In a letter to the House and Senate Agriculture Committee chairpersons and ranking members, National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson today outlined what the family farmer organization wants from the upcoming Farm Bill conference committee.
The Farm Bill has been stalled for over a year as part of the partisan wrangling mostly coming from so-called Tea Party Republicans in the House. Ohioan and House Speaker John Boehner has also stalled Farm Bill consideration at certain points last year and this year. There are currently House and Senate-passed Farm Bills which need to be reconciled in a conference committee. After weeks of inaction, Boehner allowed the House to form its half of the conference this past weekend.
“NFU is pleased to see the farm bill process move forward with the appointment of conferees,” said Johnson. “As you and other conferees begin formulating your positions on important farm bill conference issues, I urge you to consider the priorities of U.S. family farmers, ranchers, rural communities and hungry Americans.”
Johnson’s letter outlines several key issues for NFU and its members beginning with maintaining Farm Bill ‘permanent law.’ Dating back to requirements enacted in 1938 and 1949, the Farm Bill has had regular reviews and updates.
“Rescinding permanent law would remove the incentive to update and reauthorize the farm bill, leaving conservation, renewable energy, rural development, research, trade and other provisions without authority to continue,” said Johnson.
Further high priorities include establishing fixed reference prices for commodity programs, enacting an inventory management tool as part of the dairy safety net, providing $900 million in mandatory funding for renewable energy efforts, opposition to adverse amendments to Country-of-Origin Labeling, and including adequate funding levels for the Farmers Market and Local Foods Promotion Program.
The letter also highlighted 18 other important farm bill issues on which NFU has taken a position:
- Defend and strengthen livestock disaster programs, which were included in both the House and Senate bills;
- Keep limitations on eligibility and the amount of farm payments individuals or farms may receive. This is included in both versions of the farm bill,but we prefer the Senate version, which includes stricter guidelines;
- Ensure that conservation programs are fully funded;
- Defend both retirement and working lands programs: the Conservation Reserve Program, Conservation Stewardship Program, Agricultural Conservation Easement Program and Regional Conservation Partnership Program;
- Include a national sodsaver provision, as in the Senate bill;
- Maintain funding for the Market Access Program and the Foreign Market Development program;
- Although NFU does not support cuts to farm bill nutrition programs, any nutrition cuts included in the conference report must represent a compromise that can be ultimately accepted by both houses of Congress and signed into law by the president;
- Support funding for Rural Cooperative Development Grants at the Senate bill’s level;
- Support mandatory funding for the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative at the House bill’s level;
- Support mandatory fundi ng for the Specialty Crop Research Initiative at the House bill’s level;
- Support mandatory funding for the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Program at the House bill’s level;
- Include eligibility for blender pumps under REAP, as in the Senate bill;
- Include eligibility for feasibility studies under REAP, as in the House bill;
- Include establishment of matching payments for BCAP, as in the Senate bill;
- Reauthorize Specialty Crop Block Grants at the House bill’s level;
- Support language in the House bill that clarifies that federal law does not require water permits for otherwise regulated pesticide applications;
- Link crop insurance premium subsidy eligibility with conservation compliance requirements, as included in the Senate bill; and
- Support fair and competitive markets for independent family farmers and ranchers and eliminate House language that would undercut enforcement of the Packers and Stockyards Act.