Cattlemen urge Farm Bill approval
DENVER - The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) supports presidential approval of the Farm Bill Conference Report passed by the U.S. House of Representatives this week and by the U.S. Senate earlier today. While the nation’s oldest and largest cattlemen’s organization agrees with some criticisms of the legislation, NCBA strongly prefers it to either a reversion to the permanent farm policy law passed in 1949, or a long-term extension of the 2002 Farm Bill. President Bush is likely to veto the Farm Bill Conference Report, even though it passed both houses of Congress by a substantial margin.
“While the new Farm Bill doesn’t accomplish all of the free-market reforms that were hoped for, it does contain some areas of improvement over the 2002 Farm Bill,” said Colin Woodall, NCBA’s executive director of legislative affairs.
The Farm Bill Conference Report addresses a range of issues important to cattle producers. It clarifies and simplifies livestock record-keeping requirements for mandatory Country-of-Origin Labeling (COOL), which is set to take effect this fall. It also moves the grandfather date for domestic livestock in the COOL law from January 1, 2008 to July 15, 2008.
The Conservation title provides additional funding for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) - conservation programs that have benefitted many cattle operations, as well as the general public. EQIP is also expanded to include more cattle producers, including organic beef producers and feedlot operations. Additionally, the Grasslands Reserve Program and Wetlands Reserve Program were extended through 2012.
Cattlemen also support a provision of the Farm Bill that allows for meat processed at state-inspected plants to be shipped to customers across state lines – a practice currently permitted only for federally inspected facilities. This will allow many small processing plants the opportunity to grow their business presence, and could increase local marketing options for cattle producers.
NCBA also applauds inclusion of $3.807 billion for a permanent ag disaster aid program. Under this program, farmers and ranchers who purchase Non-insured Agricultural Program (NAP) coverage could be eligible to receive compensation for extreme forage or livestock losses resulting from disasters such as drought, wildfires and floods.
“Congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle have worked very hard to deliver a Farm Bill that provides a certain level of stability and consistency for agricultural producers,” said Woodall. “No agricultural group is coming away with everything it wanted. But it’s a bill we can all live with, and it is the best option available to us at this time.”
Woodall added that Farm Bill conferees wisely chose not to limit marketing options for livestock producers by banning packer ownership of livestock more than 14 days before slaughter. This provision had been included in the Senate version of the bill, but was voted down by the Conference Committee.
As for renewable energy, the new Farm Bill would reduce the ethanol blender’s tax credit by about 12 percent, while increasing incentives for cellulosic ethanol production. This shift could provide a greater incentive for ethanol plants to move more quickly toward cellulosic production, a move supported by NCBA. But the bill also includes a two-year extension (through 2010) of the 54-cent per gallon ethanol import tariff, which had been set to expire at the end of this year. NCBA member policy supports allowing the tariff to expire, because it limits access to a potential fuel source during a time of great need, and insulates feedgrain-based ethanol production from market competition.