President's Column

The Louisiana Farm Bureau Federation is the state’s largest general farm organization representing farmers, ranchers and rural residents. We are a private, non-profit, non-governmental agency established in 1922 to bring a voice to agricultural issues. Our weekly President's Column, started in 1975, today appears in more than 160 newspapers across Louisiana. The column provides information about farming, food prices, environmental issues and other consumer news, while addressing matters important to all of rural Louisiana.

Traffic on the Railway? Nation’s Rail Systems Need Overhaul to Keep Food Flowing

With the nation’s largest river system flowing right through our state, we often take for granted what it takes to actually ship goods around the country.

Most grain farmers here in the state get their products to market means a relatively short truck drive to a grain elevator, often at a port along the river. However, for most folks in the rest of the country, it means shipping by rail.

For the past couple of years, railways nationwide have been congested due to a multitude of issues. American Farm Bureau transportation specialist Andrew Walmsley says this congestion has made it difficult for farmers to move grain.

“Because of this large harvest that we had last year and these rail issues, farmers were getting a lower price for their goods,” Walmsley said. “Since then, we've progressed and not seen as many issues. The railroads really responded with the need for putting more trains on the rails and trying to adjust the system to handle more of the goods, and luckily we haven’t seen those issues as bad as we did last year.”

The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee held a hearing Wednesday and addressed some of these rail issues.

“It was a pretty broad discussion on the many challenges that are out there, but it’s something we think Congress needs to continue to take a look at to ensure the railroads are operating the best way that they can and that agriculture is getting the best service that they can,” Walmsley said.

He did add that steps are being taken to move forward. The railroads continue to discuss capital investment to build capacity and make improvements.

“I think there’s going to continue to be some oversight and investigation into the whole picture of what our freight rail network looks like,” Senator Thune last year introduced a Surface Transportation Board - STB - reform bill that Farm Bureau supported. We expect him to introduce similar legislation this Congress.”

Even if it doesn’t hugely impact farmers here, it’s important to continue researching this issue so that farmers and ranchers can reach their export markets as timely and efficiently as possible.

Shellfish to Finally Get National Protection Under Current Farm Bill

Shellfish producers are finally getting some protection on a national level in the new Farm Bill, a program pioneered here in Louisiana.

In 2012, Hurricane Sandy made headlines after doing damage in New York City, but the oyster beds all along the coast took a hit as well. Robert Rheault, oyster farmer and executive director of the East Coast Shellfish Grower’s Association, said they were first hit by the storm and then by the reality of how hard it was to get disaster assistance. 

“A number of my members were hit rather hard by Sandy,” Rheault said. “Many of them were shocked to find out that they couldn’t any get insurance recovered for their crops or for their facilities on land--hatcheries, boats and things like that.”

Rheault said the new farm bill does provide some coverage, but much like Louisiana row crop operators, it only covers part of the losses and may not be worth it in the long run.

“Just this year, through the farm bill that was passed recently, we’ve gotten coverage,” Rheault said.  “But it amounts to about 30 percent of their losses.”

Efforts have been underway for years to give shellfish federal specialty crop status. In Louisiana, Carolyn Falgout, an oyster producer and then-chair of the Louisiana Farm Bureau’s Oyster Advisory Committee, pushed for a federal crop insurance program that was finally established in 2009 after two years of hurricanes that were devastating to the states’ oyster beds.

“When you’re putting money to plant a crop, unless you have some protection, you kind of hesitate to put money back if you know you’re going to be wiped out in a year,” Falgout said.

Traditionally, oyster producers have had access to the Non-Insured Crop Disaster Assistance Program. The problem, though, is that it applies to crops that can easily be inventoried, such as oysters grown in cages.  However, for most producers, that’s just not a reality.

“It’s never covered us when we put our crops directly on the bottom,” he said. “It’s very challenging to do inventory on crops that are underwater. When the adjuster comes and he’s got his clipboard and his wingtips, and he says ‘what, I have to go out on a boat?’ Yeah, well, guess what? Our crops are underwater.” 

It might be possible to expand coverage for disasters through the USDA’s Risk Management Agency, using a program to help level income in the wake of a disaster. That program is one Louisiana producers have had access to.

