Ag News

GFB members take farmers' needs to Capitol Hill

by Jay Stone

Posted on Apr 18, 2024 at 9:09 AM

A group of 37 Georgia Farm Bureau (GFB) members and staff visited Washington, D.C., April 9-11 to meet with members of the Georgia congressional delegation and hear updates from American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) staff.

In congressional visits, GFB members shared the organization’s policy stances on the Endangered Species Act, avian influenza and poultry health regulations, access to pesticides and needs they hope can be addressed in the new farm bill.

“When we can bring farmers who actually do what we do for a living to talk to the policy makers in Washington, it affects everybody, not only the ones that are here, but especially the ones that are back home and couldn't be here,” said GFB President Tom McCall.

In a meeting on April 9 at the AFBF offices, Georgia Sen. Jon Ossoff gave a briefing on farm bill progress, and the GFB group heard from AFBF government affairs staff John Walt Boatright, Joe Gilson and Courtney Briggs and Economist Bernt Nelson.

Ossoff outlined some of the challenges to getting a new farm bill done.

“I’m cautiously optimistic that we’re on a glide path to getting a new farm bill done this fall,” Ossoff said.

The first-term senator said he is not hearing much discussion on including ad hoc disaster assistance programs. Ossoff noted that while farmers’ losses like the late freeze that decimated the 2023 peach crop are a major concern, there are other ways he can help, including diplomatic trade efforts and contacting foreign consulates when visa issues hinder access to migrant labor.

“We want to strengthen the [commodity] insurance programs if possible,” Ossoff said. “I'm asking the agriculture committee to consider a pilot program that would present some remedies for U.S. specialty crop growers who are facing import competition where the competitive disadvantage that we have on wages and regulation is so significant that it's just very, very challenging to compete.”

AFBF’s Boatright gave an update on labor and showed results of a Gallup poll showing 71% of Republicans, 36% of independents and 19% of Democrats say they want decreased immigration to the U.S.

“When members of Congress go home, across all political persuasions, no matter if they're talking to an independent or Republican or a Democrat, they're hearing an increasing amount from them that we need decreased immigration in the United States, and that doesn't help our cause when we start talking about the reforms that we need to see in the H-2A program,” Boatright said.

Boatright pointed out that inaction by Congress leaves federal agencies an opportunity for rulemaking.

“In the past 18 months, we've had eight different rulemakings that have occurred that affect agricultural employers, and in some cases specifically H-2A employers,” he said.

Gilson broke down what spending might look like in the next farm bill, saying that it needs to respond to a changing agribusiness environment.

“In 2018 when the farm bill was passed, farming looked a lot different than today,” Gilson said. He recognized the need for commodity assistance to evolve as farmers’ challenges evolve. “Our number one priority at Farm Bureau is to increase [commodity] reference prices.”

Gilson said the total spending in the farm bill could be $1.5 trillion, with approximately $1.2 trillion of that going to nutrition assistance programs. 

Nelson reviewed factors affecting the U.S. cattle inventory in light of a National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) report in January showing the national cattle herd at its smallest number since 1951.

NASS to discontinue cattle report and cotton survey

While the GFB group was in Washington, NASS announced it would discontinue the July Cattle Inventory Report due to budget constraints. NASS is also halting the cotton Objective Yield Survey and all county estimates for crops and livestock beginning with the 2024 production year.

“When you're looking at our Price Loss Coverage or some of the insurance and county level data, that type of data is available through RMA (Risk Management Agency) rather than NASS,” Nelson said. “So that one has a bit of a replacement and that may be one of the reasons that cutting that July inventory report is a big deal. This includes county level estimates for both crops and livestock sector. Cotton can get it from RMA, but there’s other crops and cattle that we can't get that county level data anywhere else. We're going to be down to just one report on January first that reduces our ability to manage risk. This is a gargantuan blow to transparency and undoes so much of what the MS did with the cattle contract library.”

Update on federal water issues

Briggs reviewed the ongoing legal challenges surrounding water. While farmers were encouraged by the Supreme Court’s decision in Sackett v. EPA, which struck down the significant nexus test as a means for defining what constitutes a water of the United States, the EPA and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ updated rule to comply with the court’s order fell short of providing much-needed clarity.

“What the conforming rule didn't do was, it didn't give more clarification to what ‘relatively permanent’ means,” Briggs said. “That was a perfect opportunity for the agencies to do that. But they don't want to do that because when they leave these terms very ambiguously defined, again, it gives them more authority and ability to push to the outer bounds of what is legal. When you don't give a clear definition of what relatively permanent means in the linchpin of how to regulate and establish jurisdiction, of course even the regulators are confused about how to implement this moving forward.”

Briggs noted that some states are starting to reassess what waters of the state are being protected and encouraged GFB members to keep an awareness of state actions pertaining to jurisdictional control over bodies of water.

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