Frank Lucas: No Rest for House Ag Committee Following Farm Bill PassageFri, 28 Feb 2014 12:24:33 CST
Though the bulk of the work with the 2014 Farm Bill is now behind him, Third District Oklahoma Congressman Frank Lucas said there is still more work to be done by the House Agriculture Committee which he chairs.
He visited with Radio Oklahoma Network Farm Director Ron Hays about several items that will need to be addressed in the coming months, the largest of which is the implementation of the farm bill. (You can listen to the full interview by clicking on the LISTEN BAR at the bottom of this story.) Lucas says the USDA has gotten off to a quick start in the implementation process, especially after President Barack Obama's recent focus on the California drought.
"I think they're working very hard to address the drought disaster payments, some of those that are backdated for years, trying to catch up on that. The rulemaking process to implement the two new choices in the commodity title, whether it's PLC or ARC, so that producers will be able when they sign up for the 2014 farm bill will be prepared to make their choices, I think is somewhere into the summertime.
"The bottom line is this, there are so many dramatic changes from the old direct payment-based farm bill from 2008 to the new Agricultural Act of 2014 with its choices and new option, the department is going to have to work really hard to take the law that we crafted in Congress and turn it into the rules and regs so that the software can be purchased so that the good FSA folks can be properly trained to work with all of us when we go in and begin the sign-up process at different stages throughout the spring, summer and into the fall."
Lucas said he was pleased that the President put drought relief at the top of the USDA's agenda in implementing the farm law.
"Prioritizing getting the drought dollars out the door, because those go to producers who have been hurting for some time now, I believe that was the right call, so I'm pleased with that. But once that's done, there's a whole myriad of other things in the other commodity groups that have to be addressed."
Lucas said implementation of the drought program should proceed relatively quickly because all the new farm law does is fully fund that program which was already in existence. And, he said, the program has been made permanent under the 2014 law.
The commodity title has undergone drastic changes that will require producers to make well-informed choices about how they will participate. Lucas says it is radically different than the previous system where farmers would sign up with the program and be guaranteed a certain level of support based on the historical production of their farms. That one-size-fits-all system was no longer politically tenable and the new safety net programs are more insurance-based. But, Lucas said, that shift will prove to be better for all farmers in the long run.
"By crafting choices where producers have to think through what's in their best interest and make a decision for the next five years, the safety net is dramatically more robust. Now, some will say this is a tough set of choices. I think in our part of the country, the PLC will be the overwhelming choice of producers, but not everybody. I know my friends in the Midwest believe ARC's shallow loss, crop revenue, or however you want to describe it, will be the overwhelming choice, but I suspect that there will be some folks in those regions who will take a look, a guess, a gander at the next five years market and perhaps go with the PLC. But ARC will still be the overwhelming choice in the Midwest. But every producer will have to make his or her decision. And I have faith in my neighbors and I believe our land grant institution will be putting together information as the rules and regulations are formulated to help producers make a good, solid decision."
Lucas said it will take some time for the rules to be made, for the software to be acquired and for FSA employees across the country to be trained before the land grand institutions can begin modeling various scenarios to help producers make decisions.
"I know this sounds like a cumbersome process, but understand the old direct-payments system went away and it was not possible to get it reauthorized by Congress. We had to make a change. This bold set of changes were defendable, legislatively doable. It's where we have to go. And once this challenging spring, summer and fall is done, the we'll have, hopefully, four good, solid, understandable years after that."
Now that the USDA is in the driver's seat of getting the law implemented, Lucas said Congress doesn't just walk away. He said they will be convening hearings to make sure that the intent of the law is being reflected in the rules promulgated by the USDA.
Changes were also made in the conservation title, but they were not as far-reaching as those made to commodities. Many of the programs have been combined and streamlined, but Lucas said, there were also other significant changes.
"The most dramatic change in the conservation title, of course, is reducing the number of CRP acres from 32 million to 25. That's not because we necessarily wanted less land in the Conservation Reserve Program, but the effect of ethanol and the Renewable Fuel Standard over the last five years has brought that many millions of acres out of CRP and back into production. That's just a reflection of that.
"In the EQIP program, which is, as our friends know, the cost-share program where you actually do the things on the land that matter, whether it's pastures or cropland, the bill still retains its 60-percent allocation for projects related to livestock production. That was the case in the old farm bill. And even though we consolidate the wetlands reserve program, the grasslands reserve program, and the farmland protection program, the core of those is still there. It's just going to be more flexible in how they're utilized."
Lucas said that in addition to the farm bill implementation, the House Agriculture Committee will also be riding herd on several other issues. The first of those will be language to reauthorize the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. He said there are about a dozen problems in the Dodd-Frank bill that need to be cleaned up and corrected in that reauthorization. Also on the agenda will be work on the Country of Origin Labeling issue. And he also expects work will continue, at least at the subcommittee level, on the possible impact of animal rights issues in California which threaten to affect producers all across the country.
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