Legislative Action News, May 6, 2014

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USDA Releases 2012 Census of Agriculture

The National Agricultural Statistical Service (NASS) released the full 2012 Census of Agriculture last week. Its release was delayed slightly due to the government shutdown last fall. Highlights from the data include:

  • Three quarters of all farms had sales of less than $50,000, producing only 3 percent of the total value of farm products sold while those with sales of more than $1 million – 4 percent of all farms – produced 66 percent.
  • Much of the increased farm income was concentrated geographically or by farm categories.
    • California led the nation with 9 of the 10 top counties for value of sales. Fresno County was number one in the United States with nearly $5 billion in sales in 2012, which is greater than that of 23 states. Weld County, Colorado ranked 9th in the top 10 U.S. counties.
    • The top 5 states for agricultural sales were California ($42.6 billion); Iowa ($30.8 billion); Texas ($25.4 billion); Nebraska ($23.1 billion); and Minnesota ($21.3 billion).
  • Eighty-seven percent of all U.S. farms are operated by families or individuals.
  • Principal operators were on average 58.3 years old and were predominantly male; second operators were slightly younger and most likely to be female; and third operators were younger still.
  • Young, beginning principal operators who reported their primary occupation as farming increased 11.3 percent from 36,396 to 40,499 between 2007 and 2012.
  • Organic sales were growing, but accounted for just 0.8 percent of the total value of U.S. agricultural production. Organic farmers reported $3.12 billion in sales in 2012, up from $1.7 billion in 2007.
  • 474,028 farms covering 173.1 million acres were farmed with conservation tillage or no-till practices.
  • Corn and soybean acres topped 50 percent of all harvested acres for the first time.
  • The largest category of operations was beef cattle with 619,172 or 29 percent of all farms and ranches in 2012 specializing in cattle. 

Get more information about the 2012 Census.

EPA Pushed to Rescind Proposed Water Regulation

More than 200 members of the House of Representatives, from both parties, joined together and wrote the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to back off its plan to expand federal control under the Clean Water Act (CWA). Both agencies are seeking a rule change to give the federal government more authority by expanding the definition of ‘navigable waters’ under the CWA.

The EPA and Army Corps of Engineers proposed the so-called Waters of the United States rule last month, seeking to clarify which bodies of water the agencies can regulate. The draft rule would include smaller wetlands and streams, and has drawn fire from critics who describe the plan as a blatant power grab.

Led by Reps. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.) and Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.), the lawmakers sent a forcefully worded letter last week to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and Department of the Army Secretary John M. McHugh, asking them to withdraw the proposal. Read the Letter.

Payments Being Made for Livestock Disaster Program

Last week USDA Chief Economist Joe Glauber testified before a House Agriculture subcommittee hearing on the state of the livestock industry and said that livestock disaster payments have already been made to producers even though sign-up only started on April 15, 2014. The disaster programs are expected to provide more than $2 billion in payments to producers for eligible losses that have occurred since the expiration of the livestock disaster assistance programs in 2011 for years 2012 and 2013. Within the first week of signup, $9.4 million in Livestock Forage Disaster Program payments had been requested or were awaiting certification, and more than $4 million had been disbursed. Overall payments from 2012 to 2023 are forecast to be about $6 billion (of which about 85 percent is for Livestock Forage Disaster Program payments).

Read Dr. Glauber’s full testimony on the state of the livestock industry.

USDA/ DOI Reach Agreement on Lesser Prairie-Chicken Protection

The USDA and the Department of the Interior (DOI) announced last week that farmers, ranchers and landowners implementing FSA CRP practices intended to protect and increase lesser prairie-chicken populations will not be subject to additional regulations as a result of the species’ listing as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reported that last year, the range-wide population of the lesser prairie-chicken declined to a record low of 17,616 birds, an almost 50 percent reduction from the 2012 population estimate. Producers participating in CRP in lesser prairie-chicken states (Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico) are planting native grasses and vegetation that will enhance nesting and brooding habitats, and taking other steps to help restore the declining lesser prairie-chicken population. The announcement provides that producers who voluntarily engage in practices to protect the lesser prairie-chicken will not be subject to additional regulations related to protecting the species.

FSA and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service worked together to develop a Biological Opinion to ensure CRP compliance with Endangered Species Act provisions. This Biological Opinion gives predictability to CRP participants who voluntarily apply protective conservation practices for the lesser prairie-chicken so additional regulations may be unnecessary in the future. This gives agricultural producers using proactive conservation practices confidence that they can maintain traditional farming and ranching activities.

The final rule for listing the lesser prairie-chicken as a threatened species and the special rule limiting regulatory impacts on landowners and businesses because of this listing will be effective May 12, 2014. Learn more about the threatened lesser prairie-chicken.

Farm Law Implementation Continues

National Cotton Council | Western Farm Press  - USDA continues to move forward with activities to implement the Agricultural Act of 2014 as the Farm Service Agency issued a number of notices related to the new law.  Learn more.

USDA Announces New Landmark Conservation Initiatives

USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service – Applications are now being accepted for new, landmark conservation initiatives created by the 2014 Farm Bill. The programs will provide up to $386 million to help farmers restore wetlands, protect working agriculture lands, support outdoor recreation activities, and boost the economy. Learn more. 

2014 Farm Bill Highlights

USDA – Economic Research Service – The Economic Research Service (ERS) released summaries and the economic implications of the new programs and provisions in the 2014 Farm Bill. Learn more.