PHOENIX (DTN) -- Delegates to the American Farm Bureau Federation's annual convention here Tuesday voted to maintain the group's commitment to compliance with government conservation standards as a requirement for crop insurance subsidies and to keep the nutrition title that authorizes the food stamp program within the farm bill.
The delegates maintained their support for conservation compliance only after earlier voting to oppose it, and then reversing that vote. And a delegate from Alabama proposed removing the nutrition title from the farm bill -- a position that hard-line conservatives and think tanks have taken.
The action on conservation compliance was the most dramatic part of a delegate session that lasted from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Farm Bureau in the past, has opposed conservation compliance for crop insurance subsidies, but agreed to support it during the 2014 farm bill debate, because it was a way to gain support for the bill from environmental groups that promised not to oppose farm subsidies in exchange.
North Dakota Farm Bureau President Daryl Lies offered an amendment to oppose conservation compliance back in the Farm Bureau's policy book. Lies called the support for conservation compliance a "dance with the devil" because some environmentalists had still opposed Farm Bureau on certain policies, and North Dakota faces unusual difficulties in complying with the government standards on conservation.
The delegate body first voted 178 to 139 to oppose conservation compliance.
But over lunch some delegates had second thoughts, and when all the other policy measures had been considered, Iowa Farm Bureau President Craig Hill, who had voted to insert the opposition amendment, asked for reconsideration.
"Coupling provides a lot of integrity to the crop insurance program," Hill said, adding that Farm Bureau had built alliances that helped push the farm bill through Congress.
If conservation compliance remains in the next farm bill, Hill said, "Conservation groups will come to the table to support our programs."
Lies urged delegates to vote against the reversal, arguing that conservation compliance is an example of "incrementalism" that allows provisions that add to farmers' costs to creep into the farm bill.
The current farm bill says that farmers who do not comply with conservation standards can still get crop insurance but won't get the subsidies that pay for 60% of the premiums for most farmers. Lies said he has "very good friends" in wildlife and conservation groups who would like to make farmers totally ineligible for crop insurance if they don't comply with conservation requirements.
But Minnesota Farm Bureau President Kevin Paap rose in support of the amendment to delete the opposition.
Paap said it is "reasonable" to expect farmers who get subsidized crop insurance to comply with conservation standards. He also noted that there is a system of exceptions and appeals, and that farmers who don't comply can still get the insurance without the premium subsidies.
Farm Bureau needs to be able to talk about "what we are going to do better," Paap said.
The delegate body then voted 255 to 85 to take out the provision opposing conservation compliance.
At a news conference, Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall said he supported the move to reconsider because partnerships are important in passing the farm bill, and because some delegates were confused about what they were voting on.
"It is not only important to have a real good, active safety net for agriculture," Duvall said, but also to make sure food is available through the nutrition programs and to maintain the "partnership built in the last farm."
One supporter of conservation compliance told DTN that "we dodged a bullet," because it is difficult to get the delegates to reconsider policy that has already been voted on.
Alabama Farmers Federation President Jimmy Parnell offered an amendment to eliminate a provision that calls for "maintaining a unified farm bill, which includes nutrition programs and farm programs together."
But delegates from Massachusetts, Oregon and Illinois spoke vigorously in defense of keeping the farm bill together.
Oregon Farm Bureau President Barry Bushue said that coming from "the left Coast" he would not be able to get members of Congress to vote for the farm bill without the inclusion of the nutrition title.
An Illinois delegate noted that Illinois is dominated by its cities and suburbs, and that the presence of the nutrition title makes it easier for the Farm Bureau to convince people in Chicago and its suburbs to support the bill.
There was a strong voice vote against taking out Farm Bureau's support for keeping the farm and nutrition titles together.
The delegates also rejected by a vote of 105 to 228 an amendment proposed by Georgia Farm Bureau board member Jimmy Malone to maintain commodity reference prices at the levels in the 2014 farm bill. But the delegates also rejected an amendment offered by Illinois Farm Bureau Vice President David Erickson to eliminate a statement that both federal crop insurance and commodity programs are "top funding priorities." Southern delegates argued that the commodity programs are particularly important to the South and deserve equal standing with crop insurance.
Without discussion, the delegate body maintained its policy that cottonseed should be designated as "another oilseed," but added policy that if cottonseed is not designated an oilseed, Congress should appropriate money for a ginning assistance program. The delegates added that the Farm Bureau supports "modifying or eliminating" the Stacked Income Protection Program (STAX) that replaces the previous cotton program if cottonseed is designated as another oilseed.
In other actions, the Farm Bureau delegates voted against an amendment to oppose "the release of any genetically modified seed traits without the concurrent regulatory approval of the corresponding pesticide." The amendment was a clear tie to the controversy over Monsanto's dicamba-resistant soybeans, which were released last year without EPA approval of a newly formulated herbicide meant to reduce dicamba drift.
Delegates also voted to:
-- Support the development of aquaculture crop yield and/or revenue insurance.
-- Support the use of Quick Response (QR) code linked to nutritional information in lieu of providing the actual required nutritional information on packaging.
-- Eliminate a proposal for development of a standardized definition and guidelines for the term Community Supported Agriculture.
-- Allow new producers and/or beginning farmers to use county Risk Management Agency averages instead of National Agricultural Statistics Service figures or the T-yield when establishing yield for federal crop insurance.
-- Decline to support a proposal for development of a certification program for grass-fed beef, with auditing, enforcement and third-party verification.
-- Oppose a recapture tax on agricultural land to be preserved for agricultural and timbering use.
-- Support the U.S. Forest Service, providing funding to research and implement genetic modification of the American chestnut to be resistant to fungal chestnut blight and then reintroduce it "into the original range in the eastern U.S."
-- Oppose the classification of "milk or any individual constituent of animal waste, livestock manure, poultry litter or commercial fertilizer as a solid waste or hazardous substance."
Jerry Hagstrom can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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