"Farmers don't care about tax breaks or closing tax loopholes. Our members care about when there will be a farm bill and what is in it," said Bob Stallman, American Farm Bureau Federation president. "Planting will begin in a few weeks in the South and farmers need to make decisions."
Stallman, a rice and cattle producer from Columbus, Texas, made his remarks Sunday as the AFBF kicked off its 89th annual convention in New Orleans, Louisiana. More than 5,000 Farm Bureau members from across the country are in attendance.
Stallman said Farm Bureau believes there is enough agreement between the House and Senate versions of the farm bill for a conference committee to come up with a compromise bill "that gets us most of what we want. All of the points are within parameters we could live with. However, even if Congress passes such a farm bill, the White House could veto the whole thing. The administration is serious about vetoing a farm bill that doesn't meet what they set out."
Just last week Stallman sent a letter to Senate and House Agriculture Committee members reiterating Farm Bureau's priorities, including an optional counter-cyclical revenue program and a permanent disaster assistance program to strengthen the safety net for farmers and ranchers. "Farm Bureau members are unequivocal about their support for maintaining full funding for marketing loans, direct payments and counter-cyclical payments to support farm income during times of low prices for the major program commodities," he said.
Although neither the House nor the Senate version of the farm bill call for cuts in direct payments, Farm Bureau continues to express strong opposition to this. "Some opponents of farm policy look at current high prices for most agricultural commodities and assume this is a 'good time' to lower government supports. It is critical to remember farm bills are written for the long-term rather than short-term. While we certainly hope the good prices we are now enjoying for most commodities continue, there is certainly no assurance this will be the case."
Other key issues delegates to the convention will address include immigration, trade, food safety, climate change, and early-out on Conservation Reserve Program acres. "We need an adequate guest worker program in this country or sooner or later production of some commodities will be moved to other countries and we'll be importing the products. "This is all a political game right now and I don't think we'll see much progress on this issue until after this year's elections," noted Stallman.
"There is always a lot going on when it comes to trade policy," said Stallman. "We are pleased we got the Peru Trade Agreement passed and signed."
According to Stallman, polls show consumer confidence in food safety is waning. "We want it to go the other way," he said. "We have to watch that measures taken greatly improve food safety and are not just paperwork that increases costs for producers."
The Farm Bureau president said he also doesn't expect much progress will be made in this election year to address climate change. "What the new administration will do remains to be seen."
Farm Bureau has no direct policy on early release of CRP acres. "We've debated appropriate levels. We don't want a lot more acres – we are about right where we are."
Delegates will meet on Tuesday and Wednesday and adopt resolutions to set Farm Bureau policy for the coming year.