"Understanding National Government and it’s Influence on Agriculture"
Saturday, March 14th, 2009
Scribe: Lisa Blubaugh
A group of 25 of us gathered at 10:00 a.m. at the OKC airport, the other 3 are departing from Tulsa. Everyone was excited and ready to go to D.C. Everything went really smooth going through security and we found our gate in plenty of time. As we sat at the gate awaiting the arrival of our plane we saw 3 fire trucks racing to the runway, then we saw the same 3 fire trucks escorting our plane to our gate. Things weren’t looking so good. After quite a while of waiting to hear something the airlines announced that our flight was cancelled due to mechanical issues. Dr. Joe got to work immediately trying to get us an alternate plan. Finally after several hours and the help of Scott Neufeld, Mary Steichen, Brent Thompson, and Lauren Robbins (a friend of Brent’s who is a travel agent) we had a solution. At approximately 7:30 p.m. we boarded a bus headed to Dallas. After stopping for a quick bite to eat in Norman we were on our way, finally! We arrived at a Dallas hotel around 12:15 a.m. Sunday morning and after a short night’s rest (for some anyway) we prepared for a long day ahead with the 25 of us heading to D.C. on 9 different flights. The three that left from Dallas, Mechelle Hampton, Chad Selman and Annette Riherd had no travel problems and made it to D.C. just great. We were all disappointed that our Pennsylvania part of the trip was cancelled, but we were glad that Mechelle, Chad and Annette were in D.C. to help with alternate arrangements for our extra night’s stay (thanks guys!) I would like to say a very special thank-you to Dr. Joe for being so persistent and never giving up on our behalf. Despite all our group has been through in the past 14 or so hours we have shared may stories, pictures from home and a lot of fellowship, and at the end of the day our group has become so much closer from this experience. My hat is off to my classmates-you are a great group!
Sunday, March 15, 2009
Scribe: John Cothren
The day started early for some of the group. The group departed DFW on nine different flights into the Washington area. Most of the group made it in around 6 pm through various stops along the way. A last group arrived at 9:30 p.m. Once the majority of the group had arrived we all went to dinner together. This started our Washington DC experience. The 3 members of the group that traveled from Tulsa already had a lay of the land and were able to provide insights and guidance as to where to go.
After dinner we went back to the hotel and by that time the remainder of the group had arrived and we were finally all together for the first time for Seminar 6. We had a short meeting as a total group to discuss the agenda for the next day and the rest of the week.
Even though we didn’t get to visit Gettysburg on Sunday and spend the night with host families like we were scheduled, we did take advantage of great bonding time and fellowship as a class. I know we missed out on a great historical visit and the opportunity to learn about Pennsylvania agriculture and meet new friends but the class gained some valuable experiences as a result of an extra day in Washington D. C.
Monday, March 16, 2009
Scribe: Gary Kafer
Having missed flight travel on Saturday and most of the class being rerouted to Washington D.C. via nine different flights on Sunday, the scheduled home stays, tour of Hershey and Amish Farm (King Family) were canceled. However, this class is resilient and quickly planned a day touring DC.
For some it was a first encounter with the Metro and learning that you can demagnetize your card. Learning to read signs, asking questions of strangers, and roaming the big city became easier as the day went on.
The Holocaust Museum was most unforgettable to several class members. This was visited by a large group early in the day. Some went on to visit the Arlington Cemetery. Others enjoyed a walk around most of the monuments, visited the American History Museum, the Museum of Natural History, and the historical Willard Hotel (term lobbyist was first used) where we could have stayed for $587/night. Throughout the day small groups were encountered around The National Mall.
The evening meal was free to do what you wanted. The larger group enjoyed a Morocco restaurant and belly dancers.
Tuesday, March 17, 2009 a.m.
Scribe: Charles Rohla
The morning started with a brisk walk from the hotel to the metro-train station. We accomplished our first task of all 28 of us getting on the train together and successfully getting off the Metro together on the first try. After leaving the metro-train, we traveled a couple of blocks to the USDA/Whitten Building. Once inside, we had our first experience as a group going through security.
The first speaker was Martin O’Connor (Chief, Standards, Analysis and Technology Branch Livestock and Seed Program, AMS, USDA), spoke to us about COOL (County of Origin Labeling). We learned that the purpose of COOL is to provide consumers with additional information on which they base their purchasing decisions and to ensure the public receives credible and accurate information on country of origin of covered commodities. The 2002 Farm Bill enacted mandatory COOL on fish and shellfish, which started labeling in 2004. The 2008 Farm Bill amended COOL provisions and became effective March 16, 2009. All commodities covered under COOL are to be labeled. Commodities that fall under COOL are muscle cuts and ground beef (including veal), lamb and pork, fish and shellfish, perishable agricultural commodities (fruits and vegetables) and peanuts. Also covered are muscle cuts and ground chicken and goat, pecans and macadamia nuts and ginseng. The law does exclude processed food items (ex. Cooked, cured, smoked or restructured food, or food combined with another food component). Labeling can state “Product of the US”, or if the product is from multiple origins it may state “Product of US, Canada and Mexico.” Retailers are responsible for the labeling. Labeling does not have a standard format the only regulation is that it must appear on the package or product. Daniel Skipper asked Mr. O’Conner questions concerning how the program would affect producers and if producers would receive a premium for the extra paperwork that will be required for large producers. Mr. O’Conner stated that there should be a premium once consumers start consuming products of the US. There were several other questions asked about the program and how it would benefit producers.
