Cattlemen Conclude Successful Legislative Conference
WASHINGTON - More than 200 cattle producers from across the nation are concluding a successful week in the nation's capital today, as the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) wraps up its annual Spring Legislative Conference.
The meeting was highlighted by an address from President George W. Bush on Wednesday, in which the President focused on the importance international trade and sound economic policy hold for the cattle industry and all of American agriculture. But NCBA members also heard from many other key policy makers throughout the week.
House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) spoke to the conference delegation on Wednesday, addressing questions about the 2007 Farm Bill and other legislative issues currently facing cattlemen on Capitol Hill.
Peterson said he, along with other conservative “Blue Dog” Democrats, have been pushing for fiscal responsibility within the party for some time. Those efforts are having an impact, and the results will be evident in the new Farm Bill.
“We’ve adopted PAYGO (pay-as-you-go) rules, and the Farm Bill is going to be the place where this hammer comes down,” Peterson said. “And that’s okay, because it’s the right thing to do for the country.”
Peterson said he understands the concerns cattlemen have expressed to him about high grain prices.
“I know you folks are concerned about feed prices, and what’s happened with corn,” said Peterson, who represents an area of Minnesota well-known for corn production. “I can report to you that we are planting every bit of corn that there is seed available this year. In fact, I can tell you that farmers have bought seed that does not exist.”
Peterson predicted 90 million acres of corn would be planted in 2007. Further growth is expected in 2008, as acres are shifted to corn from other crops. He said important research is being done to develop hybrids that are higher-yielding, more drought resistant, and better-suited for ethanol production. He emphasized that ethanol by-product research is also a priority, so that it can be better utilized as livestock feed. He also supports rapid development of cellulosic ethanol production, so that renewable fuels do not compete so directly with livestock production for grain.
“We do not want to damage the animal agriculture industry in this country. This is the thing that we know how to do, value-added, the best.” Peterson said. “And we do not want to diminish that industry. We want to grow that industry.”
Renewable fuels were also on the agenda Thursday, when cattlemen got a first-hand account of the country's energy security challenges from National Economic Council Director Allan Hubbard. Hubbard focused his remarks on the importance of diversifying the nation’s energy sources, and reducing its dependence on imported oil.
Also on Thursday, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns updated cattlemen on the status of the beef trade impasse with South Korea, and the potential impact of that issue on free trade agreement negotiations between the United States and Korea.
“We need to move toward a recognition that common sense needs to be a part of what we’re doing,” Johanns said. “A clear commitment by South Korea to abide by OIE classifications (for beef trade) would go a long way toward winning support for this free trade agreement in the Senate.”
He added that the first question the Administration must answer for many legislators if and when it takes a U.S.-Korea free trade agreement to Capitol Hill, is whether the United States is selling beef into Korea.
“It’s a fair question, Johanns said. “And I’d like to be able to answer, ‘yes, we are.’”
Johanns said a free trade agreement would be good for both countries, especially since South Korea is already America’s seventh-largest trading partner. But he emphasized that the agreement must be grounded on rational and predictable approaches to trade.
“You as an industry should not be faced with trading with countries where the standard to be applied is the politics of the day,” Johanns said. “ You should be able to rely upon trade based on scientific principles.”
Johanns also touched upon USDA's Farm Bill priorities, including policy directives that may help ease the tight supply of corn and other feedgrains.
“We are fully aware of the challenges that are presented when you start to talk about food and fuel uses for corn,” Johanns said. “We know corn-based ethanol will be part of the energy future. But we also believe that the next generation is going to be cellulosic ethanol. That is the long-term answer, in my judgment, to the food versus fuel debate. And that’s where we are concentrating in terms of our Farm Bill energy proposals.”
James Link, administrator of USDA's Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) also addressed NCBA members. Link outlined highlights from a recently completed report on alternative marketing arrangements for cattle and other livestock. Congress authorized this study as part of the 2002 Farm Bill. It showed that alternative marketing arrangements offered opportunity for higher returns for cattlemen, while having very little negative impact on the cash market.
NCBA members also met personally with officials at other federal agencies, concerning environmental, trade, tax and animal health issues. Agencies visited by cattlemen included the Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), and Farm Service Agency.
NCBA President John Queen of North Carolina called the 2007 Spring Legislative Conference a tremendous success for the nation's cattlemen.
"This is such a valuable week for NCBA members who are able to make the trip to Washington, D.C. They take home great information from Capitol Hill and the federal regulatory agencies, and they make valuable contacts that can last a lifetime.” Queen said. “But every single member of NCBA also benefits from this conference, because we carry the message to Washington about the issues that are important to the bottom line of the nation’s cattlemen."