Farm groups will continue activism
Vilsack says growers too concerned about EPA regulations
By TIM HEARDEN
Officials from national farm groups say they're not about to stop being politically active despite U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack's recent remark that growers have been overly concerned about regulations.
The National Pork Producers Council gives Vilsack credit for trying to revitalize rural America but aims to protect its member operations, which come in all sizes, spokesman Dave Warner said.
"We don't want pork producers to leave" the industry, he said. "We want farm kids to come back and take over the farm operation. Certainly it would be beneficial to have more people go into agriculture. The secretary's right that the number of farms keeps getting smaller and the number of people we feed keeps getting bigger.
"It would be helpful to have more people go into farming," he said, "but imposing more regulations on farmers is not the right way to do that."
Likewise, the American Farm Bureau Federation said regulatory issues remain important to its members.
"We refer to it as regulatory creek," said Dale Moore, the AFBF's deputy director of public policy. He cited as examples proposals to change the definition of "navigable" waters under the Clean Water Act and set new standards for emissions of particulate matter.
"I can understand those being viewed by the president's cabinet as wedge issues," said Moore, a former USDA chief of staff under then-President George W. Bush. However, "those kinds of things erode a farmer's and rancher's profitability the same as losing tax breaks or getting money cut out of crop insurance."
The group's reactions came after Vilsack said in a speech in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 7 that rural America is becoming "less and less relevant." In that speech, he criticized farmers and ranchers for focusing too much on regulation, citing the uproar over a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposal to halve the level of dust allowed at farms and other businesses and to tighten child labor restrictions on farms. Those proposals were later scuttled.
Vilsack later told the Capital Press he had no objections to rural residents staying politically engaged when it comes to regulations. But he complained that farmers and ranchers were continuing to harp on proposals he said were clearly dead.
However, Moore said it's often not clear to the average farmer or rancher that a given proposal in Washington, D.C., is dead. Further, in an election year, candidates may have emphasized farm dust or other issues to leverage their campaigns, he said.
"With this dust issue, if this were the first time it popped up, we'd have a sense that it's done," Moore said. "But if you go back to the early '90s and late '90s, this dust issue is one of those things that comes back around. Each time it's 'We're not moving forward on this,' but here it comes again."
Moore said that with some issues, such as with trade legislation, rural residents' contacts with their members of Congress helps to get the required votes needed for passage.
"The reality is I feel much more comfortable getting chastised a bit by someone in the administration" than by members who feel they weren't well represented, Moore said.
National Pork Producers Council: http://www.nppc.org/
American Farm Bureau Federation: http://www.fb.org/