Next, Dr. Joe introduced the class to Dr. Keith Scarce, who was the OALP director for Class 1. Dr. Scarce shared a couple of stories from his time as director.
The next speaker was Dr. Joe Glauber (Chief Economist, USDA) who spoke to the class about ‘Implications of Agriculture of Changes in the Global Economy.’ He also visited a little about energy since his co-worker Harry Baumes was unable to meet with us due to transportation issues. Dr. Glauber shared with us his vision of farm economics for the coming years. He expects a decline in wheat acreage to approximately 5 million acres and anticipates corn acreage to be steady at 82-86 million acres. Corn prices follow oil prices, and he felt that prices would rebound a little but not to the level that they were last year. He expects cotton to continue to decline. He explained that the way cotton was processed had changed because of competition overseas (2/3 were exported now compared to 1/3 in the past). Cattle margins were low due to the high input costs and would continue to be low for some time. The dairy industry in the US will start to decline which will cause an increasing in ground beef because of an increase of cull cows into the market, which will in turn hurt the beef cattle market. He said that with Australia and New Zealand back in the dairy markets that the US industry would struggle. Dr. Glauber also visited with us about crop insurance and how it worked.
Next Jessica Shahin (Associate Administrator for SNAP) spoke to us about the SNAP (formally known as the Food Stamp Program). She said that there were 15 programs that serve 1 in 5 Americans (28 million people each month). SNAP is the largest portion of the Agriculture Budget (60%). SNAP helps low-income individuals buy the food that is needed for good health and helps educate individuals on eating healthy. With the new Farm Bill, SNAP increased the minimum benefit from $10 to $14. To be eligible an individual or family has to be 130% below poverty level and a family of 4 would receive $688/month. The average time on the program is 9 months with 15% of individuals on welfare, 30% of individual are employed and over 50% of the participates are children. Mrs. Shahin said that over the last 12 months participation in the program had an increase of 4 million people each month to 31 million. The class had several questions about the program regarding who was eligible and how long they were allowed to stay in the program. She said that any able bodied adult without any dependents were allowed to be in the program for only 3 months out of every 36 months unless they worked 20 hours per month or volunteered for 20 hours. A question about illegal immigrant eligibility was asked and she said that they were not eligible for the program, however sometimes the children were eligible.
The last speaker for the morning was Dr. Skip Hyberg (Agricultural Economist, FSA) who spoke on Resource Sustainability, Environment and Conservation. Dr. Hyberg told us that FSA had 3 types of programs, technical assistance, financial assistance and conservation. His main topic was Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and how it works and the fears concerning the amount of land coming out of the program. There are currently 33.9 million acres in CRP and by October 2009 the FSA will be required to be down to 32 million acres in CRP. Texas, Oklahoma and Colorado will have approximately 1.5 million acres going out of the conservation program this year. Since a large portion of this land is located in the dust bowl area, there is a fear that if this land is farmed something of this nature could occur again. In Oklahoma, total CRP acreage is 969,000 acres. Dr. Hyberg also told us that the wetland programs will increase because of the increased benefits for wetland conservation. The FSA also has an emergency conservation program for times of drought and disasters.
After a great morning of speakers we had lunch in the Secretary’s Dining Room at the USDA building. Several of the topics from the morning was discussed over the wonderful meal that we were served.
Tuesday, March 17, 2009 p.m.
Scribe: Ryan Luter
Washington D.C. – USDA Building
Dr. Stephanie Mercier, Economist, U.S. Senate Ag Committee
Tim Taylor introduced Dr. Mercier and she began the discussion with a comparison of the 2002 and 2008 Farm Bills, including the environments in which each was developed and crafted. In 2001, government surpluses were being predicted for the next 10 years and resulted in a number of programs that allowed for spending in many of the 2002 programs. Conversely, the 2008 environment saw a deteriorating economy, anticipated government deficits, and significant reductions in spending.
Dr. Mercier said that most producers were very pleased with the last Farm Bill and wanted only minor tweaking of the 2002 Bill structure. Some groups did request the recognition of minor crops and some program rebalancing. The National Corn Growers Association did desire subsidy changes and they are largely responsible for the new ACRE program in the ’08 Farm Bill.
