Congress was out of session again this week. NAWG encourages all readers to visit with their Representatives and Senators during these times, to deliver information about the needs of wheat producers directly. Meanwhile, here’s an update on what’s been happening in D.C.
NAWG Officers Visit Washington for Spring Meetings, Hill Visits
NAWG’s officers are in Washington, D.C., for spring business meetings and visits on Capitol Hill. The five grower-leaders who make up the executive team will be in town until Sunday and have plans to review Association and policy committee goals; discuss NAWG’s recent strategic planning session; and schedule outreach for the year. The officers spent Thursday on the Hill, meeting with staff from both Agriculture Committees and more than a dozen House offices.
Congress Back Next Week; Farm Bill on the Senate Floor Soon?
Congress is scheduled to be back in Washington, D.C., on Monday, May 7. NAWG and other agriculture groups are pushing for floor consideration of the farm bill legislation approved last week by the Senate Agriculture Committee. No date for that floor time has been announced, though Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has reportedly promised to move it forward in the near-term. On the other side of Capitol Hill, House Agriculture Committee subcommittees will continue their hearings on key farm bill topics through mid-May.
Department of Labor Drops Proposal to Restrict Kids’ Work on Farms
The Department of Labor (DOL) announced April 26 it is withdrawing a proposed rule farmers and farm groups were concerned would have had a sweeping impact on agricultural operations and farm education. The DOL said the proposal was withdrawn in part due to the volume of response received from the farm community, and that it would not be reconsidered during the Obama Administration. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack told members of the press he would like to focus on education about child safety on the farm, rather than regulation. The full DOL statement is at http://www.dol.gov/opa/media/press/whd/WHD20120826.htm.
NAWG Urges Growers to Voice Support for Surface Transport Reauthorization
NAWG is urging member-states and wheat farmers to contact Members of Congress and voice support for the ongoing conference of recently-passed surface transportation legislation. The three-month extension of current federal highway programs also includes provisions related to railroads and waterways. Conferees are seeking to find a compromise between the House’s desired five-year, $260 billion extension and the Senate’s two-year, $109 billion bill. The Senate version of the legislation, S. 1813, has a number of provisions important to rail customers, including establishing a timeline for rate cases taken to the Surface Transportation Board (STB), requiring the STB to issue quarterly reports of complaints received and changing the maximum relief possible for shippers in “simplified” rate procedures.
As Problem Spreads, Ag Leaders Support Funding for Sawfly Research
A coalition of policy makers recently wrote USDA’s Agriculture Research Service (ARS) urging the agency to devote more resources to fighting wheat stem sawfly. Sawfly has been a problem – and the subject of intense research – for almost a decade in North Dakota and Montana. There is now evidence the pest is spreading, with damage reported as far south as Kansas and Colorado and as far east as Minnesota. Wheat yields in affected areas are reduced 15 to 30 percent each year, primarily because the fly cuts the grain stem so it cannot be harvested. Signatories of the letter included Reps. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.), Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), Rick Berg (R-N.D.), Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.), Kristi Noem (R-S.D.) and Adrian Smith (R-Neb.) A release from Rehberg on the letter is at http://rehberg.house.gov/index.cfm?sectionid=26§iontree=5,26.
Michigan Wheat Checkoff Collection Begins
The new Michigan Wheat Program began collecting checkoff dollars on wheat delivered as of May 1. Michigan wheat farmers approved a referendum to establish a checkoff program last summer, since which time the board’s nine members have been appointed and hired executive director Jody Pollock-Newsom. The board’s activities will focus on wheat research, education, information delivery, market development and industry collaboration. Assessments to fund program activities are 0.5 percent of the value of the wheat sold. Michigan Farm Bureau reports that approximately 8,000 Michigan farmers plant 600,000 to 700,000 acres of wheat each year, making wheat the state’s third most valuable crop.
AGree Coalition Presents Its “Vision for 2030”
Members of AGree held a panel discussion in Washington this week to unveil its vision for the global agricultural and food system in 2030. The initiative is designed to inform and address food and agriculture policy issues through the direct engagement of diverse groups. It has developed a framework to guide its work, focusing on four interrelated challenges: 1) meeting future demand for food; 2) conserving and enhancing natural resources; 3) improving nutrition and public health; and 4) strengthening farms, workers and communities. In 2012 and 2013, the group said it will focus on five areas related to research, education and extension, access to nutritious food, environmental sustainability, farm workforce issues and the urgent need to attract more young people to agriculture. AGree is backed by nine of the United States’ largest foundations. More about AGree’s work is online at http://www.foodandagpolicy.org.
NAWG Promotes Stafford to Government Affairs Representative
NAWG promoted policy assistant Will Stafford this week to the position of government affairs representative, covering trade, transportation and financial markets policy. Stafford has been at NAWG since September, working first as an intern and later as a policy assistant. More on the announcement and Stafford’s background is at http://www.wheatworld.org/news-events/2012/05/stafford-promoted-to-government-affairs-representative/.