American Farm Bureau policy provides options

American Farm Bureau policy decisions were driven at least to an extent by federal budget considerations, but policy passed by voting delegates this week in Nashville provides options for farmers and ranchers.

Regarding farm policy, American Farm Bureau delegates favor producers being allowed a choice of program options if a catastrophic risk program can’t be achieved. Indiana Farm Bureau President Don Villwock explained for Brownfield Ag News what the organization is trying for.

“We came out with a lot of flexibility that will allow Farm Bureau to adjust to the debate and the discussion and be a more active player than they have been in the past,” said Villwock.

What it comes down to is the need for the often talked about farm safety net, according to Blake Hurst, president of the Missouri Farm Bureau.

“We realize that farm programs can’t guarantee a profit, and they ought not to influence planting decisions that farmers make,” said Hurst during a break in the discussion. “We need to let the market guide us in our planting decisions.”

The allowance for program options in American Farm Bureau policy replaced what’s called reference price programs, commonly known as target prices, which Iowa Farm Bureau President Craig Hill said is a matter of federal budget priorities.

“Target pricing is very expensive; we’d like to avoid that,” said Hill, Tuesday on the resolutions session floor while waiting for the next round of debate to begin. “We have priorities in crop insurance; we have priorities in conservation spending and a host of other programs that are more important.”

AUDIO: Blake Hurst (3 min. MP3)

AUDIO: Craig Hill (3 min. MP3)

AUDIO: Don Villwock (1 min. MP3)

Nelson pleased with language provided by Illinois Farm Bureau

Illinois Farm Bureau President Philip Nelson is pleased about the resolution from Illinois that was made part of American Farm Bureau policy this week in Nashville.

Illinois Farm Bureau President Philip Nelson at the 2013 AFBF Convention in Nashville.

Illinois Farm Bureau President Philip Nelson at the 2013 AFBF Convention in Nashville.

“We’ve heard it from our producers,” said Nelson, “risk management is job one as we go into this farm bill.”

Nelson explained to Brownfield Ag News that the language provides flexibility to producers. He says delegates had talked about supporting a shallow loss program and reference prices, which are similar to target prices. That, however, gave way to what was eventually adopted by American Farm Bureau voting delegates, which allows for a choice of program options if a catastrophic risk management program is not achievable.

“We wanted to have the latitude, not knowing where this Congress will end up, but certainly looking at all options, to give producers that option as they sign up for the new farm program,” he said.

Delegates also amended policy to support the Renewable Fuels Standard, commonly referred to as RFS2, as approved in 2007 energy legislation. It’s the first time American Farm Bureau policy has addressed RFS2.

Nelson is one of 362 farmer and rancher delegates from 50 states and Puerto Rico who vote on American Farm Bureau policy. An estimated 6,000 people attended the convention this week in Nashville.

AUDIO: Philip Nelson (3 min. MP3)

Spending has to be part of the conversation

Following the last-minute extension of the Farm Bill in December, Congress now has 9 months to craft a new Farm Bill. 

American Farm Bureau Chief Economist Bob Young says before that can happen – Congress will first have to deal with the Debt Ceiling.  “We do have folks on the Hill being very vocal and basically saying ‘by God we’ll take the country to default’ if we can’t get some resolution on spending,” he says.  “Spending does absolutely, positively, 100 percent need to be part of the conversation.”

So what does that mean for agriculture? “Agriculture will end up with some different numbers then what they started the process with,” he says. “And they’re probably going to be lower numbers to spend.”

Illinois Farm Bureau puts forth options amendment

The majority of American Farm Bureau delegates support the amendment put forth in their policy to keep options open for a five-year farm bill.

That amendment was presented by the Illinois Farm Bureau at the AFBF annual meeting in Nashville. Mark Gebhards, the executive director of governmental affairs and commodities for the Illinois Farm Bureau, says it was one sentence.

“If a catastrophic risk program is not achievable we support producers being allowed a choice of program options,” Gehards tells Brownfield Ag News.

While southern state delegates wanted target prices, or, “reference price programs” in the policy book… the Illinois amendment now replaces that.  He says, “That particular individual reference was taken out and, again, replaced with that amendment that just says we’ll look at ALL program options. So, it really allows you a lot of flexibility as you move forward in the debate.”

Gebhards tells Brownfield he hates to say that the budget is the issue in the next full farm bill but he says “the budget IS the issue”….

“This allows you the flexibility to look at all those options and say, ‘Okay, what fits the best within the budget parameters that we’re going to have to deal with, with the House and the Senate,” Gebhard adds.

Agriculture has and is willing, Gebhards says, to make its fair share of reductions. The Farm Bureau still supports the $26 Billion in cuts in the Senate Farm Bill version as opposed to the House AG committee proposal that seeks another $10 Billion more in ag cuts.

AUDIO: Mark Gebhards interviewed by Brownfield’s Tom Steever (3:00 mp3)

Stallman: Farm Bureau policies a reaffirmation

AFBF President Bob Stallman conducts closing news conference, Nashville, Jan 15, 2013.

AFBF President Bob Stallman conducts closing news conference, Nashville, Jan 15, 2013.

The significance of American Farm Bureau policy discussion this year is that there are few changes, and the organization’s leader is fine with that.

Closing the group’s annual meeting, Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, told reporters that delegates decided to take a familiar approach to policy.

“We basically reaffirmed support for the position we had,” said Stallman, to begin the news conference that followed the close of the American Farm Bureau policy-setting session.