From 1950 to 2000, counties across the country with agricultural revenues exceeding 20% of the commerce have been pushed from the coasts toward the plains. Presently, more than half of America’s congressional districts (221/435) had fewer than 1500 farms in the district. With producers having a smaller voice, less understanding by the general public, and government pressure to reduce spending, a lot of outside interest influenced the 2008 Bill.
Fifteen titles in the 2008 Bill follow pay go rules where funding must be acquired before the programs may be implemented. ACRE is the biggest program result of the most recent Farm Bill. Corn, soybeans and wheat producers are those most likely to consider going to the ACRE program and leaving behind the old CCP program. A standing disaster program was also instituted in the Bill to help support revenue assistance, namely a livestock indemnity program and provisions for forage disaster.
The energy title aims at developing second generation biofuels. Other bill priorities included a rework of the nutrition title (Food Stamps), attention to specialty crops, and focus on conservation programs.
Dr. Mercier does not believe there is any support in Congress for Obama’s suggestion to end direct payments.
After hearing her comments, consensus in the room suggested referring to the bill as something other than the Farm Bill due to the relatively small portion agriculture actually receives. Fortunately, Mercier does not believe Ag programs will be phased out in the future. World trade has a big impact on the current Ag industry. Most notably, the opening of Asian markets and a WTO agreement would be good for the farm economy. However, a WTO agreement is unlikely.
Mr. James Alsop, Deputy Administrator of Rural Programs, USDA
Mr. Alsop discussed some of the programs in the government’s $90 billion portfolio. The programs include rural business, rural utilities, and rural housing.
The Recovery and Reinvestment Act is providing funding for new opportunities in all three areas. Rural housing has funds for guaranteed housing programs and a direct lending program. Rural utilities are also a focus that will provide assistance to improve rural broadband connections and other utility providers. The rural business funding will focus on energy, specifically funding for renewable energy sources.
The focus in the Rural Programs division will be on essential community facilities, such as healthcare (hospitals, first responders, nursing homes, assisted living centers) and public safety and service organizations (rural fire departments, jails, essential equipment, police cars, ambulances, etc.)
On the direct lending programs, loans amortized over 40 years will be available beginning April 1st. Grants are also available for the planned improvements mentioned above. More program information is available at www.rurdev.usda.gov.
Dr. Bonnie Braun, Associate Professor
Family Policy Specialist, Maryland Cooperative Extension
Dr. Braun began her discussion by officially welcoming us to the USDA and sharing that the department was established as the “people’s department” under Lincoln’s administration. She specifically shared insights to the link between agriculture, food, and nutrition. Dr. Braun educates regarding the integration to the health of the American public and its association with the food supply.
60% of the USDA budget is for food assistance. There are many nationwide food and nutrition programs.
SNAP – Food Stamps that started due to the malnutrition of soldiers coming into service after the depression.
WIC Supplemental Nutrition
Farmer’s Market (WIC and Sr. Citizens)
School Meals support
Summer Food Service
Child and Adult Care Food Program
Food Assistance for Disaster Relief
The Food and Nutrition Act of 2008 revamped the Food Stamp Act.
* This act accomplished 3 things:
A. Strengthen the agricultural economy
Help achieve fuller and more efficient use of food abundances
Provides improved levels of nutrition
SNAP was the largest increase in the Food Stamp program in 15 years with increases of $8.694M. The additional benefits for OK are expected to be $119M. Estimates indicate that $1 spent on government food stamps generates $1.73.
Supplementing nutrition for individuals that can properly benefit from the program has a big impact on agriculture. One third of money is spent on animal protein and thus child and adult health is improved by consuming higher quality foods and it results in producers and processors seeing an increase in purchases.
Food insecurity is more prevalent in rural areas as compared to urban with an estimated 13% of Oklahoma households with hunger.
Final Thought – Poor people in general receive the least amount of government support when you consider tax rebates, tax rates and other programs that middle class individuals generally receive.
Many class members requested a copy of this presentation that further details the program benefits.
Mr. Gregg Doud
NCBA Chief Economist
Gregg gave a very rousing lecture about the current situation in animal agriculture. His challenge spurred us to take action and do something about those attacking our industry.
Background note on the large table where we spent most of the day in USDA – Ronald Reagan signed a Middle East trade agreement on the table during his presidency.
Status of the beef industry:
½ of beef consumed away from home
½ of beef consumed is in the form of hamburger
Increasing value of $ is hurting beef export market
Russia was the biggest importer of meat in the world prior to oil price decline
The dairy industry is really suffering as production prices are exceeding retail prices. This will cause a surge of dairy cattle to the markets and further depress cattle prices in the short run. American cattle feeders have lost $4 billion since January 2008.
Gregg also has concerns about American protectionism where many citizens don’t place a high priority on export markets. However, 96% of U.S. potential customers of their products live outside the United States.
More important than anything else, Gregg told us that if we as an industry continue to be passive about those attacking our industry that they will soon make our decisions for us. He noted that European agricultural policy makers don’t make a move without first consulting Green Peace.
