this Congress who are not part of that little group, and they all need to have input in this process, so we’re making sure that happens.”  He added that “we’re encouraging the House group to reach agreement, and we will benefit from their product but no decision’s been made about how we pull it all together.”

And what of Speaker of the House John Boehner?  Although there has been no explicit commitment from Mr. Boehner, members and aides close to the House bipartisan working group appear confident that the Speaker secretly has some level of ownership or authorization of the bipartisan effort.

Copyright © 2013 RDL & Associates, LLC.  All rights reserved.

NIAA Supports Animal Welfare, Not Activists “Humane Education” (via Bovinevet.com)

Domesticated animals deserve respect and care. That’s animal welfare—and a priority of the National Institute for Animal Agriculture (NIAA), an organization comprised of livestock, equine, poultry and aquaculture producers, producer organizations, veterinarians, extension personnel, academicians, scientists, Federal and state regulatory agencies and allied industry.

Jim Fraley, Livestock Program Director for Illinois Farm Bureau and co-chair of NIAA’s Animal Care Council, stresses that animal welfare and animal rights, however, are not the same. Significant discussion was devoted to this topic during NIAA’s annual conference in Louisville, Ky., April 15-17. In the end, NIAA’s membership agreed on two key items:

  1. NIAA believes in animal welfare and does not believe in animal rights; and
  2. Today’s children and future generations should understand the importance of animal welfare and not confuse animal welfare with animal rights.

“We believe in, and support, animal welfare as these practices focus on the prevention of suffering and cruelty to animals,” Fraley explains. “NIAA does not believe in animal rights as the animal rights philosophy advocates an end to all ‘human use of animals.’

“NIAA members believe human societies require and accept the use of animals as sources of food and fiber, as well as for scientific research, sport, companionship, entertainment and clothing. It is the obligation of animal caretakers to provide the best care possible of animals throughout their lifetime, and NIAA’s membership takes this obligation very seriously.”

During its annual conference, NIAA members adopted a position that public schools should not stir confusion regarding the difference between animal welfare and animal rights by allowing extremist animal rights groups to present their views which can be erroneously perceived as facts.

Concern about what public schools should or should not allow regarding animal welfare and animal rights education arose when NIAA members learned about a California school system that allowed a movie involving animals to be shown and followed up the movie with a discussion focusing on how cruel it is to eat fish.

“Those of us in animal agriculture do not believe that extremist animal rights groups should be allowed to dictate information children are exposed to—or will be exposed to—at our public schools regarding animal welfare,” Fraley states. “Animal rights groups led by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), PETA and the Institute of Humane Education (IHE) do not reflect balanced views and are campaigning across the United States to implement what they refer to as ‘humane education,’ a program of extreme ideological material they aspire to teach in our school systems.

“They have been successful in a few cities, but up to now have not been successful at the state or federal levels, despite repeated efforts to introduce legislation.”

Fraley emphasizes that emotional, subliminal vegan messages replacing animal care based on accepted, proven animal husbandry practices is “not education, but indoctrination.”

Summaries of the Obama Administration’s USDA and EPA Budget Request

After months of delay, the Obama Administration has finally released their fiscal year (fy) 2014 budget – including proposed funding levels for the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The fy 2014 budget summary for USDA can be accessed by visiting http://www.obpa.usda.gov/budsum/FY14budsum.pdf.  The fy 2014 budget summary for EPA can be accessed by visiting http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/omb/budget/fy2014/assets/environmental.pdf

Video: Minnesota House Environment Finance Committee

On April 4, 2013 the Minnesota House of Representatives heard testimony regarding a proposed Ag. Water Certification Program.  The video of the House Environment Finance Committee Testimony re: Ag Water Certification begins at the 1:16:27 mark and again at the 1:22:27 mark.

The video link is http://www.house.leg.state.mn.us/htv/programa.asp?ls_year=88&event_id=880263

Antibiotics, Farm Animals and You (via The New York Times)

On March 28, 2013 an Op-Ed by David A. Kessler, former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, appeared on the Opinion Page of “The New York Times”.  Listed below is a response from Charles Hofacre, an advisor to the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance, that provides a counter-point to Mr. Kessler’s opinion piece.

The Kessler Op-Ed can be accessed by visiting http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/28/opinion/antibiotics-and-the-meat-we-eat.html.  The responses can be accessed by visiting http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/05/opinion/antibiotics-farm-animals-and-you.html?_r=1

_______________________________________________________________________________________________

To the Editor:

Re “Antibiotics and the Meat We Eat,” by David A. Kessler (Op-Ed, March 28):

Farmers and ranchers share consumer concerns about antibiotic-resistant bacteria and are continuously improving herd health practices to minimize risk.

