After many ups-and-downs, twists and turns, things seem to be coming together for a Farm Bill.
But, then again, this is the 113th Congress, which has managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory many times.
Since the conferees were appointed in October, staff, members and committee leaders have been working constantly to bridge differences. The good news for us in the Northwest is that all your work and our work seems to be paying off.
The Research and Horticulture titles, which include the many specialty crop provisions that encompass the bulk of agriculture in our state, are looking very good. The funding numbers are trending to the higher figures for specialty crop and organic research initiatives and specialty crop block grants we secured in the House Agriculture Committee. Several important programs for our organic farmers are looking good and we continue to push for these critical investments for this growing segment of U.S. and Oregon agriculture.
We’ve been able to generate broad support among conferees for the hard-fought Christmas tree check-off program which will provide the industry with the ability to pool their resources to promote their products and conduct valuable research.
We are getting favorable indications on the forestry side, too, with stewardship contracting, bio-based definitions to include American wood (yes, believe it or not, wood was discriminated against), and managing our Forest Service contracts using a cost-saving “prescription by description” methodology that came from Commissioner Mark Labhart in Tillamook County. Our office is putting in a full-court press on the logging road issue and I think we are in good shape. There is push back from the Environmental Protection Agency and that has caused some concern, but Sen. Ron Wyden has been helpful by weighing in with our colleagues in the Senate and we continue to push for this commonsense solution. I have also pushed back hard in conference and in the press on Rep. Steve King’s amendment that takes away states’ rights to determine agricultural practices and product requirements within their own borders. We are getting a lot of support from both Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate and for my bill (HR 1528) to allow veterinarians to carry and dispense controlled substances so they can continue to humanely and effectively protect and take care of America’s livestock and horses. We are working to get this included in the final conference agreement. And our language to prevent the Department of Labor from further violations of due process by seeking “hot goods” orders against farmers has gained wide acceptance.
Progress continues to be made on revisions to our outdated dairy policies. I’ve been working with Ranking Member Collin Peterson for the inclusion of his Dairy Security Act and its provisions, which prevent oversupply and are critical to our Pacific Northwest dairy farmers by providing a better safety net for our producers going forward.
The nutrition issues are contentious and remain difficult to resolve. However, the discussion is moving to one of shared responsibility with the states on access and some work pilot programs instead of wholesale unproven, unrealistic work requirements that are clearly unachievable in many parts in this very tough economy. As a result, the potential reductions to food stamps seem to be very close to the much lower Senate figure. There are still many hungry families here in Oregon post-recession. I and others, including the House Republican chairman, have been clear we need the larger emergency food bank dollars in any case to help out.
There are many other moving parts that we are monitoring and engaging on to improve Oregon Agriculture and Forestry’s opportunities to compete in this global economy.
Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., is a member of the House Agriculture Committee and the conference committee on the Farm Bill.