His final advice and call to action was to get up off the porch, educate yourselves about those attacking agriculture, and find out what they are doing. He vowed that we as an industry will never give in to the pressures of these organizations.
Senator James Inhofe
Senator Inhofe welcomed us into his office to visit about some of the current issues. Sen. Inhofe indicated that unfortunately few in the legislature dare to be different and stand up for what they believe is correct. He did criticize the bailout program and suggested that funds were not being used appropriately and responsibly.
Senator Inhofe serves as the chair of the Environmental and Public Works Committee in the Senate. As a result, he is very familiar with the Cap and Trade Tax regarding CO2 emissions. He argues that what may appear to be a tax decrease to producers with the use of carbon credits may in fact become a tax increase. Inhofe advisors estimate that cap and trade may result in a tax of approximately $33 per Oklahoma family each year.
Senator Inhofe is also very passionate about the global warming issue where he cites that 700 scientists who once supported Al Gore now agree that there is no scientific evidence of global warming.
Senator Inhofe briefly mentioned a number of other issues and provided a handout on the bailout. See Senator Inhofe’s website for more issues. www.inhofe.senate.gov.
Wednesday, March 18, 2009 a.m.
Scribe: Annette Riherd
We started off the day meeting in the hotel lobby at 7:15 a.m., Michael Marlow, chairperson for the morning, led us down the cold streets as we headed to the subway.
Once we left the Metro, we quickly walked to the American Farm Bureau Federation Building. We were greeted by Karen Kafer, our very own Gary Kafer’s sister.
National Dairy Council
Karen, who is with the National Dairy Council, started off with some impressive details about the program which was founded in 1915.
The US Dairy Council partners with other dairy organizations such as milkpep.org which represents the processors. Karen works on the consumption side of the program and informed us that even though three servings of dairy are needed daily, American’s are only getting about 1.8.
In order to help increase consumption they have five research centers in America that focus on either the scientific, consumer, or product side.
Changing to meet growth and demand has boost sales over the last few years. Some items added to their menu are cheese sticks, they have created cheeses to meet the Hispanic population desires, string cheeses, twist cheese, as well as using the left over whey protein.
The National Dairy Council has also started working with restaurants such as McDonalds & Burger King. In doing this they have managed to get more dairy items on the menu, which can be found in the form of milk (Chugs), yogurt, and string cheese. It was refreshing to know these items can also be found at our children’s school cafeteria as well.
The National Dairy Council has even formed a partnership with Domino’s getting them to add more cheese to their pizza’s as another attempt to get the recommended dairy into our American diets.
Our next speaker was Ralph Heimlich with the Expiration of CRP Contracts and other Environmental Issues.
In 1985 the competition to get your land to be on the CRP list wasn’t as steep as it is now. The 1990 farm bill was rated based on the environmental index, this included type of habitat on the land as well as wildlife.
There are 350 million acres of cropland in the U.S.; 30 million is pledged to the U.S. Government, with the government renting 30 million acres.
The 1930’s parent of today’s CRP lasted until the early 1970’s. As people are learning about this they are rapidly signing up to be added to the list. A lot of contracts came into the program in the late 90’s and most of them are coming out of their second term of contracts.
Sixteen-seventeen million acres came in 1996 and will all come out at the same time. They will go under the Re-enrollment or extension also known as REX.
The top twenty percent will get the opportunity to re-enroll, the next twenty percent are offered a five year contract, and the next twenty percent a four year contract and so on.
174,389 acres expire in 2009, and there are currently 1,047,031 enrolled in the program, making it a total of 17.4% enrolled.
Some questions came up as to why we are doing this. The example given is to save species that live in these areas. Such as the prairie chicken, they suffered when land was tilled up and have now been listed as a species of special attention. There are a great number more animals that are protected by this as well.
Vince Peterson, Vice-President of overseas operations with the Wheat Association, shared with us about the cooperative program with emphasis on the Oklahoma Wheat Farmers, Oklahoma Wheat Commission, & U.S. Wheat Association to name a few.
The Wheat Commission is in association with seventeen other states, and represents eighty-five percent of production.
In 1956 the wheat producers started contracting with FBD (Foreign Market Development), and in 1986 other programs arose. Some of these programs include; The Market Access Program, Quality Sample Program, and PL480.
Most money and assets are overseas but Arlington, VA remains the headquarters for this program. The Wheat Association covers the world with sixteen other foreign offices, ten regional or country offices, and seven sub-regional offices.
With the biggest customers being in the Middle East such as Turkey to East of Africa, seventy five percent of employees are permanently overseas. They have fifty seven percent foreign nationals and eighteen percent are in Washington DC.
The biggest problem they face today is that wheat crops are under attack, production is down and Mr. Peterson explained that this is a world problem it isn’t just here in the US,
with that he encouraged us to stay strong and keep producing our wheat crops.
Kay Johnson Smith is the Executive Vice President for the Animal Agriculture Alliance. Kay shared with us the challenges and opportunities facing Animal Agriculture today.
