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Government

Farm Bill’s passage creates historic reforms, benefits for Wyo producers

With the passage of the Agriculture Act of 2014 several weeks ago, Wyoming’s ag interest groups say the bill does have some impacts on Wyoming’s agriculture industry.

After President Obama signed the Agriculture Act of 2014, House Ag Committee Chairman Frank Lucas commented, “The amazing reality about farm bills is that they reflect the times in which we live. They are reviewed, written, debated and reauthorized nearly every five years. Today our concerns are rightly placed on reducing the size and cost of the federal government.”

Bill reforms

The Agriculture Act of 2014 imposes a number of cuts and reforms.

“The Agriculture Act of 2014 includes the most significant reduction to farm policy spending in history by improving agricultural programs,” says the House Ag Committee. 

Reforms include repeals to direct payments and limiting producers to those risk management tools offering protection for significant losses. Payments are also limited and reduced, with tightened eligibility.

The bill strengthens crop insurance and reinforces the successful public-private partnership ensuring farmers invest in their own risk management. 

Historic reforms to dairy policy are also implemented in the bill, as is support for small businesses and beginning farmers and ranchers. 

In Wyoming

“The passage of the Farm Bill will have several impacts on Wyoming products,” Wyoming Farm Bill Executive Vice President Ken Hamilton says. “Probably the most significant impact will be that now agriculture producers have some certainty about what is necessary to comply with some of USDA’s requirements.”

Hamilton also notes that the sugar program emerged from conference committee intact. 

Wyoming Stock Growers Association Executive Vice President Jim Magagna comments, “A lot of the Farm Bill has to do with crop programs, but generally, there are also good things in it for the livestock industry.”

Livestock importance

As an example, Magagna comments that the disaster relief portions of the bill are not only helpful but also necessary for the industry. 

“We needed disaster relief two years ago, but this bill gives us a more permanent disaster relief program,” he says. “The program is good for the five-year life of the Farm Bill, where in the past, it had to be renewed. It gives us a little more security than we had.”

Magagna also notes that funding for brucellosis research is particularly helpful for Wyoming’s ag industry. 

“Frank Galey and I worked very hard with Senator Mike Enzi to make sure that funding was available,” he comments. “That is good for Wyoming.

Changes in the conservation title also occurred, with a number of programs being consolidated. 

In particular, Magagna notes that the programs commonly used by Wyoming producers, such as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program (FRPP) will remain available. 

“There are some other good things in the bill for Wyoming agriculture, like market access dollars for global trade promotion, and they will help all of agriculture,” Magagna adds. “Those are all good things.”

Opposition

On the opposite side, Magagna and Hamilton both see drawbacks in the bill. 

“The overall bill just spends too much money, particularly on the nutrition side,” Magagna emphasizes. 

He further notes that the bill failed to change or eliminate mandatory Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) – an issue that WSGA took no stance on.

“Our position on COOL was that we conveyed that we should stay out of the battle as to whether something should be done in the Farm Bill,” Magagna explains. “We asked for a commitment that if the World Trade Organization rules in favor of Canada and Mexico on their appeal, that Congress takes steps to make sure changes are made.”

However, Magagna also anticipates that a final ruling on COOL is a year or more down the road. 

Concern

Hamilton notes that Wyoming Farm Bureau members also express some concern with the bill. 

“Certainly one of the issues that the Wyoming Farm Bureau has always had concerns about is the funding for conservation easements in perpetuity,” he comments.

Additionally, improvements could be made in the bill, says Hamilton.

“There were a couple of sections in the House version that didn’t make into the conference committee report that would have made things better,” he mentions. “For example, the House’s provision that would have prevented the need for a  National Pollution Discharge Elimination System permit for pesticide applications was favorable.”

Ag policy

Overall, other impacts to commodities left Wyoming producers largely unscathed.

“The bill will impact each producer differently, and those producers who use Farm Bill programs will measure the impacts based on their individual needs,” Hamilton comments.

“With the president signing the Agricultural Act of 2014 into law, we mark a new era of farm and food policy that values saving money, reforming or repealing government programs,” Lucas noted, “and yet still providing an effective safety net for the production of our national food supply and for those Americans who are struggling.”

“I am pleased we have a new farm bill in place to provide certainty for the next five years to America’s farmers, ranchers, and consumers, and I appreciate the efforts of everyone who helped make it possible,” said Lucas.

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at saige@wylr.net.