A Future Farm Bill Must Include Cattlemen's Priorities
By Kristina Butts, NCBA Executive Director of Legislative Affairs
We can’t deny that 2013 has gotten off to a rocky start, legislatively speaking. The fiscal cliff package passed by Congress earlier this month left much to be desired for the cattle industry, especially when it came to a five-year farm bill. The fiscal cliff package extends the 2008 Farm Bill until Sept. 30, 2013, and authorizes limited disaster assistance for fiscal years 2012 and 2013. Funding for these programs is subject to receiving the money from appropriations committees.
However, realizing the importance of getting the ball rolling on agriculture policy, the Senate re-introduced its version of the bill (S. 10), which was passed last June with heavy bi-partisan support. This re-introduced legislation will serve as a placeholder for whatever language comes out of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee. This version of the bill incorporates the priorities which NCBA and our membership fought hard for last year. There is not a livestock title, the conservation programs are maintained and the research title is sustained.
Why are these issues important to cattle producers? For starters, cattle producers support a reduction of the federal deficit while assuring funding for farm bill priorities. These priorities should directly address the needs of agricultural producers while limiting invasive federal oversight. The farm bill should minimize direct federal involvement in agricultural production and preserve the individual’s right to manage land, water and resources. NCBA’s membership strongly supports a free, open marketplace, and national agricultural policy should be based on a free, private enterprise and competitive market system. We support a producer’s ability to market cattle however, whenever and to whomever they desire. Farm policy should not guarantee profit, restrict the operation of the competitive marketplace or dictate who can or cannot own cattle. Instead of government programs, which are costly to taxpayers, private enterprise alternatives in marketing and risk management should be developed and encouraged.
It is often said that farmers and ranchers are the original stewards of the land. Conserving the land and its resources is a priority for cattlemen, which is why NCBA supports maintaining funding of existing conservation programs to encourage voluntary participation by beef producers. Healthy natural resources provide a healthy watershed and renewable source of feed for domestic animals and wildlife. Cattle farmers and ranchers are committed to responsibly using and conserving the land and its resources. The re-introduced Senate farm bill includes the Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP), which allows farmers and ranchers to leverage their own financial investment with federal dollars to make improvements to their land, water and natural resources. EQIP has been a successful and effective tool for landowners seeking technical and financial assistance to implement sound conservation practices.
The research title is a cattle industry priority which has also remained in S. 10. Farm bill research dollars are used to fund critical scientific studies to improve the health, well-being and sustainability of the U.S. beef cattle industry. Agricultural research provides critical information necessary to protect the profitability and global competitiveness of the industry, as well. We strongly support Congress adequately funding the research title within the next farm bill to ensure the necessary research is being done to combat emerging diseases, discover new production practices, improve environmental stewardship and continually improve the scientific foundation of America’s beef cattle industry.
Currently there is not a specific timeline for when Congress will discuss America’s farm policy. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Chairwoman of the Agriculture Committee, has said that she is committed to convening a committee mark-up as soon as possible to produce an updated version of the farm bill, which could then be substituted for this placeholder bill S. 10. This most recent election produced 98 new faces on Capitol Hill. We have a great opportunity and task before us to educate the 14 new Senators and 84 new House members on the importance of farm policy not only to those involved in agriculture but also to those who enjoy our beef products! Be assured, NCBA’s policy team will continue to make our members’ voices heard throughout the halls of Congress.