Congress Builds Bridges to Pass $1T Bipartisan Infrastructure Package

Earlier this year, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the United States a “C- grade” on the nation’s infrastructure. I think I would agree with them on that, as I am writing this on my laptop in the waiting room of a service center after blowing out two tires on a pothole deep enough to swim in.

While a C- is an upgrade from the D+ ASCE issued in 2017, it continues to illustrate that our country has underinvested in the infrastructure we rely on to travel and move our farm goods to market. The underinvestment isn’t limited to just roads and bridges but includes our ports, canals, railways, and increasingly strained power grid. Imagine what would happen to your farm’s safety and productivity if you deferred maintenance, failed to mend fences, ignored damaged equipment, and generally underinvested in the things that make you successful; unfortunately that is the current state of U.S. infrastructure and why Farm Bureau has been calling for a significant investment in our nation’s infrastructure for years.

At long last, Congress has taken a step forward and passed the Bipartisan Infrastructure Package which will dedicate $1.2T over the next decade to infrastructure. Before we outline how that money will be spent and what it means here in Virginia, it is important to note that this bipartisan infrastructure legislation is different than the partisan spending plan, called the “Build Back Better Act,” currently being debated in Congress.

At its core, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Package is a traditional infrastructure bill, but it also contains significant investments to benefit U.S. farmers, and rural communities.

Every day, Americans make 178M vehicle trips over structurally deficient bridges. In fact, over 40% of the bridges in the United States are over 50 years old. Anyone who hauls livestock or timber has noticed new weight restrictions popping up on Virginia bridges to try and address the issue of infrastructure in a state of disrepair. The infrastructure bill contains $110B for roads and bridges, including $530M specifically for Virginia.

Virginia is blessed with a deep-water port that moves goods in and out of the Commonwealth efficiently. However, much of our country’s inland waterways rely on 50+ year old locks, dams, and general infrastructure, which creates a supply chain bottleneck between farms and ports. The bipartisan infrastructure bill invests $17.3 billion to shore up our ports and inland waterways.

Broadband is infrastructure, and unfortunately, 1 in 4 U.S. farms have no access to high-speed internet. This tool is essential to modern agriculture and gives families access to online health care, education, and allows farmers to use precision ag technologies to reduce inputs, protect water quality, and improve soil health. The infrastructure bill invests $65 billion in broadband expansion so rural Americans aren’t left behind without affordable broadband service. A minimum of $100M of this amount is specifically being allocated to Virginia.

Beyond “shovel ready” infrastructure, the bill will help to address transportation-related supply chain issues that impact the rural and farm economy. Notably, to help alleviate the driver shortage and strengthen our supply chains, the bill includes provisions to help train and recruit truck drivers, and an exemption for livestock and insect (managed pollinators) haulers from Hours of Service regulations within a 150 air-mile radius from their final destination. This funding is targeted to focus on our nation’s infrastructure challenges and help keep Virginia farmers competitive internationally, and we look forward to seeing the implementation of the bill.

We are grateful to all our members who continue to make their voices heard on why infrastructure is critical to the agriculture industry and rural Virginia. Your efforts keep our lawmakers accountable to work together and find solutions that help this industry succeed.

Ben Rowe, National Affairs Coordinator

Coalition releases statement on Farm Bill expiration

In August, we reported on the formation of the Farm Bill Now coalition, more than 35 agricultural organizations, including the American Farm Bureau Federation, that have united to urge congressional lawmakers to pass a five-year farm bill before the current programs expire in September. The current Farm Bill expired on Sept. 28. The coalition has released the following statemet:

The 2008 law governing many of our nation’s farm policies expired on Sunday, September 30th, and the 2012 Farm Bill needed to replace it is bottled up in Congress. While the Senate and the House Agriculture Committees were both able to pass their versions of the new farm bill, the full House was unable to do so. While expiration of farm bill program authorities has little or no effect on some important programs, it has terminated a number of important programs and will very adversely affect many farmers and ranchers, as well as ongoing market development and conservation efforts. Following is a summary of these impacts.

Programs Affected by Expiration of the 2008 Farm Bill

Dairy producers will face considerable challenges. The Milk Income Loss Contract (MILC) program expired on Sunday. That program compensated dairy producers when domestic milk prices fall below a specified level. Without a new farm bill, dairy farmers are left with uncertainty and inadequate assistance. While milk prices are high enough that the price support program doesn’t kick in; unfortunately, there is no other safety net to help battle the highest feed costs on record.

