Legislative Action News, May 7, 2013

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Open Government at USDA
By Dennis Reyman, AFM, ARA

Type “USDA open data” into your favorite search engine and that heading will come up as the first offering.   USDA touts “transparency, collaboration, and participation with all stakeholders are essential to successful engagement with and service provided to the public”. 

So what is this, the resolution to our longstanding argument to open up farm data sealed by Section 1619 back in 2008?  No, it’s not that.   Issued April 9th, this is called “USDA’s Open Government Plan 2.0”. 

This is part of a Presidential order for “government-wide review of regulations already on the books”, and to “consider costs and reduce burdens for Americans businesses and consumers when developing rules, expanded opportunities for public participation and public comment, simplify rules, promote freedom of choice, and ensure that regulations are driven by real science”. 

This is actually part of a joint program with the G-8 nations with a focus on increasing production.  Here are the opening three paragraphs of a USDA press release last week: 

WASHINGTON, April 29, 2013 – Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, along with Bill Gates, and U.S. Chief Technology Officer Todd Park, today kicked off a two-day international open data conference, saying that data “is among the most important commodities in agriculture” and sharing it openly increases its value.

Secretary Vilsack, as head of the U.S. Government delegation to the conference, announced the launch of a new “virtual community” as part of a suite of actions, including the release of new data, that the United States is taking to give farmers and ranchers, scientists, policy makers and other members of the public easy access to publicly funded data to help increase food security and nutrition.

“The digital revolution fueled by open data is starting to do for the modern world of agriculture what the industrial revolution did for agricultural productivity over the past century,” said Vilsack. “Open access to data will help combat food insecurity today while laying the groundwork for a sustainable agricultural system to feed a population that is projected to be more than nine billion by 2050.”

Secretary Vilsack’s opening remarks can be viewed at: http://blogs.usda.gov/tag/open-data/

USDA’s web site hosts a myriad of information. Here is the hyperlink: http://geo.data.gov/geoportal/  Type your county and state into the site’s search engine and you will find everything from the bathymetric contours of lakes to your local school district boundaries.  Much of the data seems to be in shapefile or other format that requires the appropriate software.  Some information can be downloaded as pdf if you are persistent. 

If you find interesting applications for this information, please utilize AgProLink to share ideas with your ASFMRA counterparts. 

Your ASFMRA Government Relations committee remains committed to regaining access to basic farm information locked up by Section 1619 of the 2008 Farm Bill, including field boundaries (common land units), cropland acres, and contract acres.  We maintain this information is connected to the ownership of the land, not to the individual farmer.  It is necessary for the proper preparation of reports which are relied upon by lending institutions, the IRS, and of course, USDA.            

ASFMRA Joins 43 Other Organizations Opposing Cuts to Crop Insurance
By Stephen Frerichs

Anticipating the upcoming farm bill debate in the House and Senate, ASFMRA joined 43 other agricultural organizations in a letter sent to Congress opposing cuts to crop insurance.  Specifically, the letter opposes the inclusion of an Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) test in the crop insurance program. Implementing such a test will diminish the insurance pool and potentially lead to higher insurance rates for remaining farmers. On the heels of a major national drought limiting crop insurance participation makes little sense.  You will recall that Senators Coburn (R-OK) and Durbin (D-IL) offered an amendment with a $750,000 AGI test that passed last time the Senate considered the farm bill.

You can find a copy of the letter here.  

Farm Bill to Start this Month
By Stephen Frerichs

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Lucas (R-OK) and Ranking Member Peterson (D-MN) have set May 15 as the date to mark-up the farm bill in the House Agriculture Committee. Chairman Lucas has indicated he plans to start with the bill crafted last session. Because the President’s FY 2014 budget proposed cuts totaling $38 billion over ten years to farm bill programs, Chairman Lucas will target a similar total cut. Although the components of those cuts will be significantly different with cuts to the nutrition title equal to at least one-half of the total cut. 

Majority Leader Cantor (R-VA) has indicated to the House Republicans that he anticipates the full House will consider the farm bill this summer. As Majority Leader, Cantor sets the House floor schedule, so this is a great indication for the prospects of a farm bill.

Not to be out done, the Senate Agriculture Committee is tentatively planning a committee mark-up this week, possibly on May 9th. The Senate Agriculture Committee will target $23 billion in cuts over 10 years and because the Senate Committee has a new ranking member, Senator Cochran (R-MS), the composition of the commodity title will be different than what was produced by the Senate Agriculture Committee last session.  Senate Majority Leader Reid (D-NV) has indicated that he plans to allow the full Senate to debate the farm bill before the Memorial Day Recess, which starts on May 24.

New Forage Pilot Insurance Program
By Stephen Frerichs

The Risk Management Agency has released a new pilot federal crop insurance plan that utilizes a rainfall index to provide coverage for annual forage crops. The Rainfall Index – Annual Forage Insurance Plan is being tested in six states and covers crops planted annually and are used for livestock feed or fodder. It is available in all counties in Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, and North Dakota. Catastrophic Risk Protection and buy-up levels are available under the plan.

The sales closing date for this insurance is July 15 for crops planted in the fall, and December 15 for crops planted next spring. The sales closing date is the last day to buy or make changes to a federal crop insurance policy. Contact your local crop insurance agent for more information.