Referring to renewed farm bill debate in Congress, Stallman said the organization wants farmers to have as many choices as possible.

“We changed a few words, but we retain a lot of flexibility to adjust to whatever the process comes up with, and at the same time I think we can influence the process,” he said.

To maintain a labor force, Farm Bureau members want Congress to consider immigration reform soon.

“That’s figuring out a way to replace and/or streamline the current seasonal and temporary program and at the same time bring a lot of those that have been in the shadows with false documents and are not here legally out of the shadows and provide them opportunity through a visa to work,” Stallman explained.

Delegates reiterated their desire for federal agencies to avoid legislating through regulation, and in that regard, “all federal agencies should be held to the strictest interpretation of the law,” Stallman said.

Reiterating their continued call for an effective farm safety net, delegates also made clear they wish to see no caps on crop insurance premium subsidies.

Stallman downplayed the fact there was not much change to policies.

“The fact that we reaffirm policy that’s in place is just as important, because every year it’s a fresh slate; we start over every year, in essence,” said Stallman. “We may keep the same policies, but the fact that they’re reaffirmed is an important statement in itself.”

AUDIO: Bob Stallman closing news conference (20 min> MP3)

Ohio Farm Bureau receives top honor

The American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) presented the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation (OFBF) with the Pinnacle Award, the top honor for a state organization, during the AFBF annual meeting in Nashville this week.

Ohio Farm Bureau also received the President’s Award and the Award for Excellence.

“This shows what members working together can accomplish,” said Jack Fisher, executive vice president of Ohio Farm Bureau. “Our members, staff, friends at Nationwide and all our partners should be very proud of their organization.”

Hamilton and Wayne County Farm Bureaus were among the top 25 county programs honored with AFBF’s County Activities Excellence Award.

Brad Heimerl of Johnstown, competing in the discussion meet advanced to the Sweet 16 round of the national competition in Nashville. Also competing in national contests were Ohio’s Outstanding Young Farmer, Erik Scott of Georgetown and Excellence in Agriculture winner, Greg McGlinch of Versailles.

Not one – but three fiscal cliffs

While Congress may have just averted one fiscal cliff – there may be more on the horizon. 

American Farm Bureau economist Matt Erickson says December was just the beginning.  “We do have some spending challenges ahead here in the coming months,” he says.  “So I see three fiscal cliff situations looming right now.

Erickson defines what he calls the three impending fiscal cliffs.  “The first one is the debt ceiling – if we’re going to raise the debt ceiling – is this going to be offset with spending cuts,” he says.  “The second one is the sequestration.  How are we going to address this $1.2 trillion over 9 year spending cut issue?  The third one is the Continuing Resolution that is set to expire March 27th of this year.”

And if history serves any purpose – Erickson all three of these could go down to the wire.

AUDIO: Matt Erickson, AFBF (2:36mp3)

Debating raw milk

The sale of raw milk has been a hot topic in several states recently.  On Tuesday, the raw milk debate made it to the AFBF delegate floor. 

Indiana Farm Bureau president Don Villwock says the fairly lengthy discussion centered around language within current American Farm Bureau policy.  “Some wanted to take out language within the current policy that says ‘all milk needs to be pasteurized’, some wanted to permit that to happen, and others said if the sale of raw milk would be permitted – some want it regulated,” he says.  “There was a long lengthy debate on that.”

In the end, Villwock says the delegate body decided to keep the language the same; saying that all milk should be pasteurized.

Midday delegate session update

Policy discussions kicked off early this morning at the American Farm Bureau Federation’s annual meeting in Nashville. 

Indiana Farm Bureau president Don Villwock says discussions about Farm Policy and the farm bill went fairly quick.  He tells Brownfield the delegate body chose to keep flexibility within the organization’s policy.  Part of the reason, he says, is to give Farm Bureau room to adjust as Congress prepares to formulate a Farm Bill in 2013. 

AUDIO: Don VIllwock, AFBF (3:07mp3)

Farm policy, water issues concern South Dakota Farm Bureau members

South Dakota Farm Bureau President Scott VanderWal

South Dakota Farm Bureau President Scott VanderWal

One of the top issues concerning South Dakota Farm Bureau members in Nashville is the farm bill, extended just before the year ended to be effective until the end of September. However, with the low level of the Mississippi River getting attention, there is also more focus on water releases from dams on the upper reaches of the Missouri River. Increasing the flow will bolster the Mississippi’s depth with an aim of avoiding disruption of barge traffic on the waterway. Scott VanderWal is Farm Bureau president in South Dakota, where four of those Missouri River dams are located. VanderWal acknowledges the need for shipping to be maintained on the Mississippi, but says there are two sides to the story.

“We need that water in South Dakota also for irrigation purposes, for drinking for some of the towns and cities that are along there, so it’s really a situation where you have to balance it,” VanderWal told Brownfield Ag News at the American Farm Bureau annual meeting in Nashville.

VanderWal points out that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers manages the reservoirs and determines appropriate reservoir releases based on the Corps’ master manual.

At the same time, South Dakota faces drainage and water management issues, according South Dakota Farm Bureau Executive Director Wayne Smith.  “You would think that when we have a drought, the interest in that would subside,” Smith told Brownfield Ag News.  “It hasn’t subsided very much.”

AUDIO: Scott VanderWal (4 min. MP3)

AUDIO: Wayne Smith (2 min. MP3)