Mrs. Johnson Smith informed us that a major goal of the Animal Agriculture Alliance is to improve communications among farmers, ranchers, processors, food retailers and consumers, helping people better understand the role animal agriculture plays in providing a safe, abundant food supply to a hungry world.
The average American is now at least three generations removed from the farm and has become dependent on supermarkets and restaurants to supply almost all food needs. Kay said that today more than ever, consumers need accurate, science-based facts to better understand animal agriculture and its importance to their overall quality of life.
The alliance was founded in 1987 and was formally known as the animal industry organization. Though it is a 501C3 organization they do not lobby.
The Animal Agriculture Alliance message statement is; “With the strength of a united voice, we can better support and promote consumer confidence in the fundamental principles of responsible animal care and well-being, replacing misinformation with facts.”
Kay also pointed out that awareness is key, and asked us to join their facebook page. The page can be found by signing into facebook and typing in Faces of Ag in the search box.
After this very informative and powerful presentation we broke for lunch, which was a delicious arrangement of sandwiches.
Wednesday, March 18, 2009 p.m.
Scribe: Daniel Skipper
Our group was very lucky to have four excellent speakers from the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) speak with us after lunch. These members are a part of the AFBF Department of Economic Analysis (DEA). Speakers included Bob Young, Pat O’Brien, Megan Provost, and Cody Lyon.
Bob Young has been the Chief Economist for AFBF since 2003. Before coming to AFBF he worked for the Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute and served as an associate professor in Agricultural Economics at the University of Missouri. Mr. Young spoke to the group about the U.S. Economy and Agriculture. In order to describe the current recession the economy has seen, Mr. Young differentiated two types of recessions. The first was a cyclical recession whereas a nation begins to build excess inventories, consumers cut back on spending, but return to “normal” behavior prior to the recession. The second type of recession Mr. Young mentioned was one that he categorized as our current recession. This is a structural recession. In this, some type of major event occurs that onsets the recession, the economy begins to fundamentally work differently than before, and people’s actions are different that post recession. For example, housing has always been a sound investment for citizens and approximately 1 ½ percent of GDP growth was from home equity spending. After this recession, housing and land investments will probably not be viewed as a reserve investment as they were before. Other aspects of the recession Mr. Young mentioned were the possibility of it taking 2 ½ years to regain jobs to post recession levels, homes prices declining 20 percent nationwide (however they have been less affected in Oklahoma), retail sales dropped $40 million/month from July 2008-January 2009 (however a drastic decline in fuel prices at a retail level could contribute to half of this drop and a decline in motor vehicle sales of $10 million/month during the same time period could contribute to another 25 percent of the decline). John Cothren raised the question; will the recent stimulus package help boost the economy and GDP? Mr. Young felt that for every $1 put into the economy, the U.S. economy would see a $2 boost. He also felt that the fed has done what it can do so something else was needed to maintain the economy of the U.S.
Pat O’Brien has been an economist with the AFBF part-time since 2004. He retired from the USDA Economic Research Service after over 30 years where he did economic analysis on a multitude of subjects. Mr. O’Brien mainly focused his time with our group concentrating on agricultural labor policy issues. While agricultural labor is becoming an increasing issue in Oklahoma, he warns that it will soon become a cutting edge problem. In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s agricultural labor supply and demand was fairly balanced. As the economy began to boom, workers left rural areas in search of higher wages. Currently, the agricultural sector pays an average hourly wage and benefit equivalent of $11.50 per hour; this is two times minimum wage salary. Since agricultural labor is difficult work, the agricultural sector had to begin mechanizing, paying higher wages, and hiring illegals. Mr. O’Brien feels that the agricultural sector needs an immigrant labor program in order to survive. The difficulty in this is that an area must have a shortage of workers and must go through many channels to ensure that the introduction of immigrant labor does not depress the local workforce. In 2008, the H2A program brought 87,000 immigrant workers into the U.S.; it expects to bring in 120,000 workers in 2009. Mr. O’Brien feels that the Obama administration won’t be getting to immigration reform any time soon due to other critical issues that it faces. For the long run, we must worry about immigration reform and its effect on the productivity of the agricultural sector. Burton Harmon asked Mr. O’Brien if he sees a long term H2A type program for the agricultural processing industry. Mr. O’Brien clarified for the group that H2A workers must work on-farm and cannot work in the processing sector unless it is using products produced on-farm. While he’s unsure about the future of the possibilities for this type of program, he understands the huge need that the processing sector faces.