Many farmers, ranchers and agribusiness or agricultural processors benefit from the Foreign Market Development Program (FMD). FMD is a cost-sharing trade promotion partnership between USDA and U.S. agricultural producers and processors. The program pools technical and financial resources to conduct overseas market development. FMD helps maintain and increase market share by addressing long-term foreign market import constraints and by identifying new markets or new uses for the agricultural commodity or product in the foreign market. That funding, as well as specific funding for personnel to run the program at USDA, will run out at the end of October. Since 31 percent of our gross farm income comes from exports which also make a positive contribution to our Nation’s trade balance, trade promotion is an important part of our safety net. Other countries will most certainly take advantage of the fact that the program is rendered inoperable and will do what they can to steal our markets – and everyone knows, the hardest market to get is the one you lost.

About 6.5 million acres rotates out of the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) this year. While current contracts are protected, no new signup will be allowed for CRP or the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP). Both of these programs are voluntary land retirement programs that helps agricultural producers protect environmentally sensitive land, decrease erosion, restore wildlife habitat, and safeguard ground and surface water. In addition, there cannot be sign up for the Wetlands Reserve Program or the Grasslands Reserve Program.

Both versions of the new Farm Bill contain funding for the disasters facing the livestock industry due to the drought. However, programs are currently only available for lack of forage, as well as death of animals.

Most producers of fruits and vegetables do not have a safety net, but instead receive funding to augment the competitiveness of specialty crops through programs that enhance trade, promote cutting-edge research, and implement on-the-ground projects to protect crops from disease and invasive species. Funding for these programs ended when the Farm Bill expired.

Numerous other programs, including energy, agricultural research, rural development and funding for new and beginning farmers could be added to this list of affected programs. The bottom line is that while expiration of the Farm Bill causes little or no pain to some, others face significant challenges.

Programs Not Affected by Expiration of the 2008 Farm Bill

Almost 80 percent of the Farm Bill’s cost is for nutrition programs – primarily the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly commonly known as food stamps. Most recipients of nutrition program benefits will not be affected because the SNAP program did not need to be extended. Funds for nutrition assistance programs will continue to be provided to those Americans without issue.

Farmers and ranchers who manage their risks using the farm bill’s crop insurance provisions will be unaffected because, like SNAP, those programs don’t expire. Nor do some of the conservation-related programs. In addition, most commodity-specific programs are largely covered by the 2008 Farm Bill since it applies to the 2012 crop year, rather than the 2012 fiscal year. The main challenge, however, will be in planning for 2013. This includes lining up the critical financial assistance needed from lending institutions which prefer, if not demand, to see business plans presented in black and white. That will be difficult when producers don’t know when to expect a new Farm Bill – or what type of financial safety net is likely to be included in that bill.

Congress will return in mid-November for a lame-duck session prior to final adjournment in December. We will work to have the first order of business for the House of Representatives be to consider a new Farm Bill. We are urging our members to seek out their House members between now and the elections and remind them of the consequences of not having a new bill in place prior to adjournment at the end of the year.

American Farm Bureau Federation
American Pulse Association
American Soybean Association
National Association of Conservation Districts
National Association of Wheat Growers
National Barley Growers Association
National Corn Growers Association
National Council of Farmer Cooperatives
National Farmers Union
National Milk Producers Federation
National Sunflower Association
United Fresh Produce Association
USA Dry Pea & Lentil Council
U.S. Canola Association
Western Growers Association

Nine members of Congress in Va. receive national award

Nine Virginia members of the 112th Congress received the American Farm Bureau Federation’s Friend of Farm Bureau Award.  

This year’s Virginia recipients are Sen. Mark Warner (D), Rep. Eric Cantor (R), Rep. Randy Forbes (R), Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R), Rep. Morgan Griffith (R), Rep. Robert Hurt (R), Rep. Scott Rigell (R), Rep. Robert Wittman (R) and Rep. Frank Wolf (R).

The recipients were nominated for the award by the Virginia Farm Bureau, and approved by the American Farm Bureau Federation Board of Directors. The award was given based on their leadership on issues of importance to the Farm Bureau, as well as their accessibility and responsiveness to all Virginia Farm Bureau members.

