A Big Week in Washington: AFBF Resolutions, Farm Bill, and Clean Water

ZippyEpaOn December 10 – 12, 2018 the presidents of all fifty state Farm Bureaus traveled to our nation’s capital to participate in the annual American Farm Bureau resolutions meeting. This meeting presents an opportunity for the states to bring issues forward from their own resolutions committees to be debated and considered for inclusion in the AFBF Policy Book.

Virginia Farm Bureau President Wayne Pryor represented the Commonwealth and brought forward several federal resolutions approved during the VFBF Convention in Hot Springs. The first policy was under AFBF Policy 154 and encouraged awareness, resources, and funding for the Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network (FRSAN) which provides support to farmers during times of personal crisis, such as this current period of low commodity prices and economic stress. The second resolution adopted by the full committee was a modification to AFBF Policy 458 on the Farm Service Agency. The resolution aims to encourage reform and improvement to the USDA National Appeals Division (NAD) which conducts administrative appeals hearings and reviews of adverse program decisions made by officers, employees or committees of designated agencies of the Department of Agriculture. In the past, we have seen issues with the fairness, efficiency, and accuracy of NAD and this resolution aims to resolve those concerns.

The Virginia delegation will address these, and all other AFBF proposed resolutions, during the 2019 Annual AFBF Convention in New Orleans this coming January.

On the morning of December 11, all fifty state Farm Bureau presidents took a break from the resolutions process to join AFBF President Zippy Duvall and leadership from the EPA, Army Corp, and Department of the Interior for an announcement of a new clean water rule. The agencies’ proposal is the second step in a two-step process to review and revise the definition of “waters of the United States” consistent with President Trump’s Executive Order signed in February 2017. The agencies’ proposed rule should provide clarity, predictability, and consistency so that the regulated community can easily understand which waters are regulated by the federal government and which waters are regulated by the states.

Perhaps the most important event during our trip to Washington was the House and Senate passage of the 2018 farm bill. The passage of the new five-year bill comes at a time of complicated trade relations, increasing tariffs, and low commodity prices. The certainty provided by the bill is welcomed by both farmers and consumers in the Commonwealth.

“We commend the 115th Congress on passage of the farm bill. This legislation will serve all Americans, especially our nation’s farm families, and addresses many concerns expressed by our members,” said President Pryor. “The farm bill gives farmers greater flexibility in choosing programs to fit their individual operations and allows prices and yields to be adjusted based on production history and global markets. We encourage President Trump to sign the bill as soon as possible so farmers can have certainty going into next year.”

The new farm bill addresses many issues of great importance to Virginia’s farmers. Here is a rundown of several main components:

·         Maintains crop insurance and commodity programs and farm safety nets, makes improvements to these programs and does not reduce spending with a 10-year baseline of $867 billion and is budget neutral

·         ARC and PLC are continued with improvements made to each and RMA yield data as the primary source. PLC reference prices and ARC benchmark prices are made higher, program yields in PLC are updated for all. Base acres are updated, but more flexible than both Senate and House proposals. Farmers will have an opportunity to re-enroll in ARC/PLC, then beginning in 2021 the ARC/PLC election shall be annual on a commodity-by-commodity basis

·         The dairy safety net is greatly enhanced with coverage for small, medium and large dairy farmers available up to $9.50 per hundredweight. Farmers can participate in both Dairy Revenue Protection and the Dairy Margin Coverage on the same milk. Other dairy provisions include a milk donation program and enhanced risk management tools for the beverage sector.

·         Creates a FMD vaccine bank to respond to the accidental or intentional introduction of animal diseases (foot and mouth disease)

·         Streamlines trade promotion programs and includes $255 million each fiscal year for agricultural trade and promotion. Improves food aid and food security efforts.

·         Improves FSA lending capacity by raising guaranteed loans to $1.75 million, direct operating loans to $400,000 and direct farm loans to $600,000. 

We commend Senators Warner and Kaine and Representatives Beyer, Comstock, Connolly, Goodlatte, Griffith, McEachin, Scott, Taylor, and Wittman for their support and vote on the farm bill. We encourage the President to sign the bill into law as quickly as possible.

Overall it was a productive trip to DC and an opportunity to continue our efforts to protect and promote farming and the agriculture industry in general.

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