Farm Bill Dominates Farm Bureau Convention Discussion

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Producers are anxiously waiting to see what will be in the finalized farm bill. The topic was of high interest at last week's American Farm Bureau Federation's 89th annual convention in New Orleans, La. Over 5,000 Farm Bureau members attended the multi-day conference and state delegates voted on 2008 policy resolutions to direct the largest farm organization in the year ahead.

Bob Stallman, American Farm Bureau Federation president, told members last week he feels 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."

Farm Bureau's priorities include an optional counter-cyclical revenue program and a permanent disaster assistance program to strengthen the safety net for farmers and ranchers. They also oppose cuts in direct payments.

The delegates approved a resolution outlining support for mandatory country-of-origin labeling (COOL), counter to its policy in past years. The mandatory COOL provision is in both versions of the farm bill.

Farm Bureau delegates unanimously approved a sense of the delegate body resolution in favor of swift enactment of a new farm bill. Delegates expressed opposition to a one- or two-year extension of the current law "because it fails to provide meaningful, long-term economic certainty."

Veto threat still stands

Chuck Conner, acting USDA secretary of agriculture, did not sugar coat his message to AFBF members at the opening session. "It would be great to tell you we are only a few steps away from passage and signing of the farm bill," he stated. "But that's just not the case. The administration has fundamental differences with Congress and the two versions today are not on a road to passage."

Conner again outlined opposition to tax increases and called for tighter payment limitations. Conner also said he did not like permanent disaster authority and instead preferred countercyclical payments.

He noted March 15 is a key date for farm policy legislation. "If Congress doesn't pass and the president signs a farm bill by that date we are required by law to put 1949 policy into effect." He added, however, that Congress could direct USDA to do something different.

Other provisions

Informa Economics vice president of policy and trade issues Jim Wiesemeyer told attendees the final bill is likely to include an extension of the Milk Income Loss Contract program, a provision to allow the interstate shipment of state-inspected meat and country-of-origin labeling.

A ban on packer ownership of livestock, which is included in the Senate version, might not make the cut, he said.

The Senate's 2007 farm bill proposal includes a provision prohibiting federal Section 1031 exchanges of non-agricultural real estate and farmland enrolled in farm subsidy programs, unless the farmland is permanently retired from key program payments. The provision would apply to farmland either sold or purchased under an exchange.

David Brown, Iowa-based vice president of the national Federation of Exchange Accommodators (FEA), warned the proposal — up for House-Senate conference approval — would seriously reduce the market value of affected ag land and "take options away from the retiring farmer" eyeing alternative investment possibilities.

FEA board member and Montana attorney Max Hansen fears the potential consequences of the Senate provision could lead to lawmakers targeting livestock, ag equipment, or other "farmer-friendly" 1031 exchanges to generate higher tax revenues.

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