AFBF is the unified national voice of agriculture, working through its grassroots organization to enhance and strengthen the lives of rural Americans and to build strong, prosperous agricultural communities. The organization’s priority issues include the 2012 Farm Bill, the Clean Water Act, regulatory reform, rural redevelopment and the permamnent repeal of the estate tax.

“In their own unique way, each of these members of Congress has demonstrated leadership on issues affecting farmers and the commonwealth’s economic welfare,” said Virginia Farm Bureau Federation President Wayne F. Pryor.

“Their action on the budget, the environment, labor and trade issues helped maintain agriculture as Virginia’s largest economic sector. Attention to tedious amendments and the marathon pace of federal legislation are reflected in the designation as a friend of Farm Bureau,” Pryor said. “On behalf of the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation, we thank and commend each of them for their service.”

AFBF, Others Urge Senate to Refrain from Disaster Bill

The American Farm Bureau Federation has urged Senate leaders to “refrain from supporting” any legislation resembling the House-passed disaster bill if such a measure is presented in the Senate. Supporting such a measure would detract from the larger mission of passing a long-term farm bill.

In a letter to Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), AFBF and a dozen other national agriculture organizations said that passing the House disaster bill as a quick fix would do more harm than good to farmers and ranchers.

“This is something our groups do not support,” the letter stated. “We strongly urge you to refrain from this as we fear that passage of a bill similar to the House bill could result in further delays in completing a full five-year farm bill.”

According to the group, in comparison to a disaster bill, completing a five-year farm bill would deliver assistance to eligible livestock producers nearly as quickly and would put into place certainty for future years, and it is paid for in both the House and Senate versions. This highlights the House disaster bill’s $600 million price tag, which clearly would impact funding available for long-term agriculture needs.

The group urged the Senate leaders to reach agreement on a new farm bill before the current program expires on Sept. 30. The House Agriculture Committee’s bill, coupled with the Senate bill passed in June, would provide much needed disaster relief with long-term benefits.

“Both the Senate and the House Agriculture Committees have produced reform-minded, bipartisan bills that address many of the core principles we believe are important, such as strengthening crop insurance as a reliable risk management tool,” concluded the letter. “We remain committed to attempting to pass a five-year farm bill as soon as possible, including the long-term provisions it includes, which would help alleviate the emergency conditions we are seeing across the country.”

The letter was also signed by the following groups: American Soybean Association, National Association of Wheat Growers, National Barley Growers Association, National Corn Growers Association, National Farmers Union, National Milk Producers Federation, National Sunflower Association, Northarvest Bean Growers Association, United Fresh Produce Association, U.S. Canola Association, USA Dry Pea & Lentil Council and Western Growers.

Virginia Farm Bureau News Lead: Farm Bureau ‘concerned’ about court ruling on health care legislation

This story will appear in the July 5th edition of News Leads, the week’s top ag stories sent out by the VFB Communications Department to media across the state.

The U.S. Supreme Court issued a 5-4 ruling June 28 upholding President Obama’s health care legislation, which includes a requirement that all people have health insurance. That same day the nation’s largest agricultural organization voiced its apprehension.

“Farmers, ranchers and rural residents need affordable and accessible health care. We remain concerned that mandating individuals and businesses to buy insurance will impose an expense that creates economic hardship, particularly for self-employed individuals and small businesses,” said Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation.

Stallman noted that Farm Bureau historically has supported market-based reforms as the best way to control costs and increase options for individuals and businesses that purchase health insurance. “The plan reviewed by the Supreme Court would impose a new financial burden on our members,” he said. “As the legal and political interpretation of this ruling is further analyzed and debated in the weeks and moths ahead, it is important to remember that access to affordable health care eludes many American families across the country.”

Moving forward, Stallman said, “Farm Bureau will encourage Congress and the president to work together to address concerns on this issue, which affects millions of small business owners and individuals throughout rural America.”

Virginia Farm Bureau Federation has in recent years monitored developments in federal health care legislation.

“While the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) does have provisions that will benefit rural Virginians, such as increased funding for rural hospitals, Virginia Farm Bureau has remained opposed to the legislation. It does not get to the root of the health care problem for our producer members, which is to place price controls on skyrocketing out-of-pocket costs and putting more doctors into rural areas,” said Trey Davis, assistant director of Governmental Relations. “We look forward to engaging our legislative representation here in the General Assembly to ensure that Virginia’s farmers’ health care needs are addressed in the implementation of the PPACA.”