The Farm Bill Passed Congress; President to Sign Friday
In a 68-32 vote Tuesday, the Senate passed The Agriculture Act of 2014, known to most as the farm bill. The next step is the President’s signature, which is scheduled to take place tomorrow at Michigan State University in the home state of Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.).
This farm bill was a long time coming. The agriculture community first tried to get the bill through during the “super-committee” process in the fall of 2011. In a press release following the Senate vote Chairwoman Stabenow stated, “Many people said this would never happen in this environment, but Congress has come together to pass a major bipartisan jobs bill.” House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) was successful in getting the bill through the House last week. Following the Senate vote he expressed his praise for the Senate passage stating, “We worked together to give certainty and sound policy to our agriculture producers; deliver taxpayers billions of dollars in savings; and provide consumers the affordable and reliable food supply they have grown accustomed to.”
The focus will now turn to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Secretary Tom Vilsack, who designated Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden to take the lead in overseeing implementation of the new bill. The National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG) and its members are “beyond excited” that the process of passing a farm bill is now complete, and we look forward to working with USDA on implementation.
NAWG Board Meets for Winter Meeting
NAWG board members were in town last week for their annual Wheat Industry Winter Conference held jointly with U.S. Wheat Associates in Washington, D.C. Members were busy with hill visits, committee meetings and the NAWG board meeting. House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas was awarded the Wheat Leader Award on Friday morning and spoke to the NAWG board regarding the Farm Bill process and last Wednesday’s passage of the bill in the House of Representatives. The committees that met last week include: Operations and Planning, Domestic and Trade Policy, Budget, Research and Technology, Environmental and Renewable Resources. The Joint Biotechnology Committee and Joint International Trade Policy Committee were held jointly with U.S. Wheat Associates. The National Wheat Foundation Board of Directors also met. The winter meeting is typically located in Washington D.C. and intended to give growers from our 22 state associations time to visit staff and Members of Congress on Capitol Hill.
NAWG Joins Coalition for Safe Affordable Food
Representatives from nearly 30 farmer and food industry groups, including NAWG, announced the formation of the Coalition for Safe Affordable Food Thursday afternoon. The coalition urges Congress to establish federal standards for safety and labeling of food and beverage products made with genetically modified organisms (GMO).
A federal labeling solution would have many benefits. It would avoid the confusion of a 50-state patchwork of labeling laws by affirming the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as the nation’s authority for the use and labeling of GMOs. It would advance food safety by requiring the FDA to conduct safety reviews of all new GMO traits before they are introduced into commerce. The measure would help consumers make informed decisions by establishing federal standards for companies that wish to voluntarily label their own products. It would provide consistency by defining the term “natural” for use on food and beverage products.
Current NAWG policy supports the voluntary labeling of food products derived from genetically modified ingredients. At the same time, NAWG opposes federal or state mandated labeling of products based solely on the method of production, including foods derived from genetically modified ingredients, if they do not differ materially from their non-GMO counterparts. For more information on the coalition and a chance to contact congress on the issue, please visit http://coalitionforsafeaffordablefood.org/.
Agriculture Groups & States Ask Courts to Reconsider Chesapeake Bay Lawsuit
The American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Corn Growers Association, the National Pork Producers Council, The Fertilizer Institute and several other groups asked the U.S. Court of Appeals to reverse a September 2013 federal court ruling that upheld the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) total maximum daily load for the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
Agriculture groups have maintained that EPA exceeded its authority under the Clean Water Act (CWA) and have been critical of the water quality models EPA used for production agriculture. Recently, USDA released updated information regarding conservation practices on cropland in the Chesapeake Bay through the Conservation Effects Assessment Project. It shows that erosion control practices are in place on 97 percent of cropland acres in the Bay watershed. Twenty-one state attorneys general also joined the lawsuit as friends of the court supporting the position that EPA has overstepped its authority under the CWA.
NAWG supports the use of voluntary conservation programs in the Chesapeake Bay, but opposes EPA’s effort to impose mandatory and enforceable requirements for non-point sources of pollution from agriculture lands.
Baucus Confirmed by Senate to be Ambassador to China
The Senate voted 96-0 today to approve the nomination of Senator Max Baucus (D-Mont.) to be the next U.S. Ambassador to China. Baucus, who is the Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and sits on the Senate Agriculture Committee, has been a longtime advocate for both the wheat industry and all of agriculture, taking the lead on many issues that benefit farmers such as free trade agreements and numerous Farm Bills, among others. Baucus has received NAWG’s Wheat Leader of the Year Award, the wheat industry’s highest award, an unprecedented three times, more than any other recipient, and most recently in 2011.
WOLF Program Provides Valuable Information to Leaders at NAWG Winter Conference
The 2014 Wheat Organization Leaders of the Future (WOLF) Program, a leadership orientation program of the National Wheat Foundation (NWF) funded by a generous grant from Bayer CropScience (BCS), took place February 28-29. The WOLF program was held adjacent to this year’s Winter Wheat Conference in Washington, D.C. Participants included newer NAWG board members representing various wheat-growing states. Wheat leaders participated in interactive sessions involving director responsibilities, essential board skills, issues management and crisis communications, wheat grower advocacy and how NAWG communications can assist at the state and local levels. Dr. Allen Scarborough, a member of the NWF Board and stakeholder relations manager for BCS, informed the attendees about BCS’s global commitment to wheat. The purpose of the WOLF Program is to provide newer NAWG directors necessary skills to maximize their effectiveness during their terms as board members.
NAWG Annual Meeting Held February 25-27
NAWG will be holding its annual meeting during Commodity Classic in San Antonio, Texas from Feb. 25 – March 1. Commodity Classic is an annual convention and trade show of the wheat, corn, soybeans and sorghum industries. Stop by the National Association of Wheat Growers booth to learn the latest in the world of wheat and enter for a chance to win a Go-Pro camera and other prizes. For a complete list of events at the upcoming NAWG annual meeting visit http://www.wheatworld.org/meetings-events/commodity-classic/
Suggested Reading: Why We Need GMO Wheat
Jayson Lusk, a professor of agricultural economics at Oklahoma State University and Henry I. Miller, a physician and fellow at the Hoover Institution, wrote an op-ed for the New York Times this week outlining the benefits GMO wheat would offer to both our nation’s farmers, as well as the growing global population. Read it at http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/03/opinion/we-need-gmo-wheat.html?_r=0.