Dairy Policy Reform Advances through Congress as House Prepares to Take up Farm Bill

July 10, 2012

Now that the Senate has approved its version of the 2012 Farm Bill, the focus has shifted this week to the House of Representatives, where the Agriculture Committee is poised to begin drafting its own version of the Farm Bill.

Final passage in the Senate came on June 21st, when the 2012 Farm Bill was passed by a vote of 64 to 35. The legislation included $23 billion in cuts spread out among the commodity, nutrition, and conservation titles. The reforms that NMPF developed in coordination with farmers from around the country were also included in the legislation.

Meanwhile, in the House of Representatives, work continues on a draft Farm Bill that is scheduled to be considered on July 11th by the House Agriculture Committee. The draft contains the major elements of the Dairy Security Act (DSA), which evolved from Foundation for the Future. The core of the DSA is a margin insurance program that protects farmers from dire economic conditions caused by either low milk prices or high feed costs. The margin insurance program replaces existing dairy programs, including the MILC and Dairy Product Price Support programs. Farmers will have the option of signing up for the margin insurance program; if they choose to do so, they will then be enrolled in the Market Stabilization program through which they may be asked to periodically alter their milk output when worst-case conditions appear.

The legislation differs from the Senate version, with additional cuts to federal hunger and nutrition programs, and a significantly different commodity title. NMPF also expects that an amendment will be offered by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), a former committee chairman, to strip out the Dairy Market Stabilization Program. It is vital that this amendment be defeated, and that both the Dairy Market Stabilization Program and the Dairy Margin Insurance Program be included in any final product approved by the Committee.

U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance Hosts Food Dialogues in Los Angeles

July 10, 2012

The U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance, of which NMPF is a member, hosted a two-day interactive session in Los Angeles last month reviewing how farming and food production are portrayed, rightly or wrongly, in the media.

Highlights from the discussions, which were broadcast live on the internet, can be found at www.fooddialogues.com. Four separate discussions – held June 20-21 – brought together entertainment movers and shakers, chefs, academics, large restaurant operators, journalists, local leaders, and farmers and ranchers for an in-depth conversation about food. USFRA will also host another dialogue on food production in New York in November.

In addition, this summer USFRA is looking for a handful of farmers and ranchers who are proud of what they do and eager to share their stories of continuous improvement with others. The winners of this nationwide search for the “Faces of Farming and Ranching” will be announced in January 2013, and will put a real face on today’s agriculture. Dairy farmers can nominate others – or themselves – by going to www.fooddialogues.com.

U.S. Dairy Industry Pursues Trade Negotiations with Canada, Russia

July 10, 2012

Canada has been extended an invitation to actively join the ongoing Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement negotiations.

NMPF and the U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC) strongly supported Canada’s participation in the TPP negotiations. Both groups agreed that since Mexico has been invited to join the talks, it only makes sense for the third member of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) to join as well. However, whereas Mexico and the United States already have removed all dairy trade barriers between them, this is not the case with respect to trade between Canada and the United States—a situation which the two organizations said must be remedied.

According to the dairy groups, the U.S. government’s approval of Canada’s participation in the TPP talks has been accompanied by a very clear understanding of U.S. expectations that all Canadian trade barriers against U.S. dairy products must be eliminated. This requirement was fundamental to gaining the groups’ support.

“The U.S. dairy sector hopes to see significant gains from a well-negotiated TPP and welcomes Canada’s membership as an important step towards achieving this goal,” said Jerry Kozak, president and CEO of NMPF. “The United States and Canada have had a free trade agreement since 1988, but it did not include dairy products. It is time for this oversight to be changed and we welcome this opportunity to finally make that happen.”

Meanwhile, legislation was introduced in the Senate last month to extend Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) to Russia. Senator Baucus (D-MT), Finance Committee Chairman; Senator John Thune (R-SD), International Trade Subcommittee Ranking Member; Senator John Kerry (D-MA), Foreign Relations Committee Chairman; and Senator John McCain (R-AZ), Armed Services Committee Ranking Member, introduced the bipartisan legislation in order to enable U.S. companies to expand exports to Russia when it joins the World Trade Organization (WTO) this year.

Russia is expected to complete the necessary administrative and regulatory changes and thereafter to actively join the WTO this August. Those commitments include provisions relating to agricultural trade, which NMPF and USDEC believe will yield significant improvements in tariff levels as well as in how Russia deals with various regulatory requirements for imported dairy products.

Supreme Court Ruling on Arizona Immigration Law Highlights Continuing Need for Reform

July 10, 2012

In the last week of its term, the Supreme Court struck down a significant portion of Arizona’s effort to prosecute and deter illegal immigrants, but left one key part of that state’s laws intact.

The mixed high court ruling, along with the recent executive order by the Obama administration to stop the deportation of some younger, undocumented individuals, fully illustrated how that, regardless of which path is chosen, the few options for immigration reform remain controversial and divisive. At the same time, these developments also showed how critically necessary it is to resolve the immigration policy conundrum, especially for farmers and other employers concerned with maintain and recruiting a workforce.

The court upheld the law’s directive that state and local police may check the immigration status of people they stop when they suspect them of lacking legal authorization to be in the United States. The justices unanimously stated that federal law already requires immigration officials to respond to status checks from local authorities, and therefore federal immigration law does not preempt this section of the Arizona law.

However, much of SB1070 was overturned as interfering in the federal government’s role as the sole arbiter of immigration law. In a 5-3 ruling, the court said Arizona in effect had tried to set up a parallel enforcement system that punished illegal immigrants more harshly and interfered with congressional authority over the nation’s borders. The court rejected parts of the state law that made it a state crime for illegal immigrants to seek work, to fail to carry immigration papers, and that authorized warrantless arrests of people suspected by state and local police of committing deportable offenses.

This decision highlighted the need for continued efforts to reform federal immigration laws, and NMPF will continue to work with regulators and lawmakers to create workable solutions for dairy farmers and their workers.

House Committee Told that Animal Manure Should be Exempt from Superfund Regulations

July 10, 2012

Congress needs to make clear that regulations designed to protect the environment against toxic waste do not ensnare dairy farmers and others who raise farm animals, the House Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy was told late last month.

The hearing on Capitol Hill reviewed legislation introduced by Rep. Billy Long (R-MO), designated as H.R. 2997, or the Superfund Commonsense Act. It would clarify that manure is not included in the meaning of “hazardous substance” as defined by the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) regulations, and also would eliminate the reporting requirement for releases associated with manure under the Emergency Planning & Community Right to Know Act (EPCRA) regulation.

NMPF had been working for several years with Congressman Long and others to provide greater regulatory assurances to dairy farmers that these laws and regulations are not designed or intended to impact dairy farmers. The CERCLA law was created more than 30 years ago to regulate Superfund sites, and the EPCRA law was created after that for similar purposes.

Testifying on behalf of the dairy industry, Walter Bradley, who works for Dairy Farmers of America, reminded committee members that concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) and their environmental releases are subject to both state and federal laws. Bradley told the panel that “we are not seeking an exemption from the federal Clean Water Act (CWA) or the Clean Air Act (CAA) or similar state laws including any federal or state worker protection laws. We are merely seeking clarification under CERCLA and EPCRA that animal manure does not necessitate an emergency response nor does it create a Superfund site.”

“In recent years, however, we have seen litigation challenge the use of animal manure as a fertilizer by claiming contamination and damage to natural resources. The issue of CERCLA/EPCRA’s applicability to the livestock industry has been discussed in Congress several times in the last decade. I believe congressional intent is clear. When the law was passed, Congress did not intend for manure to be regulated as a hazardous substance,” Bradley said.