Members Voice Priorities, Hopes at First Farm Bill Conference Meeting
The 41 members of the 2013 Farm Bill conference committee began their official work this week in a session set aside for opening statements, giving the panel and the public a good idea of where the fights will be but few details about how conferees will find an agreement in just a few short weeks. Not unexpectedly, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) was the most talked about aspect of the bill; a compromise between the House’s cuts of $40 billion from this program and the Senate’s cuts of $4 billion is key to finalizing a deal. Among farm programs, crop insurance was top-of-mind, indicating a strong desire for using the conference process to strengthen the most important farm safety net program, even if legislators have differing ideas about what that would mean. With the show and substance of opening statements out of the way, it is widely expected committee members will continue their work out of the public eye. Of course, they must move quickly with just eight weeks left in the year and just two weeks in which the House is scheduled to be in session in November. NAWG continues to talk individually with conference committee members and to formally assert priorities in letters and other statements. More on NAWG’s farm bill work is at www.wheatworld.org/farmbill. A webcast archive of the hearing is available via C-SPAN at http://farmpolicy.com/.
NAWG Domestic and Trade Chairman Testifies on EU Trade Negotiations
NAWG Domestic and Trade Policy Committee Chairman and Montana Grain Growers Association President Ryan McCormick traveled to Washington, D.C., this week to testify on wheat growers’ priorities for ongoing trade negotiations with the European Union, known formally as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). McCormick was a guest of the Senate Finance Committee, chaired by one of his local legislators, Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.). In his statement, he focused on goals for wheat growers during the negotiations, including the elimination of all U.S. wheat import duties; the implementation of science-based, least-trade restrictive regulations related to sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) measures; and development of a more predictable European approval process for crops enhanced with biotechnology. He emphasized that a recently completed EU-Canada trade agreement will put U.S. exports at a disadvantage if similar preferences aren’t secured in the current TTIP negotiations. He also carried the wheat industry’s support for trade promotion authority (TPA), which allows for an up-or-down vote on negotiated trade deals and which Baucus and others have reportedly been working to secure. In marketing year 2012/2013, the EU was the sixth largest customer for U.S. wheat, importing soft red winter (SRW), hard red spring (HRS) and durum. McCormick’s testimony is available in full at www.wheatworld.org/wp-content/uploads/trade-mccormick-testimony-EU-trade-deal-20131030.pdf.
House Transportation Committee Approves Two Bills to Ease Farm Regulation
The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee approved two bills this week to bring regulatory relief to farmers. H.R. 935, the Reducing Regulatory Burdens Act, eliminates duplicative National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permitting requirements under the Clean Water Act for pesticide applications. H.R. 311, the Farmers Undertake Environmental Land Stewardship (FUELS) Act, would increase the size of on-farm storage tanks that are exempt or that can be self-certified under the Spill Prevention, Control and Countermeasure (SPCC) requirements from the Environmental Protection Agency. That bill increases the exemption level from up to 1,320 gallons to 10,000 gallons and self-certification from 10,000 gallons to 42,000 gallons for those producers who have no history of spills. Both of these provisions are included in the farm bill proposal already passed by the House of Representatives. NAWG strongly supports both of these bills and will continue to advocate for them as they move forward in the legislative process.
Farm Groups Write CFTC With Concerns About Changes’ Effects on Farmer Trading
NAWG and other agricultural groups wrote Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) Chairman Gary Gensler this week reiterating concerns about the regulator’s new interpretation of capital charge and residual interest rules calling for futures commission merchants (FCMs) to maintain enough residual interest in a customer funds account at all times to exceed the total of all margin deficits. The letter, which acknowledges that the CFTC is making progress to make the rule more acceptable to agriculture, asks the Commission to conduct a study on the effects of the rule prior to any implementation. The proposed rule represents a change from the current interpretation in which segregation calculations are made daily, and a FCM must hold sufficient funds at that specific point in time. Under the new rule changes, FCMs will likely require customers, such as farmers and agribusinesses, to pre-fund their margin hedge accounts. This increase in cost to users could discourage many producers from using the futures market and may force some to look to alternative risk management tools. The full letter is available at www.wheatworld.org/wp-content/uploads/other-cftc-customer-protection-coalition-letter-20131028.pdf.
NAWG President Awarded Outstanding Leader Award by Local University
NAWG President Bing Von Bergen was recently presented with an Outstanding Agricultural Leader award from his home-state university and alma mater, Montana State University College of Agriculture. The award was given for his leadership in agriculture and his public service to his state and region. NAWG supported his nomination for the award, writing the selection panel about his extraordinary efforts for wheat growers at the national level as a NAWG committee chair and officer. The Association offers its congratulations to Von Bergen on his accomplishments and thanks for his ongoing service! More about the award is at www.montana.edu/news/12214/outstanding-agriculture-leaders-to-be-honored-at-msu-event-oct-25.
Wheat Meetings Start This Weekend in Portland
The 2013 Fall Wheat Conference, joint meetings of NAWG and U.S. Wheat Associates, are set to begin Sunday in Portland, Ore. The session will include a full compliment of committee meetings for both organizations as well as joint committee meetings, a joint board session and board meetings. The National Wheat Foundation and the Wheat Innovation Alliance are also meeting in association with the NAWG and USW sessions. More about the meetings is at www.wheatworld.org/meetings-events/fallconference/. All members of the media must be properly registered to attend, in accordance with NAWG’s media access policy, accessible at www.wheatworld.org/meetings-events/media-access-policy/. Please contact Melissa Kessler, mkessler (at) wheatworld.org for more information.