Washington Insider -- Thursday

New Farm Bureau Leadership

Here’s a quick monitor of Washington farm and trade policy issues from DTN’s well-placed observer.

Obama Calls for Passage of TPP

President Barack Obama’s final State of the Union address Tuesday night included an appeal to Congress to pass the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement. A little past the mid-point in his 58-minute address, Obama talked about the cooperation it took among nations to approve the trade pact, saying the agreement would “open markets, protect workers and the environment, and advance American leadership in Asia,” adding that it “cuts 18,000 taxes on products made in America, and supports more good jobs.”

Obama emphasized that, although it involves many other nations, under the TPP “China doesn’t set the rules in that region, we do.” He concluded by telling the members of Congress assembled before him: “You want to show our strength in this century? Approve this agreement. Give us the tools to enforce it.”

Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, the House Ways and Means Committee chairman, said that passing the trade pact between the United States and 11 other nations “is difficult but doable” during a Politico Morning Money event Monday evening. However, he said that there are some challenges because White House made “some policy decisions that are costing them votes on both sides of the aisle.”

Brady noted that intellectual protections for high-tech medicines that fall short of the U.S. standard of 12 years and an exemption for manufactured tobacco products from investor-state dispute settlement rules have generated most of the concern among lawmakers.

Brady, who has said his committee would likely start hearings next month, suggested that the timing of a House vote would depend on how quickly the White House works through congressional concerns.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has said that the TPP would probably have to wait until the lame-duck session after the presidential election.


House Passes Resolution to Disapprove WOTUS Rule

The House on Jan. 13 passed (by a vote of 252-166, with 12 Democrats joining all Republicans in supporting it) a joint resolution to disapprove the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule under a Congressional Review Act.

The resolution would nullify the rule submitted by the Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers to redefine “waters of the United States” under the Clean Water Act.

The White House has threatened a veto of the measure, saying water rules help “protect clean water, safeguard public health and strengthen the economy.” And past votes have shown the White House has enough Democratic lawmaker support to sustain any veto on this topic.

Nonethless, House Ag Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas, said: “Today’s passage of this resolution is a critical step toward stopping what some believe to be the largest federal land grab in history. From the beginning, the process of developing this rule was flawed by EPA ignoring input from stakeholders, and even other agencies including the Army Corps of Engineers. American’s farmers and ranchers deserve to have a government that will review and consider their thoughts.”

The water rule is “another example of Washington bureaucrats sticking their nose where it doesn’t belong,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., in an op-ed in the Omaha-World Herald.

Opponents of the rule, which include a range of agriculture and energy companies and their congressional representatives from rural and energy-intensive states, say the regulation amounts to a federal intrusion into states’ rights.

The Obama administration maintains the rule is necessary to clarify two earlier Supreme Court rulings on the issue. “Clean water is vital for the success of the nation’s businesses, agriculture, energy development, and the health of our communities,” the White House said in threatening to veto the Senate version of the measure, and if enacted, it “would nullify years of work and deny businesses and communities the regulatory certainty needed to invest in projects that rely on clean water.”


Washington Insider: New Farm Bureau Leadership

It is interesting that, amid continuing conversation about the small and declining farm population, considerable attention was paid in the national press to the American Farm Bureau Federation’s election of new leadership this week—and, there was lots of speculation about what that change might mean.

For example, the National Journal noted that such questions seem appropriate now as Bob Stallman, president for the past 16 years, will be leaving and a new president, Georgia Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall takes over for a two-year term.

Stallman, a rice farmer from Texas, followed Dean Kleckner, an Iowan, who served for 14 years and emphasized close ties to agribusiness and overseas markets. Stallman promised to spend less time overseas and more listening to American farmers more, the Journal said.

And, AFBF policies did change. “While the commodity Farm Bill title for crop farmers and ad hoc disaster payments used to be the center­piece of farm policy, today it’s crop insurance, regulatory policy, and international trade that are more important,” the Journal said.

It also noted that more specialized farm groups representing corn, wheat, soybeans, cotton, fruit, vegetable, and dairy have become the power­houses now in political negotiations.

In addition, the Journal emphasizes that the Stallman era brought expanded legal and legislative challenges to EPA’s Clean Water Rule and its plan to regulate land use in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, and that it has been the AFBF that organized and led agricultural community’s support for free trade agreements.

And, it notes that Stallman took the lead in reminding Congress and farmers that the Food Stamp Program “needed to stay in the farm bill to get urban votes” for passage and earn White House support. He also reminded farmers frequently that food stamps create “a heck of a lot of market demand.”

As Stallman leaves, the pressures on the Farm Bureau to “remain relevant” are growing, the Journal notes. In his final address, he claimed that “people are sure paying attention to farming and food production now,” referring to consumer concerns about genetically modified ingredients in foods, animal welfare, and “practices that may foul the air and water,” the Journal said.

The Journal says that the AFBF claims to speak for 5.98 million members nationwide and has chapters in every state and Puerto Rico. However, it also notes that there are only about 2.1 million farms in the United States, and those numbers keep declining. The AFBF membership number includes “associate” members, mostly purchasers of Farm Bureau home, auto, and life insurance, as part of the paid membership and “other farm leaders sometimes question whether it is the singular voice of agriculture,” the Journal said.

In addition, the organization is sometimes criticized for not being regionally balanced, the Journal says: Of the 353 voting delegates at its convention, 203 came from the South and only four from California.”

The Journal notes that AFBF social policies are so conservative that there some farmers as well as consumers who do not feel comfortable with the national group. For, example, the opening prayer at the recent meeting in Orlando included an appeal to God to help with government overregulation. And, 81% of the delegates rejected a proposal from the Vermont Farm Bureau to eliminate the national group’s definition of the family as “persons who are related by blood, marriage between male and female, or legal adoption.”

The new president is a third-generation Georgia dairy and chicken farmer who previously was president of the Georgia Farm Bureau for nine years. He maintains a 300 head beef cow herd as well as 425,000 broiler chickens.

As if to emphasize the organization’s commitment to national relevance, Duvall, shortly after his election, said the group supports voluntary labels for GMO foods. Campbell Soup announced at the end of last week that it supports a mandatory labeling law and would begin putting labels on its products if there is no resolution soon to the issue. “We don’t have any problem with them labeling their product as GMO, but we do not support mandatory labeling,” Duval said.

Observers expect that the new leadership will bring changes in emphasis to AFBF policies, but that those likely will not be dramatic. Duval’s view of ag markets will be important, and likely will reflect more prominently his own production of protein, while Stallman’s was more influenced by his interest in rice.

Still, it likely will be the organization’s efforts to bring together widely different views of government, as well as urban-rural frictions, especially over environmental policies that will be Duval’s greatest challenge in the coming years, especially as the organization increasingly operates in the national political spotlight, Washington Insider believes.

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