Farmers' Efforts Put Agriculture a Few Steps Ahead for 2015

Wednesday, December 31, 2014 - 4:19pm

Erin Anthony

American Farm Bureau Federation

Weather. Input costs. Commodity prices. From planning to harvesting, there’s plenty that’s out of farmers’ and ranchers’ control. Perhaps that’s why when they have the chance to hold sway, they go all in.

There’s hardly a better example of that than the American Farm Bureau Federation’s Ditch the Rule campaign, launched this spring to challenge EPA’s proposed “Waters of the U.S.” rule. The rule could ultimately lead to the unlawful expansion of federal regulations to cover routine farming and ranching practices as well as other common private land uses, such as building homes.

Through official comments to EPA, hundreds of thousands of tweets and Facebook posts, testimony before Congress, calls, e-mails and in-person meetings with policymakers, interviews with reporters and much more, Farm Bureau members were relentless in telling EPA, the media and Congress why this proposal is such a threat to agriculture, not to mention an end-run around congressional intent and rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court.

While Ditch the Rule focused on administrative action, immigration reform is Congress’ job. Growers were optimistic that Senate passage last year of an immigration reform bill that addressed agriculture’s labor needs would provide momentum for House action in 2014, but that was not to be. Nearly everything ground to a halt this summer with the mid-term elections looming. Still, farmers’ and ranchers’ leadership on the issue became even clearer when President Obama’s executive order made everyone ask: “What does this mean for agriculture?” Although the president’s move does little, if anything, for farmers and ranchers in dire need of a stable workforce, Farm Bureau has successfully made the agricultural labor crisis a political reality that cannot be ignored in 2015.

Farm Bureau was also front and center in the push for a national food labeling policy. Legislation introduced earlier this year would provide a federal solution to protect consumers from a patchwork of individual state GMO labeling policies, and the confusion and high food costs that would come with them. At a congressional hearing earlier this month, Kansas Farm Bureau board member Stacey Forshee made a strong case for why lawmakers should pass the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act (H.R. 4432).

Labeling foods with biotechnology traits “will mislead consumers into believing such food products are materially different, create undue risk and should be avoided—all of which are scientifically false,” she said.

Also this month, Congress extended retroactively for 2014 a series of tax provisions that expired at the end of 2013. These “extenders” are important because they help farmers invest in the machinery, equipment and other depreciable capital that they can’t do their jobs without. In addition, a number of the provisions encourage the production and use of clean, renewable energy.

In the end, Congress took longer than farmers and ranchers would have liked, but the final extenders bill, which included Farm Bureau priorities like Section 179 small-business expensing, was one of the few pieces of legislation the House, Senate and the president agreed upon in the second half of the year—a testament to farmers’ and ranchers’ ability to deliver a strong message. With the extenders secure for 2014, farmers and ranchers will push forward in 2015 to make some of the key small business provisions permanent.

Stepping out of the policy arena, Farm Bureau lead the way with a historic agreement on data privacy and security principles that will encourage the use and development of a full range of innovative, technology-driven tools and services to boost the productivity, efficiency and profitability of American agriculture. The data privacy and security principles detailed in the agreement provide a measure of needed certainty to farmers regarding the protection of their data.
From Ditch the Rule to immigration reform, tax extenders and big data, looking at farmers’ and ranchers’ 2014 successes shows us agriculture is clearly a few steps ahead for 2015.

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