Legislative Action News, May 20, 2014

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Secretary Vilsack Testifies About Farm Bill Implementation

Secretary Vilsack testified before the Senate Agriculture Committee on May 7 about the status of USDA Farm Bill implementation. 

In terms of the commodity title, the Secretary’s testimony focuses largely on the implementation of the livestock disaster provisions, which USDA made its top priority.  Sign-up and payments have already started for those programs (covered in the previous ASFMRA legislative update).  He did not provide much information about the timeline for implementing ARC/PLC. Two highlights from the Secretary’s testimony – 1) On May 22, USDA will announce funding allocations for State-based extension services to educate producers on various program options and awards for developing the web-based tools to help producers with the ARC versus PLC decision expected later this fall.  2) Later in May FSA will begin publishing the initial benchmark prices for the ARC program and reference prices for the PLC program. FSA will update ARC prices monthly. USDA hopes to publicize the final program and the regulations for both ARC and PLC in the fall of 2014.

In terms of crop insurance, the Secretary’s written testimony was very short. It does not mention SCO or STAX implementation, nor RMA’s general implementation plan for the other twenty some provisions related to crop insurance in the 2014 farm bill.  The Secretary did get several questions related to crop insurance and conservation compliance.

Chairwoman Stabenow (D-MI) and Senators Klobuchar (D-MN) and Hoeven (R-ND) asked about the implementation plan for compliance, sod-saver and wetland banking respectively.  The Secretary said that the provisions took effect on the date the President signed the bill (February 7, 2014) and that “sometime this summer” the Department would publish the regulations for these provisions.  He also said the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) was working to implement the wetland mitigation portion later this year. The compliance provisions are complicated by the fact that three USDA agencies are involved in administering compliance – the Farm Service Agency in addition to NRCS and RMA.  The Secretary also indicated the Department estimates there are roughly 6,000 farmers who have not previously had to file a compliance certification at FSA and they have an additional year to file that form (although the timing on this was not clear from his response). 

Senator Roberts (R-KS) also asked if RMA had sufficient data to implement SCO for all winter wheat growers for 2015. The Secretary did not answer the question but instead said that the Department would allow winter wheat growers to buy SCO this fall recognizing that it would happen before the ARC/PLC choice has to be made, winter wheat growers would be able to opt out of SCO if they choose ARC without penalty. RMA has indicated to the industry separately that SCO will be available in counties that currently have a GRP or GRIP plan of insurance, for sure and if possible some additional counties (unclear how many or where). You can download a copy of his testimony or watch an on-line replay of the hearing here: http://www.ag.senate.gov/hearings/2014-farm-bill_implementation-and-next-steps.

Water Resources Reform and Development Act Set to Pass

The Conference Report to H.R. 3080, the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA), was filed in the House of Representatives last week. The House and Senate passed respective versions of the bill in 2013 and House and Senate conferees reached agreement on a final measure last week, and now both Houses of Congress must approve the Conference Report in order to send it to the President to be signed into law.

A news release from the National Grain and Feed Association (NGFA) highlighted the importance of the bill to agriculture by stating that, “This nation’s inland waterways system is indispensable in providing U.S. agriculture with an efficient and cost-effective means for transporting agricultural products to overseas markets, and for importing fertilizer and other essential farm inputs essential for U.S. agricultural production. The waterways really are the gateway to how our nation helps feed the world, said NGFA President Randy Gordon.

A summary of the bill can be found here: http://transportation.house.gov/uploadedfiles/wrrdabookletpostconflowres.pdf

Tax Extender Bill Stalls in Senate

The $84 billion tax “extenders” bill was shelved last week, at least temporarily, by a Republican filibuster. A motion to limit debate on the bill failed 53-40 with 60 votes needed for passage. Republicans said they were not getting enough chances to offer amendments. The “extenders” bill would revive five dozen tax breaks for two years, retroactive to Jan 1. It includes the $1/gal biodiesel tax credit.

Legal Case that Could Destroy American Agriculture

Gary Baise, Farm Futures – AFBF v. Environmental Protection Agency (United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit; Case No. 13-4079). Remember this case. Your future may depend on this case.

Judge Sylvia Rambo, in September, 2013, found in a court decision that EPA could set Total Maximum Daily Loads on how many pounds of nutrients can run off property into waters of a state. I have written about her opinion before.  Read more

The Kiplinger Agriculture Letter

Get the latest updates on wheat, trade, livestock, pest control, water, energy and U.S. Farms.  Read the entire edition.

American Farm Bureau Federation Releases Webinar Series to Explain Farm Bill

The American Farm Bureau Federation has produced a series of webinars and launched a website to help farmers, landowners and other stakeholders better understand the provisions of the 2014 farm bill. There are 5 webinars posted so far covering the bill generally, Price Loss Coverage and Supplemental Coverage Option, Agricultural Risk Coverage, the new dairy provisions, and Stacked Income Protection for cotton (STAX). The website link is: http://www.fb.org/index.php?action=issues.farmbill&utm_campaign=FarmBillGuide&utm_source=NewsRelease&utm_medium=Email&utm_term=2014%20farm%20bill.