Livestock Producers and Agricultural Policy
Tuesday, March 3, 2015
The continuous focus on fiscal cliff issues and farm bill deliberations in Washington has most of the agricultural policy attention focused on pending farm program changes and the role of the federal farm income safety net. Yet, for a large sector of U.S. agriculture, the policy watch is not so much on what to fight for in the proposed farm bill on Capitol Hill, but what to fight against from almost every other direction in Washington.
The livestock sector is expected to generate nearly 40% of the total value of agricultural production in 2013, substantially more than the 31% of the crop sector predominantly participating in federal farm programs. While the farm bill provides a regular platform for the crop sector to discuss farm policy that can benefit crop producers, the livestock sector—other than dairy—primarily focuses on what is being done or is proposed to be done to producers. In recent weeks, numerous issues showed up on that list.
Budget sequestration and threatened furloughs of meat inspectors could have caused major disruptions in meat production, with resulting impacts on both producers and consumers. However, after substantial feedback and public concern, an amendment attached to the FY2014 Continuing Resolution gave USDA the flexibility it says it needed to reallocate funding and avoid meat inspector furloughs.
Another policy development with the potential for major impacts on the livestock sector concerns country-of-origin labeling (COOL) regulations. Following a WTO ruling against U.S. COOL rules, USDA has proposed modifying streamlined labeling guidelines that were implemented in response to compromise legislation in the 2008 Farm Bill. Instead of reducing the COOL provisions further to appease the WTO, the proposed rules suggest a return to the framework first outlined in the 2002 Farm Bill with stringent traceability, segregation and labeling provisions. USDA argues that these new rules will be compliant with WTO. However, the rules will also be much more expensive to implement given the increased segregation and recordkeeping that will be required in the production and processing sectors.
Actions by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are also a concern to livestock producers, with proposed or rumored regulations on animal waste, nutrient management, water quality, dust abatement and air quality. In addition, producers are questioning the process by which EPA collected data on animal feeding operations ostensibly as part of a proposed but later abandoned rule, and then publically released that data in response to a Freedom of Information Act request. The incident has further eroded what little goodwill may have existed between producers and EPA.
One of the items on the policy list for livestock producers is actually an issue where government action is desired—namely providing funding for disaster assistance. Some limited emergency assistance programs exist, such as loans and CRP haying/grazing. However, the primary livestock disaster assistance programs for death losses, forage losses and other disaster losses expired in 2011, just as the 2012 drought set in over most of the country. These programs were reauthorized in the fiscal cliff tax legislation but were not funded and remain in limbo, even as Hurricane Sandy disaster assistance was passed through Congress earlier this year.
This incomplete list of policy issues illustrates that the livestock sector needs to pay close attention to policy developments in Washington—not just programs to support the sector, but actions that could impact the sector’s ability to produce for both U.S. and global markets.