Not all Iowa farmers, farm organizations and commodity groups are thrilled with everything in the new farm bill. President Obama signed the much-delayed 2014 farm bill into law on February 7. The nearly 1,000 page bill, which replaces the 2008 legislation, is a five-year measure with the official title of the Agriculture Act of 2014.
The new farm bill was hung up in Congress for nearly three years as lawmakers debated how much to cut food stamp spending. It was passed by the U.S. Senate on February 4— nearly a week after the House approved the same bill. The new bill will reduce federal spending by $23 billion over 10 years.
The President signed it emphasizing the benefits it will have on promoting economic growth in rural America, increasing funding for rural hospitals and schools and feeding hungry Americans through the food stamp program. He said it will promote agriculture, provide more money for research on environmental and energy issues, expand local markets for farmers, boost soil conservation, and help provide a financial safety net for farmers.
Gone are USDA direct payments to farmers, but the new farm program provides farmers with new options to help manage financial risk and the popular crop insurance program is strengthened. "This bill will help rural communities grow; it helps give farmers financial certainty and puts in place some important reforms," Obama said. "It doesn't include everything I'd like to see but it's a good sign that Democrats and Republicans in Congress were able to come through with this bill." He conceded that getting a farm bill completed "was very challenging."
Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey expressed some disappointment
Northey is disappointed the final version of the legislation did not include key changes to country of origin labeling provisions. The COOL section of the bill calls for labels on meat that shows where animals were born, raised and slaughtered. Northey and others say changes need to be made to make COOL compliant with World Trade Organization rules that oversee commerce between nations.
"The farm bill is long overdue and I'm glad it has now been signed into law," said Northey. "The farm bill remains very important as it provides some financial certainty for farmers. The administration must work to make sure this bill and its programs are implemented in a timely manner and consistent with congressional intent."
"As with all compromises, this is not a perfect bill. The country of origin labeling or COOL provisions and the failure to include Congressman King's amendment that would prevent one state from trying to dictate production methods to farmers in another state presents real challenges to our state's livestock farmers."
ICA says new Farm Bill delivers little positive certainty for cattle producers
The Iowa Cattlemen's Association issued the following statement: "The finality of a farm bill will give many Iowa farmers some clarity on their path forward for the next five years now that President Barack Obama has signed it into law. The Iowa Cattlemen's Association certainly appreciates that some farmers will benefit from that action. However, the only certainty the bill provides Iowa cattle producers is they will have a great deal of uncertainty in export markets with two of our nation's largest beef buyers—Mexico and Canada.
"The final bill passed by the U.S. Senate and House did not provide any solutions for mandatory Country of Origin Labeling—the mCOOL issue. The current rules, which require muscle meats to be labeled with the locations of the birth, care and slaughter of the animal, have been challenged by Canada and Mexico, the number two and three markets for U.S. beef.
Currently, hose two countries add nearly $2 billion a year to the U.S. economy through their purchases of U.S. beef. Both countries are challenging the implementation of COOL by the United States. If the U.S. loses, Canada and Mexico have each indicated they will implement 100% tariffs (taxes) on beef products brought into their countries.
"Also, mCOOL will add expenses to the work of cow/calf producers and cattle feeders. It will also increase costs for consumers, and that is not positive in today's beef market. The Iowa Cattlemen's Association will continue to work forward on this topic, supporting efforts by the National Cattlemen's Association to mitigate the impact through the appellate courts, World Trade Organization decisions, and congressional actions.
Mostly, the cattle community is disappointed that the conference committee did not include language to handle the mCOOL issue in the final farm bill. Both the U.S. House and Senate had adopted language to support our position, but then the conference committee decided against including that language in the final bill.
Pork Producers Council says there are things they like, and don't like, in the new farm bill
The National Pork Producers Council, based in Des Moines, released this statement after Obama signed the bill into law:
"The $956 billion measure, among other things, replaces direct crop payments with an insurance program that would kick in when farmers suffer losses. For the U.S. pork industry, the five-year Farm Bill includes trichinae surveillance and feral swine control programs, a provision requiring the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture to establish an Undersecretary for Trade and a provision requesting USDA to study setting up a catastrophic disease event insurance program. The new bill also provides for reauthorization of export promotion programs.
"Dropped from a final bill were several provisions strongly backed by NPPC. Those included a provision that would have prohibited USDA from doing further work on the so-called GIPSA Rule related to livestock contracts; a provision that would have fixed the Country-of-Origin Labeling law for meat to make it compliant with U.S. international trade obligations; and a provision that would have prohibited states from dictating production practices for agricultural goods sold within their borders but produced in other states.
"NPPC kept out of the legislation of the so-called Egg Bill, which sought to codify an agreement between the Humane Society of the United States and the egg industry on cage sizes for egg-laying hens. NPPC argued that allowing the federal government to dictate farm production practices for the egg industry would have set a dangerous precedent."
Center for Rural Affairs remains critical of the new farm bill
"We opposed the final Farm Bill that came out of the Conference Committee," says Traci Bruckner, senior policy associate with the Center for Rural Affairs at Lyons, Nebraska. "But the president signed the bill, which means he is accepting the responsibility of making the Farm Bill work, improving upon it, and closing the farm payment limitation loopholes that Congress punted to the Administration."
Bruckner says the conference report stripped out bipartisan reforms, which passed both House and Senate, and would have tightened the definition of being "actively engaged" in farming—a loophole that mega-farms use to gain additional payments by defining passive investors as qualified farmers, even though those investors provide no real labor or management on the farm. Moreover, this 2014 Farm Bill actually increases farm payment limits from $50,000 to $125,000 for the primary commodity program.
"President Obama now has the opportunity to deliver on the promise he made to rural and small town Americans while campaigning for President in Iowa in 2007," adds Bruckner. In the president's speech before signing the bill, he noted there are big producers who are doing well, but many small farmers are scratching out a living. He also added that it is hard for young people to get started in farming. But failing to clean up this farm program loophole mess will only make matters worse, Bruckner says.
"If, however, the president is serious about reforming farm programs, living up to the promise he made to close the 'actively engaged' loopholes is the best and most crucial place to start," Bruckner concludes. "Congress has put the ball in his court, we urge him to pick it up and take his best shot."
Some farm groups favor COOL and are glad that provision is still in the bill
Some organizations are glad COOL is still in the new 2014 Farm Bill. National Farmers Union president Roger Johnson issued the following statement following President Obama signing the 2014 Farm Bill on Friday:
"The president's signature brings closure to a long process of negotiations, sacrifice and compromise. The result is a solid piece of legislation that provides an adequate safety net in times of need, aids the hungry, protects the environment, creates jobs, keeps Country-of-Origin Labeling (COOL) intact and helps bolster rural economies.
"I am pleased that we now have a new farm bill that provides certainty for our family farmers, ranchers, fishermen and hungry Americans. NFU will continue to work with the administration and policymakers on the implementation of this bill so that the U.S. ag industry can continue to provide feed, fiber and fuel for our country and the world."
Dairy organizations are glad to have a farm bill with a new dairy program
"After five years of working toward an improved Farm Bill, we are thankful to have a new bill, which replaces outdated dairy programs with an important risk management tool that will help the nation's dairy farm families maintain financial stability," says John Wilson, senior vice president of Dairy Farmers of America, based in Kansas City.
"We would like to thank our members, supporters in Congress and National Milk Producers Federation for their tireless pursuit of new dairy policy and a completed bill. The unified voice the dairy producer community expressed during this process is admirable, and while the final bill does not reflect the exact policy we had proposed, we achieved our goal of creating dairy policy that will better serve U.S. dairy farmers."