Megan Provost has been the Trade and Southern Crops Economist with AFBF since November 2008. She emphasizes on trade and international economic analysis. She holds her master’s degree in agricultural economics from Oklahoma State University and is currently attending law school part-time at the George Washington University Law School. Mrs. Provost spoke to the group on a number of topics. She first mentioned two main reasons why AFBF is successful in Washington. First is through their grassroots lobbying efforts. Second is by presenting statistics that the AFBF DEA finds in their studies. By presenting facts on what legislation would do lawmaker’s constituents in their home states, they are able to influence a lawmaker’s decision on a piece of legislation. Mrs. Provost briefly mentioned how the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act ACRE price guarantee prices recently released would benefit U.S. agricultural producers. She concluded by stressing the importance of the agricultural sector being proactive regarding legislation on the environment. Mary Steichen asked Mrs. Provost about the main agricultural markets for the U.S. She responded by referring to the trade policies of the NAFTA agreement and import/export markets with Canada and Mexico. Allen Entz asked Mrs. Provost about what pieces of legislation would be the most detrimental to the agricultural sector. She could immediately think of two. First regarded pesticide use being a point source polluter. This would require agricultural producers to obtain a permit to spray anything on a field, field by field. The second pointed to air pollution, dust regulation primarily. While there is no scientific evidence that points to dust as a pollutant, the EPA feels that it should be regulated. Burton Harmon asked how it could be regulated without paving all county roads. Mrs. Provost agreed and stressed her disagreement with this legislation.
Cody Lyon has been the Director of Grassroots and Policy Advocacy with the AFBF since 2005. He is responsible for political education activities, coordinating AFBF policy development and implementation programs, and administering the grassroots contact program FBACT. Mr. Lyon spoke to members about how to get involved in this political environment. He opened with the face that 12 out of 535 legislatures in Washington have a direct relation to agriculture; meanwhile staff member relationships to agriculture are not much better. There are over 40,000 registered lobbyists in Washington but Mr. Lyon shared that legislatures are most influenced by personal visits from their constituents, while in Washington or when they visit Oklahoma. Even letters telling legislatures your story and the effects that legislation will have on you personally can be influential. Most farmers and ranchers don’t speak up regarding their thoughts but they should soon consider being engaged as a cost of business. John Cothren asked Mr. Lyon if agricultural commodity specific groups should come together to have a stronger voice in Washington. Mr. Lyon saw this as a good idea but stressed the importance that they would have to have a cohesive message, which could be very difficult for different commodity groups to do. He encouraged the group to help spread the good news of agriculture so that consumers continue to have trust in healthy foods.
Following our speakers from AFBF, James Murphy, Jr., an Assistant U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) for Agricultural Affairs, spoke to the group about agricultural trade. Mr. Murphy is responsible for overseeing agricultural affairs at USTR since 1997. He first stressed his concerns regarding the multiple vacancies that still remain in the trade division and the importance of the Obama administration filling those quickly. Mr. Murphy then addressed issues concerning Doha negotiations. The major issue here is that the U.S. wants access to global markets but some nations will not negotiate until the U.S. has eliminated domestic agricultural producer supports. While it’s been discussed, the countries still say they will not open market access. There are also free trade agreements that the past administration would not approve. Mr. Murphy feels that some of the agreements may become a possibility under the current Obama administration. Another major setback for the U.S. has been trade regulations regarding biotech commodities. The European Union (EU) does not allow the importation of GMO grain commodities and beef containing added hormones. While there is no science showing these products harmful, European mindset still does not allow the products. China continues to be a huge trading country because of their acceptance of these goods however. Burton Harmon asked if you could actually test the meat for the presence of hormones. Mr. Murphy responded with the fact that hormones occur naturally in life but that the Europeans have claimed to have detected synthetic hormones in U.S. beef in the past. Allen Entz asked Mr. Murphy if he thought the world population would eventually relax its requirements on biotechnology goods. His response was positive in that they would; however he sees the EU as being the biggest hurdle because they have not experienced shortage and don’t understand the benefits of the technology. Daniel Skipper asked Mr. Murphy if the current low supplies of U.S. cattle has influenced how strong the U.S. is pushing cattle exports into new countries. Mr. Murphy said they are working to open up markets the best as possible and the market would determine how open those markets became. Mary Steichen closed our time with Mr. Murphy by asking him how they work with other countries to open trade. Mr. Murphy talked about his staff and how they are all specialized in certain areas to allow for better efficiency and communication.
To close our time in the AFBF Building, Katie Ziegler Thomas from National Farmers Union (NFU) came to speak with our group about current issues that agricultural producers are facing from the NFU standpoint. Mrs. Thomas has been with NFU for 6 years and grew up on a family farm in Minnesota. The first and most important issue Mrs. Thomas mentioned was the economy. The agricultural economy has been hit hard with high input costs and falling output costs, decisions made in the 2008 Food, Conservation, and Energy Act were somewhat mislead by the state of commodity prices and margins at that one point in time, and NFU is hoping to find a way that agricultural producers can benefits from the recently passed Economic Stimulus Package. The second issue Mrs. Thomas mentioned was rural America and the benefits of renewable energy production. The NFU believes in the benefits of the 25x25 renewable fuel initiative as long as it involves community investment instead of outside, corporate type investments. The last topic Mrs. Thomas mentioned was the carbon credit trading system. The NFU feels that this program would most benefit agricultural producers if it is implemented by the USDA, if rates are based on science, if early actors get full benefits, and producers are allowed stackable benefits. Allen Entz asked Mr. Thomas how much a no-till producer could get for selling their carbon credits. She stated that this price can be variable, mostly according to where you live, but they have been as high as $7 per metric ton of carbon but now they average close to $2 per metric ton. If a mandatory trading system is created, the rate could go as high as $30 per metric ton. Scott Neufeld asked Mrs. Thomas if NFU was in support of the new ACRE program in the 2008 Food, Conservation, and Energy Act. She said they were in support of the program but advised that producers run the numbers carefully to see if it benefits their operation.