About a third of livestock antibiotics used today are not used at all in human medicine. And in accordance with the Food and Drug Administration’s Guidance 209 and 213, antibiotics important to human medicine used for growth purposes will be eliminated from farm use within three years.

There is no proven link to antibiotic treatment failure in humans because of antibiotic use in animals for consumption — a critical point that is often missed. Antibiotics are used judiciously under veterinary guidance and F.D.A. guidelines, and are primarily used to treat sick animals or prevent illness.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, antibiotic-resistant diseases with the greatest effect on human health, like the contagious staph bacteria MRSA, are spread by human-to-human contact. No clinical case of MRSA in a human related to livestock has been identified in the United States.

Let’s keep this dialogue focused on the facts, and lose the hyperbole and fear-mongering.

CHARLES L. HOFACRE  Athens, Ga., March 29, 2013

The writer, a professor  of veterinary medicine at the University of Georgia and a member of the Center for Food Safety, is an adviser to the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance.

Gillibrand Bills Could Upset Dairy Reform Consensus (via Agri-Pulse Communications)

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., yesterday announced a host of new dairy initiatives aimed at protecting New York’s small dairy farmers. In a teleconference with reporters yesterday, Sen. Gillibrand placed special emphasis on a new piece of bipartisan legislation – the Dairy Pricing Reform Act, cosponsored by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine – Gillibrand says will do away with milk market distortions and bring “income fairness” to small dairies.

Gillibrand’s announcement was especially notable because it points to a division in the Democratic party – one that may become significant if and when a new farm bill moves to mark-up. The New York senator specifically called out the Dairy Security Act, the brainchild of House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson, D-Minn. Gillibrand says Peterson’s plan would stymie small dairy growth by placing “mandatory caps on how many cows you have today.”

Sen. Gillibrand also marked herself out as an opponent of comprehensive supply management. Her Dairy Income Fairness Act would exempt the first 200 cows from that oversight process, whereas Peterson’s bill includes no such “protection” for small dairy farmers.

“The reason why supply management is in the farm bill is that Congressman Peterson thinks you can’t have a functioning insurance system without supply management,” she explained yesterday to reporters.

In contrast, she said, her plan would “try to protect the smallest dairies, because we do not want to see consolidation in the dairy industry…New York will remain the home of small dairies.” The state’s 5,150 dairy farms are exceeded only by Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, according to USDA 2012 statistics.

Gillibrand assured listeners “[House Speaker] Boehner might support this version” of supply management. Last year, Boehner, R-Ohio, called House Agriculture Committee farm bill dairy market stabilization provisions “Soviet style” for their efforts to cut back on production when profit margins are tight.

Gillibrand’s two other initiatives announced yesterday include a Senate farm bill provision that would make mandatory the reporting of cold storage inventory and piece of “transparency and information” legislation that would require dairy cooperatives to provide more information to members when casting bloc votes in Federal Milk Marketing Order referenda.

The article can be accessed by visiting http://www.agri-pulse.com/

Issue Update: Slight Movement on 2013 Farm Bill

Although the United States Senate and United States House of Representatives chambers have met a self-imposed deadline to pass a budget resolution prior to April 15, 2013 – or have their pay docked – there appears to be little chance of reconciling the divergent blueprints.  The non-binding fiscal year (FY) 2014 budget resolutions that emerged from both chambers are vastly different and it is unclear whether any attempt will be made to iron out the vast differences between the two plans.

 
The differing visions for agriculture spending priorities are stark but not unexpected.  Whereas the Senate version calls for approximately $23 billion in savings from the farm bill as a whole, the House version calls for an estimated $49 billion, with $31 billion coming from the commodity title and crop insurance, as well as additional $18 billion from other titles.  The House budget resolution would also cap federal spending for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and convert it to a block grant to the states, resulting in an estimated savings of $125 billion over 5 years.

 
Despite these numbers, the budget resolutions passed by Congress (as well as the budget that will be released by the Obama Administration this month) are merely the first steps in a complex dance.  As has historically been the case, Congress and the Administration utilize budget proposals to highlight their policy priorities and to establish guidelines.  It is unlikely that the potential impasse in reconciling the budget resolutions will have much of a material impact on the upcoming farm bill.

 
According to Agri-Pulse, there is general consensus that the Senate and House Agriculture Committees are not likely to wait for a budget agreement.  Case-in-point: Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Debbie Stabenow (D – MI) has announced that her committee will hold a markup on a new farm bill prior to April 26th, with the House expected to follow suit shortly thereafter.

 

Copyright © 2013 RDL & Associates, LLC.  All rights reserved.