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Agricultural News

Farm Bill Implementation Likely to Move Very Slowly, Wiesemeyer Says

Mon, 03 Mar 2014 17:10:41 CST

Farm Bill Implementation Likely to Move Very Slowly, Wiesemeyer Says
The Agricultural Act of 2014 is an incredibly complex piece of legislation. While nobody expects implementation to be completed quickly, Informa Economics' Jim Wiesemeyer said implementation could take a very long time to complete. Wiesemeyer is the senior vice president of Informa's Washington bureau and was the keynote speaker last week at the 2014 Oklahoma Pork Congress in Midwest City.

"I was told that when the USDA recently held their internal meeting on farm bill implementation they identified over 600 decision-making topics-and you know government, that's later rather than sooner."

And, he said, that's just the tip of the iceberg.

"That's why I think ag secretary Vilsack said that sign-up for the farmer safety net could go into 2015. If that's not a farmer-friendly sign-up, I've never seen one because farmers will be able to monitor the price situation throughout, maybe even half of the marketing year for the 2014 crop, definitely for wheat, and they'll know the production out of the 2014 crop. We would have had August, September and October crop-production reports. I think that that's practical, actually, because the rules-and-regulations people at USDA, it just takes a long time. Then they go out for public comment and you have to go back and issue a final rule."

In addition to that, Wiesemeyer said he was a little surprised that Congress left the key definition of what it means to be "actively engaged" in farming up to the USDA.   He said did that in an earlier administration, and, ultimately, the USDA threw up its hands in frustration. He said nailing down that definition will be as big a battle now as it was earlier because different regions of the country have very different understandings of what the term means.

As negotiations on the farm bill were drawing to a close, there were a number of animal agriculture groups who thought the bill would modify if not kill Country of Origin Labeling outright. When the conference committee report passed without that issue being addressed, several beef industry groups were incensed and said they felt they had been betrayed by Senator Debbie Stabenow. Wiesemeyer said those groups unfairly targeted the Senator.

"I would point the finger right back at the meat industry groups. They fractured near the end. And in any major omnibus bill-the farm bill is one of them-you better hold together. They had some aberrations within their industry, maybe not at the association level, but within their individual members-which I will not name them. But once that was evident, they lost everything. They did not get any change on Country of Origin Labeling. They didn't get the Iowa lawmaker's amendment and I heard he was unwilling to give, so that's the 'my way or the highway.' Then you had the poultry marketing agreement. They struck out. And this is a classic case where the meat industry better get its act together and stay cohesive. Rather can complain against a Congresswoman or a Congressman, they should look inward because they did not have their act together at the end."

Beyond the farm bill, Wiesemeyer said there are a number of things agricultural producers need to keep a close eye on as they could definitely impact their future.

"Frankly I hope I'm wrong on this prediction, but at the end of Obama's second term he'll be known as the 'regulatory president.' They are uncorking and you have a very aggressive EPA administrator in Gina McCarthy. Not only is she an articulate spokesman, she is politically savvy, she's funny when she has to be, she from Boston, yet she's not losing sight of what she wants to do and that's the regulatory route. So, I would be on guard in the agricultural community."

He said the only way to blunt that push will be if the Republicans take the Senate in the 2014 elections or begin to exercise the power of the purse on the House side.

On the international front, the wheat, pork and beef industries are in favor of concluding Trans-Pacific Partnership trade negotiations as quickly as possible. Many of the lobbying groups are unhappy with the protectionism they believe is being shown by the Japanese and which could, ultimately, sidetrack the treaty to the detriment of their members. Once again, Wiesemeyer said, their anger may be displaced.

"Rather than railing against the Japanese, they had better rail against the majority leader, Harry Reid who has said 'Don't bring fast-track up or trade-promotion authority' because he doesn't want to pass it. You had Nancy Pelosi, the ranking member on the House side, said 'Not at this time.' President Obama, much to his credit, brought up the need for new trade agreements in his State of the Union address, but of the around 7,630 words in that address, he only used 56 words on trade. So, I don't think the focus is going to be there."

Weisemeyer said it is too early for trade groups to go on record opposing the TPP at this time because Japan may ease its stance before it is ever brought up by the Senate which is not likely to do anything soon given the leadership's position.



Ron Hays talks legislative issues with Jim Wiesemeyer from Informa Economics.
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