House told waterway projects take too long to plan, cost too much
From Agri-Pulse www.agri-pulse.com

The planning of national waterway projects takes entirely too long and cost estimates are generally too low, according to lawmakers and witnesses testifying at a House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment Tuesday. The panel held the first of several hearings to discuss the authorization of the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA).

Chairman Bob Gibbs, R-Ohio, said he expects Congress to play a larger role in prioritizing projects and activities carried out by the Army Corps of Engineers. Since Congress ended earmarks, project selection has largely been left to the administration. This has led to lengthy delays and large cost overruns, Gibbs and others reported.

“Congress cannot continue to abdicate its constitutional responsibility in determining what projects should go forward and should reassert itself in the face of an administration that creates one-sized-fits-all policy with little or no transparency,” Gibbs said.What used to take the Corps between three and five years to study, for instance, now commonly takes between 10 and 15 years, Gibbs said. Gibbs noted the Panama Canal expansion took two years to plan.

“The federal taxpayer is on the hook for these studies and for the length of time it takes to carry them out,” Gibbs said. “The Corps reviews far too many alternatives and then sends to Congress a project request that far exceeds, in scope and costs, what was initially intended.”

Peter Stephaich, chairman of Campbell Transportation Company in Pittsburgh, Pa. and executive committee member of Waterways Council Inc. (WCI), told lawmakers the nation has lost the ability to construct individual waterway capital projects in a timely and cost-effective manner.

“In our ever-more-competitive global economy, where our nation’s economic competitors are investing vast sums to improve their transportation networks and waterway infrastructure, why would we in the United States knowingly allow our inland waterway system to continue to deteriorate?” Stephaich said.

Stephaich said lawmakers should consider adding the provisions of Waterways are Vital for the Economy, Energy, Efficiency, and Environment Act (WAVE 4) to any WRDA bill as a way to improve project delivery. The bill (H.R. 1149) would offer a prioritized list of projects based upon risk of failure and benefits to the nation, with an emphasis on finishing projects already underway and ensuring funding is available to efficiently fund work. The bill would also ensure that future Corps’ estimates for project costs have a confidence level of at least 80 percent.

The legislation, according to its supporters, would incorporate elements of the Inland Waterways Capital Development Plan while addressing the needs of the inland waterways system, creating jobs and enabling growth in U.S. exports. Separately, the WCI said the administration’s FY 2014 budget request for the Corps’ Civil Works Program allows for the continuation of the post-sequester funding level of $4.726 billion.

The Senate also started work on a WRDA bill. The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee recently approved S. 601, which aims to promote investment in the nation’s critical water resources infrastructure, accelerate project delivery, and reform the implementation of Corps’ projects. Supporters said the bill would create up to 500,000 new jobs.

Senate immigration reform plan has agriculture backing
David Bennett

Agriculture Workforce Coalition answers questions on legislation

Having been a driving force behind the Senate’s earlier introduction of immigration reform, on Wednesday afternoon (April 17) a broad coalition of agricultural interests convened to explain and back the legislation. Adding to the Agriculture Workforce Coalition’s muscle was the participation of the United Farm Workers Union (under the AFL-CIO umbrella), which supports the Senate bill. Companion legislation is yet to be introduced in the House.
Read more on the Delta Farm Press website: http://deltafarmpress.com/government/senate-immigration-reform-plan-has-agriculture-backing?NL=DFP-01&Issue=DFP-01_20130422_DFP-01_119&YM_RID=sgruba@asfmra.org&YM_MID=1388111&sfvc4enews=42

Conservation Stewardship Program applications due by May 31
From the USDA

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has announced that the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) will provide nearly $175 million in funding for up to 12.6 million additional acres of enrollment this year.

“The Conservation Stewardship Program is different than other USDA financial assistance programs,” said Vilsack.

“CSP offers payments to producers who maintain a high level of conservation on their land and agree to adopt higher levels of stewardship. It’s about conservation activities on the entire operation focusing on multiple resource concerns.”
Read more on the Southeast Farm Press website: http://southeastfarmpress.com/government/conservation-stewardship-program-applications-due-may-31?NL=SEFP-01&Issue=SEFP-01_20130503_SEFP-01_352&YM_RID=sgruba@asfmra.org&YM_MID=1391200&sfvc4enews=4

Farm Bureau supporting new legislation for fruit, vegetable growers
From the American Farm Bureau Federation

Providing new farm bill programs for fruit and vegetable farmers would help ensure a strong agricultural economy and benefit the health of the entire nation, American Farm Bureau Federation Vice-President Barry Bushue told Congress this week.
Read more: http://southeastfarmpress.com/vegetables/farm-bureau-supporting-new-legislation-fruit-vegetable-growers?NL=SEFP-01&Issue=SEFP-01_20130426_SEFP-01_561&YM_RID=sgruba@asfmra.org&YM_MID=1389562&sfvc4enews=42

Kiplinger Agriculture Letter

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A Permanent Estate Tax?

The Estate tax exclusion and gift tax exempltion remains at $5 million and estate tax was set at 40% in the beginning of 2013. Read this commentary on the issue by Kevin Spafford of the Farm Journal Legacy Project: http://links.mkt1447.com/servlet/MailView?ms=NDEzOTAzNjcS1&r=MTE5MTM3OTQ4MzUS1&j=MTg2MDg0OTk5S0&mt=1&rt=0