American Soybean Association Likes Omnibus Deal for COOL Repeal and MoreWed, 16 Dec 2015 19:30:31 CST
Following the release of the FY2016 Omnibus Appropriations bill on Capitol Hill on Wednesday morning, the American Soybean Association (ASA) is pointing to a series of wins for soybean farmers in the legislation.
Chief among the accomplishments for ASA in the bill is the repeal of the mandatory country of origin labeling rule, or COOL. The rule has been the subject of criticism from both ASA and the livestock industry that represents the leading consumer of U.S. soybean meal, given the significant potential of the rule to disrupt trade and lead to $1.01 billion in retaliation from Canada and Mexico following the WTO's finding that the COOL language was discriminatory.
"Soybean farmers are relieved to put COOL behind us," said ASA President Richard Wilkins, who raises both soybeans and beef cattle in southern Delaware. "This was an issue that impacted both feed grain and oilseed farmers, as well as livestock producers, and we're happy to see it come to a satisfactory conclusion that avoids retaliation from our valuable trading partners in Canada and Mexico."
The omnibus continues funding for the Market Access Program and Foreign Market Development (Cooperator) program at current levels of $200 million and $34.5 million, respectively, and additional wins for soybean farmers include increased funding to $350 million for the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), and funding for the McGovern/Dole and Food for Peace development and assistance programs.
The bill addresses conservation by maintaining the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), which also helps to fund the Regional Conservation Partnership Programs (RCPP) on which many soy-growing states are already partnering with USDA. One minor negative for ASA on the conservation front was a relatively small reduction in funding for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).
The omnibus also takes concrete steps to address the waterways infrastructure system that farmers depend on to get beans from the farm to the marketplace. Under the Energy & Water section, the omnibus provides significant increases above FY2015 and the President's 2016 budget request for waterways and ports maintenance and operations, which are priorities for ASA. Specifically, the bill increases funding for the construction, operation and maintenance of projects administered by the Army Corps of Engineers along the Mississippi River and its tributaries and provides $1.25 billion for eligible activities funded by the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund, which fulfills the agreement enacted in the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA) passed in 2014.
"Our transportation infrastructure is a significant advantage for American growers over our competitors in South America, and we are very pleased to see funding specifically designated to address the maintenance and improvement of that infrastructure," said Wilkins.
Finally, the bill sets aside dedicated funds for USDA disaster assistance programs, which will be of particular use to soybean growers affected by adverse weather events, including those growers suffering significant losses from recent flooding in the Carolinas.
Despite the overall positive nature of the bill for soybean farmers, ASA did note its disappointment that the bill failed to address to major issues for soybean growers: GMO labeling and the Waters of the U.S. rule. The bill does not include language that would have defunded the Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Water Rule, also known as the Waters of the U.S. rule.
"As a farmer in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, I've been watching this rule with a critical eye, and I am disappointed that the omnibus fails to confront it," Wilkins added. "There was an opportunity to take larger and more forceful action on what is clearly a very poorly-constructed rule, and I'm sorry that it's left undone."
The bill does not include ASA-supported language that would have provided two years of preemptive relief from a potential patchwork of state GMO labeling laws, beginning with a law in Vermont set to go into effect in July 2016.
"This was certainly a missed opportunity to act on a very important issue, both for growers and consumers alike," said Wilkins. "If allowed to move forward, the state-by-state approach to labeling will lead to significantly increased grocery costs for consumers, and production costs for farmers. We certainly hoped to address this in the omnibus, but will redouble our efforts to do so when Congress returns in January."
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