Senate advances livestock, grain reauthorization bill

Senate advances livestock, grain reauthorization bill

Livestock mandatory reporting and U.S. Grains Standards Act could see passage ahead of Sept. 30 expiration.

During a business meeting Thursday morning, the Senate Agriculture Committee advanced reauthorization bills for livestock mandatory reporting and the U.S. Grains Standards Act, both of which are set to expire at the end of the month. Once the full Senate advances the bill, it will be sent back to the House for a vote which is expected ahead of the Sept. 30 expiration.

Official grain inspection and weighing services at the Port of Vancouver, Wash., were disrupted in 2014 when the Washington State Department of Agriculture delegated by Federal Grain Inspection Service (FGIS) to perform the service periodically and frequently declined to provide the service during a labor negotiation. Current law already requires USDA to step in and provide the service in such situations, but the department failed to do so. The U.S. Grains Standards Act reauthorization bill includes specific language that establishes transparent disruption notification and reporting requirements to Congress if and when FGIS is unable to immediately restore official inspection service. Source: Port of Vancouver

The Agriculture Reauthorizations Act of 2015 consists of three titles, including H.R. 2051 – the Livestock Mandatory Reporting Act of 2015, H.R. 2394 - National Forest Foundation Act Reauthorization, and H.R. 2088 – U.S. Grain Standards Act Reauthorization.  Earlier this year, the House of Representatives approved these bills by voice vote on the suspension calendar and the Senate also marked up its U.S. Grains Act version (read more here).

Senate Agriculture Committee chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said the proposal modifies bipartisan and bicameral agreements as well as packages them into one legislative vehicle. The Congressional Budget Office reviewed the proposal and determined it “would have no impact on direct spending or revenue,” Roberts noted.

Title one includes Livestock Mandatory Price Reporting requires packers to inform the Department of Agriculture of the prices they pay livestock producers for cattle, hogs and lambs, and the prices they receive for wholesale meat cuts. The Department then publishes an array of reports that detail the sale transactions occurring between livestock producers and meat packers.  

Similar to a bill (H.R. 2051) passed by the House in early June, the Senate agriculture panel-approved measure includes new provisions sought by the U.S. pork industry, the National Pork Producers Council said. One would add a new “Negotiated-Formula” price category to better reflect the total number of hogs negotiated each day regardless of how buyers and sellers arrive at the prices. Another provision would require that pigs sold after 1:30 p.m. be included in the next morning’s price report.

NPPC and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Assn. did express disappointment though that the Senate version did not include language that the House’s version did to amend the definition of “reporting day” to ensure that price reports are available during government shutdowns or emergency furloughs of federal employees.

Grain standards

On the grain section, the committee updated a similar bill approved earlier this summer by the committee that contains compromise language worked out with the House Agriculture Committee that is expected to smooth passage of the bill within the next few weeks. 

Roberts said the bill improves transparency and predictability throughout the federal grain inspection system as well as help the U.S. maintain its positive global reputation.

One of the main goals for both the House and Senate was to address shortcomings which led to intermittent disruptions in official inspection and weighing service such as what happened at the Port of Vancouver, Wash. in 2013 and 2014.

“We require the Secretary to waive inspection requirements if certain conditions are met and report to Congress on the changes made to ensure that situation does not happen again. The Department of Agriculture has a statutory obligation to inspect grain exports, and we won’t let this responsibility lapse again,” Roberts said.

The final version includes several significant reforms to Federal Grain Inspection Service (FGIS) operations and the official grain inspection system sought by the National Grain and Feed Association (NGFA) and North American Export Grain Association (NAEGA), including a requirement that USDA approve requests for waivers of the official grain inspection requirement if FGIS fails to restore official inspection service unless the disruption is caused by an emergency.

"Congress mandates that USDA has an unequivocal obligation to ensure that official grain inspection and weighing services at export elevators are provided in an uninterrupted, reliable and consistent basis," said NGFA president Randy Gordon and NAEGA president and chief executive officer Gary Martin in a joint statement.

Both the House and Senate versions included changes to the current flawed formula now used by USDA to set user fees charged to export elevators, which NGFA and NAEGA estimated will result in up to $12 million in overcharges during the current and immediately preceding fiscal years.

It also shortens the reauthorization period from the current 10 years to five years, which NGFA and NAEGA believes is “essential given the rapidly changing international marketplace and different approaches to government-based grain inspections by the United States' foreign competitors.”

Neither the House-passed bill nor the Senate Agriculture Committee's version includes language preferred by NGFA and NAEGA that would mandate that USDA utilize qualified independent third-party inspectors licensed and overseen by FGIS to perform official inspections at export facilities in the event of a disruption, something that both organizations plan to reemphasize during future reauthorizations of the law.  

The House already approved the House Agriculture Committee's version of the bill, which includes mandatory waiver authority, as well as the ability for exporters to select a different delegated state agency to perform inspections if service is disrupted. 

The second title of the legislation addresses the authority of the National Forest Foundation. The bill simply extends the entity’s authority which expired in 1997. The bill reauthorizes the authority with discretionary funding at $3 million per year, which is consistent with the funding it has received in recent years.

It is expected that the House will consider the Senate version of the bill once it is approved on the Senate floor, NGFA said in its release.

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