Farm bill in tough times, Stallman says

Dan Wheat/Capital Press Ed Husman, Snohomish County Farm Bureau president, talks with American Farm Bureau President Bob Stallman and Washington Farm Bureau President Steve Appel about sustainable growth regulations impacting agriculture. Stallman spoke at the Washington Farm Bureau convention Nov. 15 in Yakima.

Direct payments face uncertain future; Farm Bureau pushes for policy goals

By DAN WHEAT

Capital Press

YAKIMA, Wash. -- Direct payments likely will be eliminated, Conservation Reserve Program acreage likely will decline over time and everything else is still up in the air for the new farm bill.

That's what Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, predicted Nov. 15 at the Washington Farm Bureau annual convention at the Yakima Convention Center.

Commenting on negotiations among congressional agricultural committee leaders on a new farm bill, Stallman said progress is difficult and that no one is happy with the way things are proceeding. Nutrition, conservation, research and crop support programs are all areas of major discussion and it's difficult to get agreement, he said.

The farm bill will be included in the deficit reduction plan that congressional super committee members are writing. It must include $23 billion in cuts.

The American Farm Bureau is "heavily involved in trying to get good policy for the long term," Stallman said.

Corn, soybean and wheat growers support the so-called shallow loss system covering small losses but only relatively small amounts of producers' losses in major events, he said.

Cotton and peanut farmers want even different programs and the Farm Bureau is pushing its Systematic Risk Reduction Program, which gives growers greater coverage in the event of big losses, he said. The same program should be in place for all so the marketplace drives farmers' decisions, not government programs, he said.

Agriculture, in the aggregate, is in good shape but the national economy is not, Stallman said. The Farm Bureau supports deficit reduction and tackling the nation's rising debt.

The Obama administration "is working overtime in exceeding its authority to control water," Stallman said. Farm Bureau has sued the EPA for exceeding its authority with Chesapeake Bay watershed regulations.

The issue is important because the administration intends to use the regulations as a blueprint for the whole nation, Stallman said. Congress lacks the fortitude to challenge the administration so Farm Bureau sued, he said.

"Farm Bureau is leading a legal effort to preserve the power of the states -- not EPA -- to decide whether and how to regulate farming practices," he said.

Farm Bureau opposes mandatory E-verify without a better guestworker program, otherwise agriculture will be in a "world of hurt," Stallman said.

The U.S. Department of Labor is proposing new regulations that would severely limit the ability of youths under the age of 16 to work on farms and ranches, Stallman said. Youths may be prevented from harvesting fruits and vegetables and operating any power equipment, he said.

"My dad used me for slave labor since I was 8 years old on the farm and it didn't hurt me one bit," Stallman said. "The point is we don't need stupid regulations. We acknowledge some occupations may be too risky and none of us wants to put children in harm's way, but making it more difficult to train and educate a future generation of agricultural leaders is not the answer."

Stallman noted recent passage of free trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama as a success story. Farm Bureau was part of a large coalition that lobbied four years for passage, he said.

"These agreements take away tariffs. There is no better definition of leveling the playing field than that," he said. It means an estimated $2.5 billion in additional U.S. ag exports, including $52.8 million a year for Washington state producers, he said.

He noted retiring Washington Farm Bureau President Steve Appel's "commitment and persistence" in working on trade and other issues.

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