After our time with Mrs. Thomas, the group boarded the metro to visit with Santiago Neches of the Embassy of Spain for a short briefing on Spanish agriculture and trade. He told our group about the various terrains in Spain, ranging from mountainous to semi-arid regions. Mr. Neches compared northern and southern to Boston and Texas, respectively. Spain is a parliamentary monarchy, having a king and 17 regiments with their own governments; much like state governments in the U.S. 67% of the population is urban and 15% is rural, the remaining population lives in a suburban type areas. Spain has 25 million hectares of land (62 million acres) of which close to 75% is arable cropland. Typically 20% of Spanish agricultural land must remain fallow; however this year due to drought and food shortages, this requirement will likely fall to 10%. 2,000 farms sell less than $2,000 in agricultural products. Organic farming is growing; however, most organic produce is exported to Germany, France, and Denmark. Spain imports almost all of its fuel and natural gas, typically from Russia and Africa. This overview of Spain was an exciting trip for our group and made everyone just that much more eager for the international trip ahead.
We finished off our Wednesday evening by attending the annual Oklahoma State Society gathering. This group consists of all of Oklahoma delegation that is in Washington, D.C. We were honored to hear Ryan Jackson, Chairman of the society, Senator Inhofe, Congresswoman Mary Fallin, and Congressman Frank Lucas address the group about all of the achievements that the Oklahoma delegation has made and their expectations for the future. They were each very proud of the longevity of their members in the House and Senate and their achievements of becoming ranking members of committees, especially dealing in agriculture. Many group members got the opportunity to speak to our Oklahoma Senators and Congressmen, as well as their Oklahoma staff, about current issues facing agricultural producers. Some of these conversations included viewpoints on the carbon credit trading system and its impact on the agricultural sector, agricultural labor issues and the H2A program, and the importance of the agricultural sector to get involved politically through actively voicing our opinions to our state legislatures.
Thursday, March 19, 2009
Scribe: Kent Switzer
Our class had the opportunity to meet will Bill O’Conner Thursday morning at 8:30. Our chairperson for the morning was Mr. Brent Thompson. Mr. O’Conner is involved on the House Ag Committee, has participated with the writing of the last five Farm Bills, and has been in Washington D.C. since 1979.
I appreciated Mr. O’Conner’s candor as it relates to current Farm Legislation, one could see immediately that he held no political favoritism with either party. Some of the problems Mr. O’Conner saw with the current Farm Bill, as written, were as follows:
The need to clearly define what it means to be actively engaged in farming. Mr. O’Conner is
hoping for a one year delay before those qualifications are changed.
The need to properly define the size of a farming operation by the size of acreage, not by the
gross income numbers. He believes this irrational determination to be an attack on
The need to completely overhaul the carbon credit issue as currently written. He believes this will amount to nothing more than a tax on farming and industry as well. The idea that the farming community will make a lot of money on the trading of carbon credits was a misconception. He backed this up by pointing out that our use of fuel, fertilizer, and electricity will quickly exhaust our “allotment” of carbon credits. He also expressed concern that few businesses or industries would want to stay or start up under this kind of bad policy.
In his closing remarks Mr. O’Conner did point out that regulation seems to go in cycles, where there is a period of strong tightening of policy followed by a period of relaxation. That statement was definitely encouraging to our group.
At 9:00 our group had the opportunity to visit with Congressman Frank Lucas – Republican from Cheyenne, OK. Mr. Lucas is an ’82 graduate of Oklahoma State University and was elected to the Oklahoma House of Representatives where he served for 5 ½ years. Mr. Lucas was elected to the U.S. House in 1994 and is currently serving his 9th term in Congress. He represents the 3rd District in Congress which encompasses all or part of 32 counties in the western half of Oklahoma which amounts to almost half of Oklahoma’s total land mass. Frank and his wife, Lynda have three children and one grandchild.
Mr. Lucas is currently serving as the ranking member of the House Committee on Agriculture. He was quick to point out that the Ag. Committee was unique in that it was fairly bipartisan, with most disputes relating to commodity bias or regional issues. Congressman Lucas has served long enough to see the older farm bills, which came with much governmental control (managing production) to the new farm bills which stress payments made from a market approach system.
