Advocacy in action

Harry Snelson The 2007 Farm Bill

Every 5 years, the US congress must reauthorize legislation governing agricultural support programs commonly referred to as the Farm Bill. This process was last undertaken in 2002, meaning that the Farm Bill is up for reauthorization in 2007. Congress and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) have already begun discussing what the next Farm Bill will look like and have conducted listening sessions across the country to judge the opinions of America‘s farmers. I thought I might spend some time in this issue of “Advocacy in action” to give you an overview of the Farm Bill process and its impact on American agriculture.

Simply put, the Farm Bill represents federal legislation addressing a broad range of agriculturally related programs, including agricultural support, rural development, soil and water conservation, and domestic food and foreign aid programs. The bill itself is divided into 10 categories, called “Titles,” as follows.

Commodity: Provide income support for commodity products through three programs, including direct payments, counter-cyclical payments, and marketing loans.

Conservation: Funding for conservation programs, such as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and the Conservation Reserve Program, which are designed to encourage preservation of lands not suitable for agriculture.

Trade: Develop and expand commercial markets for US commodities and provide international food assistance.

Nutrition: Food Stamp Program, school lunch program, and commodity distribution programs.

Credit: Federal loan programs for farmers and rural business through the Farm Service Agency and Farm Credit System.

Rural development: Funding for rural area programs, including the Rural Community Advancement Program, regional strategic planning, water and waste facilities, and telecommunications.

Research and related matters: Supports agricultural research and extension programs.

Forestry: Authorizes forestry programs.

Energy: Bio-energy programs, renewable energy systems.

Miscellaneous: Crop insurance and disaster assistance, country of origin labelling, animal and plant protection, animal health and welfare, food safety, and organic agriculture.

The 2002 Farm Bill authorized approximately $782 billion in federal spending. Nutrition programs received the bulk of the funding, over $555 billion, followed by commodity programs ($142 billion), conservation ($39 billion), and miscellaneous ($38 billion). Given the current federal budget deficit, it is unlikely that funding in the 2007 Farm Bill will exceed these levels. The key point for discussion will most likely revolve around reallocation and prioritization of funding.

The USDA is interested in promoting Farm Bill programs that:

  • Ensure next-generation farmers have access to the business;
  • Maximize the competitiveness of US agriculture;
  • Effectively and fairly distribute assistance to farmers;
  • Achieve conservation and environmental goals;
  • Provide effective assistance to rural areas; and
  • Address agricultural product development, marketing. and research issues.

Swine producers do not receive a great deal of direct compensation from programs included in the Farm Bill, with the possible exceptions of some conservation programs. Even those programs have not benefited swine producers to the same degree as they have producers of other species. The Farm Bill, however, does impact our industry indirectly through a number of programs, predominantly included in the trade, research, and miscellaneous titles. Another area that bears watching in the 2007 bill is the energy title. The rapid growth of alternative fuels and government mandates supporting further expansion and development of particularly grain-based products may have a significant impact on livestock feeds over the next 5 years encompassed by the 2007 Farm Bill. And, of course, the profitability of agriculture is subject to the rising cost of energy inputs among other factors as well.

The National Pork Producers Council has identified a number of topics of interest that they will be actively monitoring, including market access, enhancing competitiveness, controlling input costs, and defending pork production against activist groups. Animal activist groups are actively promoting their agendas as potential amendments to the Farm Bill or even the addition of new titles such as an animal welfare title. Specifically, pork producers are interested in topics such as the ethanol mandate, World Trade Organization talks, conservation programs, and revenue assurance.

As veterinarians, there are a number of issues of interest to us as well. Topics such as animal welfare (downer-animal legislation, sow stalls, and transport issues have all been discussed as possible Farm Bill issues), antibiotic use, horse-slaughter legislation, and efforts to further the development of a national animal identification system, to name a few. To this end, AASV is actively involved with pork producers, as well as other animal agriculture groups and allied professional organizations, to develop a strategy ensuring that issues important to the swine industry and veterinary profession are addressed as the legislature moves forward on the 2007 Farm Bill debate, which will likely heat up following the mid-term elections.

-- Harry Snelson