Farm Bureau sets top priorities for 2007 Farm Bill
CFBF supports expanded funding in the 2007 Farm Bill for programs that would bolster overseas market development.
With the current Farm Bill due to expire at the end of September and debate on the 2007 Farm Bill heating up, the California Farm Bureau Federation lays out key objectives on what the important farm legislation should include.
The organization is focusing its attention on programs that would not only benefit California farmers and ranchers but also increase economic opportunities for all commodities, promote efficiency, expand markets and encourage landowner conservation practices.
Kenny Watkins, CFBF second vice president and a cattle rancher in San Joaquin County, said conservation funding should be directed toward working farmlands, especially in California, where farmers face myriad environmental regulations and urban pressures.
"We have to make sure the money continues to help production agriculture deal with the environmental challenges we face that aren't economically feasible," he said, adding that while some conservation projects may be too costly upfront, "but if the government helps with it, we could address the problems sooner rather than later."
California currently receives about 2 percent of the total U.S. spending on farm conservation practices even though the state rates high in conservation goals and attributes.
Watkins said there needs to be less emphasis on land retirement and more emphasis on landowner incentives to meet environmental compliance goals, and funds should be allocated to those states facing the stiffest environmental regulations.
"In California, the air and water quality standards are getting tougher and tougher," he said. "Bearing the brunt right now is the dairyman, so it's going to take a lot of money to help those dairymen deal with the environmental issues on air quality and water quality."
Moving money into conservation would also help the United States in ongoing negotiations with the World Trade Organization, which has long been critical of U.S. farm support payments, said Watkins.
"What we're after is research and market access dollars to help us produce and market our product," he said.
The Farm Bureau would also like to see more emphasis put on programs that educate the public on good nutrition and encourage the consumption of healthy and beneficial foods, said CFBF President Doug Mosebar.
"We support programs which encourage the consumption of U.S.-produced commodities, particularly an increase in fruits, vegetables and nuts," Mosebar said. "A stronger link should be established between farm producers and consumers."
As the nation's top agricultural exporting state, California moves $10 billion worth of farm goods around the world annually, creating jobs and tax revenue for the state.
Rayne Thompson, CFBF director of international trade and plant health, said the expanded funding for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Market Access Program would provide industry groups with matching funds to promote overseas market development.
Increased funding for the Technical Assistance for Specialty Crops program is also needed to help the specialty crops sector deal with restrictive non-tariff sanitary and phytosanitary barriers, she said.
"This program has been critical over the last four years in helping the industry deal with trade inequities," Thompson said.
Joe Zanger, a San Benito County specialty crops producer and chairman of the CFBF Trade Advisory Committee, said sanitary and phytosanitary issues can be expensive and time consuming to disprove once a commodity is locked out of a foreign market.
"It's hard to turn another country around when they're saying they're not going to allow something in," he said. "To the extent that there's money available to help prove that our product should be allowed into other countries is always very helpful because there are a lot of those barriers out there."
In light of the recent introduction of the light brown apple moth into eight Northern California counties, which are now under quarantine to control further infestations of the new pest, Janet Kister, owner of Sunlet Nursery in San Diego County, said programs to snoop out foreign pests and diseases must be strengthened.
"Light brown apple moth is affecting nurseries up north, but I'm worried about it coming down here and having the whole of San Diego County being quarantined," she said. "Our borders are the first line of defense, and we've seen firsthand how things have been able to slip in, and if we don't close that entryway, it's only going to get worse."
Agricultural inspections for pests and diseases at U.S. borders had been the responsibility of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) until 2003, when they were merged into the new Department of Homeland Security.
"We had a lot of concerns when inspections were first moved under Homeland Security that they would just be looking for thugs and drugs instead of bugs, and I think that we've seen that that has come to pass," said Kister.
Norm Groot of Monrovia Nursery Co. in Los Angeles County said nursery producers are particularly concerned about new pests that come into this country because nursery stock is widely distributed and the potential for spreading exotic pests and diseases is great.
"It really becomes a burden on the nursery industry to make sure that these things are not being passed on," Groot said. "And with each exotic pest, it brings a new set of protocol, a new expense that's required. We just end up chasing the problems rather than preventing them."
Thompson said the role of APHIS is important not just for controlling pests and diseases from the movement of trade but also by what other people bring from across the borders.
"Visitors to California can bring a lot of baggage with them, including fruits, vegetables and plants, that can carry pests and diseases," she said. "Having better surveillance at our points of entry ensures that these pests and diseases are detected before they become established in California."
Thompson added, "The U.S. must maintain the highest possible pest exclusion, detection and eradication programs. At no time should one program be compromised to boost another."
Farm Bureau outlines its positions on the next Farm Bill
California Farm Bureau Federation supports the following programs to be included in the next Farm Bill:
Expansion of conservation programs to benefit California's working farmlands to encourage the following:
- Reducing greenhouse gases: Many existing farm practices reduce greenhouse gases. These practices should be further encouraged with the creation of programs that foster the emergence of market opportunities for trading and reducing greenhouse gas emissions on farms and ranches.
- Improving air quality: CFBF supports mandatory new funding available to growers to meet air quality standards, as described in the Eat Healthy Foods Act.
- Excluding conservation program payments from adjusted gross income limitation to expand participation of California producers.
Expand nutritional programs that encourage better nutrition and greater consumption of all U.S.-grown products:
- Provide new mandatory funding of an additional $500 million over 10 years for the purchasing of all fruits and vegetables.
- Expansion of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's fresh fruit and vegetable snack program to be expanded to 100 schools in each state.
Implement mandatory COOL: Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) provides consumers with the tools and resources to make informed purchasing decisions about where their food is grown.
Expand energy resource opportunities that utilize agricultural byproducts:
- $1.6 billion for research and further development of cellulosic biofuels and biomethane, focusing on regional feedstock supplies.
Strengthen pest and disease exclusion programs: The authority for pest and disease exclusion and detection programs at U.S. points of entry should be restored to USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, instead of maintaining it under the Department of Homeland Security. In addition, authority should be given to the secretary of food and agriculture to access Community Credit Corporation funds for emergency eradication programs.
Increase trade promotion and development: Increase funding for the Market Access Program to $325 million and programs that allow California producers to tackle unfair non-tariff trade barriers.
Maintain the current planting prohibition: CFBF supports this long-standing Farm Bill provision as a fundamental matter of equity among farmers. As long as some farmers receive federal payments, they should not be allowed to plant fruits and vegetables on that program acreage.
Maintain the current level of payment limits: California farmers are often targeted with restrictive payment limits, but with higher land values, greater economies of scale and higher production costs, California should not be penalized when arbitrary limits are set.
Increase research funding to focus on new technologies and mechanization for crops:
- Creation of the Specialty Crops and Policy Research Institute.
- Mandatory funding of $2.3 million for four USDA-Agricultural Research Service scientists in California to specialize in water/air quality issues as they relate to dairy and forage production.
(Ching Lee is a reporter for Ag Alert. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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