Some of the key issues Mr. Lucas anticipates coming through the Legislature in the coming months are:
The carbon credit issue. Mr. Lucas’ view was that agriculture will ultimately be viewed as a carbon consumer by legislative bodies.
The bill supporting a ban on antibiotics for animals. Mr. Lucas obviously views this as bad policy, and will fight to defeat this bill if the wording allows it to come through the Ag. Committee.
The ban on horse slaughter. Mr. Lucas pointed out that this is not really a horse welfare issue, but an attempt by animal rights activists to get a foot in the door for other livestock issues. If it were an animal welfare issue, the people responsible would be concerned about horses currently starving to death because there is no viable alternative for aging animals. He also expressed concern that there are those who would like to take current BLM leases away from lease holders to provide acreage for horses.
He hopes to eliminate the so-called death tax on estates. Those tax laws are set to go into effect in 2011.
In closing Congressman Lucas encouraged us as knowledgeable producers to make a difference in our communities by educating the public on various agricultural issues.
Our next appointment was at 10:00 a.m. with Congressman Dan Boren – Democrat from Muskogee, OK. Mr. Boren is the U.S. Congressman for Oklahoma’s 2nd District. He was elected to the Oklahoma State House of Representatives in 1992 at the age of 29, and to the U.S. House in 2004. He is currently on the House Resources Committee, the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, as well as the Armed Services Committee.
Some of the key issues and problems Mr. Boren faces in his district include:
He is concerned about taxing the energy business into financial difficulties. He also expressed concern about the volatility of the energy markets in recent years.
Methamphetamine is a major concern of his district as well.
The economy in the 2nd District has also slowed in the past six months.
He supports his original vote on the bailout claiming without it we would be facing a 25% unemployment figure. He went on to point out that many of these “bailouts” are loans, but have been poorly implemented. He strongly supports stimulus for roads and other infrastructure projects but has questions about spending money on items such as the arts. He believes we must rein in spending, keep a close eye on inflation, and not let interest rates run up too high. He opposes the carbon tax credit idea, calling it a tax on working people. He believes that natural gas would be an excellent transition fuel for the U.S. He believes the current ban on slaughtering of horses to be bad policy.
As a target of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) he also encouraged us to inform and educate our local communities about this organization.
Our last stop Thursday morning was a tour of the U.S. Capitol. We met in Emancipation Hall to receive our tickets. After receiving our tickets we then moved into a theater and watched a short film on the history and significance of the Capitol building. Construction on the Capitol began in 1793, over the course of years it has been built, burnt, rebuilt, extended, and restored. The Capitol has a floor area equal to over 16 acres. It has housed the Senate and House of Representatives for more than two centuries. The Capitol is divided with the House of Reps. on the South and the Senate on the North. The formation of the Senate and Representative idea has been called the Great Compromise. The Senate, so all states have equal representation, and the House to fairly represent the states based upon population.
We were then taken into the Capitol Rotunda. The Rotunda is a beautiful oval shaped room designed to be the physical and symbolic heart of the Capitol. It is 96 feet in diameter, and 180 feet in height. It was four doors on the four “sides” of the Rotunda representing the four directions. The Rotunda is used for important ceremonial events authorized by both the House and Senate. An example of such an event would lying in state by a former president or lying in honor by a significant citizen.
We then had opportunity to go into Statuary Hall, which used to be the meeting hall for the House
of Representatives. Our guide gave us an impressive demonstration of the acoustics in this hall by going to the other side and speaking in a normal tone, we could hear her voice from across the very noisy and busy room. The Capitol rooms we visited were all decorated with statues and paintings depicting significant people or events in our nation’s history. The Capitol as it stands today is truly a monument to the American people and our system of government.
Friday, March 20, 2009
Scribe: Scott Neufeld
Our day started with a gathering in the lobby of the Holiday Inn Central Lobby to have a Synthesis session. We had several announcements and began our Synthesis at 8:15. Each class member shared what had impacted them over the last week in Washington. It became evident that there were several common themes as we went around the circle. The need to become involved, the strength of activist groups, the lack of education or misinformation, better understanding of how our government works, and an appreciation for the people who are working on our behalf were several of the main points. We adjourned from synthesis at 9:15 and boarded a Coach at 9:30 to transport to Reagan International Airport.
We arrived at the airport in good time and check in went smoothly. The entire class left on Northwest Flight 1641 at 11:30 to Memphis. Arrival was early there and we had lunch in the airport at Memphis. Annette, Mechelle, and Chad departed from Memphis to Tulsa on Flight 2221 at 2:30 and the rest of the class departed on Flight 2215 at 2:20 to OKC. Flights were on time and for as much trouble as we had going, the trip home was very uneventful. Much processing of the week’s activities happened in conversations during travel, but everyone was ready to be back in Oklahoma. Our flights were early arrivals back home and everyone’s luggage actually arrived as well.