Making sure cattle producers get a fair shake in the new farm bill Congress is hammering out this year is at the top of the wish list for Kristina Butts, director of legislative affairs for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association. NCBA's main objective is to remove the livestock title from the farm bill, she told the recent annual meeting of the Iowa Cattlemen's Association.
The current farm bill became law in 2008 and included animal ID, changes to GIPSA (Grain Inspection, Packers & Stockyards Act) and Country of Origin labeling. That created an opportunity for anti-ag groups such as HSUS (Humane Society of the United States) to engage in farm policy.
NCBA is also concerned about possible cuts to conservation funding in the farm bill. "Congress is looking for money for other programs and we don't want them to take conservation dollars," she said. "We know there will be big cuts in spending; we need to make sure they're practical. We'd like the cuts to be proportional across the board."
Task force put together wish list of what cattle industry wants in farm bill
The national cattlemen's group assembled a task force in 2011 and put together a priority list of what NCBA wants to see in the new farm bill. In addition to the previously mentioned items of interest, NCBA is also lobbying for an increase in research funding, particularly on animal health issues. "It's a wise use of tax dollars to make sure the latest data and science are available. If there's an outbreak, we'd have the information we need as an industry to address the concerns," she said.
* No new farm bill until 2013? In late 2011 the congressional super committee failed to agree on where to cut federal spending, hampering the process of coming up with a new farm bill. Since 2012 is an election year, a new farm bill may not be in place until 2013. Politics usually gets in the way in election years. She expects another version of the farm bill to be issued in spring 2012, but it may not be voted on until 2013.
NCBA did score some victories in Washington, D.C. in 2011, including blocking any changes to GIPSA. "We were able to eliminate the funding for the proposed changes," she noted. "Beef marketing should stay the same."
A proposal by the Environmental Protection Agency to enact stringent dust emission standards on agriculture was thwarted. EPA was looking at making dust control rules twice as strong. Even the road dust created from a pickup truck would have made the driver out of compliance with the Federal Clean Air Act. EPA administrator Lisa Jackson then said EPA would not tighten regulations on farm dust control. Congress ended up agreeing dust blowing from field operations is not a health issue; that legislation has passed the House.
* Child labor rules unrealistic. NCBA wants to block a proposal by the U.S. Department of Labor to prohibit children from working on farms. "Labor officials are concerned about children working with mature cattle, but how do you define mature?" said Butts. "We don't think this proposed new rule is realistic."
The Labor Department is putting a stronger focus on who owns the land or facility rather than the adult who's there to supervise the children working, she said. The proposed rule is personal for Butts, who raised cattle at her grandparents' farm and not at her parent's home. "I wouldn't have been able to feed or work my own show cattle since they lived on my grandparents' place, not my parents' place," she said.
* Beef 101 program doing some good. NCBA is continuing to develop its Beef 101 program, to help educate congressional staffers who have little knowledge of agriculture or the beef industry. "Most folks who work for Senators and Representatives didn't grow up on a farm but they carry a lot of weight in Congress," Butts adds. "This program has been very successful. The chair of the House Ag Committee has asked other groups to develop something similar so congressional staffers can learn more about the other products and areas of farming and agriculture."