“We can look at annual income and say if your income take a dip, then you would be eligible,” Rheault said. “That seems to be a more workable formula. This is something that RMA has set up for growers on the Gulf Coast.  In Louisiana, it’s a very successful program and we’re hoping to expand that to other states.”

American Farm Bureau Creates National Ag Agenda for 2015

Following the delegate session of the American Farm Bureau Federation’s 96th Annual Convention, which wrapped up last week in San Diego, the organization’s board of directors set AFBF’s strategic action plan to address public policy issues for 2015.

The board-approved plan focuses the organization’s attention on: advancing legislation that addresses agriculture’s long- and short-term labor needs; protecting farmers’ abilities to use biotech plant varieties and other innovative technologies; opposing expansion of federal jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act; and advancing legislation that reforms the Endangered Species Act.

“We will work to advance all the issue positions approved by our farmer and rancher delegates this week, but this plan represents those issue areas where we believe the American Farm Bureau Federation and its grassroots members have clear opportunities to achieve success at this time,” said AFBF President Bob Stallman. “These are high-stakes issues that we must advance to help safeguard our members and their abilities to operate their farms and ranches.”

Stallman said farmers and ranchers know first-hand the importance of clean water. They usually live on the land they work, and in many cases their water resources are on or near their property. He said they typically adopt new technology related to conservation and frequently those moves also enhance the performance of their businesses.

“Farm Bureau members support state-led, practical programs and they work to continually improve the environmental performance of their farms and ranches,” Stallman said. “Several recent and ongoing federal initiatives, such as the Waters of the U.S. rule, would give the federal government almost unlimited power to dictate farming practices and impose complex and costly permitting schemes, regardless of need. We will continue to work to ditch the rule.”

Stallman said AFBF recognizes that the need for agricultural labor reform is clear.

“Farmers need access to a legal, stable and reliable labor supply,” Stallman said. “America can either import our labor or import our food. We recognize the difficulty of passing meaningful immigration reform that addresses the agricultural labor crisis and border issues, but we must get this done. The recent executive action on immigration doesn’t offer a solution to increase the workforce for agriculture and we will work to secure a permanent solution through legislation.”

AFBF’s action plan also focuses on supporting agricultural biotechnology as a tool that will yield great benefits for agriculture, consumers and the environment.

“The American Farm Bureau Federation represents farmers and ranchers who use every type of agriculture production system to provide the safest food possible,” Stallman said. “Many of our members look to biotechnology as a way to increase environmental stewardship while farming more efficiently and effectively. Future innovation in this area will open up a whole new level of possibility.”

The action plan also puts a focus on reform of Endangered Species Act regulations.

“Farmers, ranchers and environmentalists agree that we must conserve and recover wildlife facing preventable extinction. But with a recovery rate of less than 2 percent, the Endangered Species Act is a failure,” Stallman said. “The ESA must be reformed to protect endangered species while allowing farmers and ranchers to use their land for food production.”

The AFBF Board approved an additional list of issues that will require diligent monitoring as they develop over the course of 2015. Those issue areas include: efforts to enhance international trade opportunities, business tax reform, farm bill implementation, the overall farm economy and energy availability and affordability.

According to Stallman, many other issues will warrant AFBF’s attention this year, and those issues will be addressed as they rise on the nation’s agenda.

“AFBF’s 2015 strategic action plan, as set by the board, is built on the dedicated efforts of our grassroots members to achieve policy goals that will benefit all of agriculture, as well as the nation’s consumers and our customers around the world,” Stallman said.

Louisiana Farm Bureau Federation seeks National Peanut Board nominees

Bastrop, LA – The Louisiana Farm Bureau Federation seeks eligible peanut producers who are interested in serving on the National Peanut Board. The Louisiana Farm Bureau Federation will hold a nominations election to select two nominees for member and two nominees for the alternate member to be submitted to the National Peanut Board. 

The Louisiana Peanut Producer Caucus will be held as follows:

Louisiana Peanut Producer Caucus
Wednesday, January 28, 2015 at 9:00 a.m.
LSU Ag Center Morehouse Parish County Agents Office
9609 Marlatt Street, Bastrop, LA
Phone: (318) 281-5741

All eligible peanut producers are encouraged to participate. Eligible peanut producers are those who are engaged in the actual production and sale of peanuts. To be eligible to be nominated, a peanut producer must own or share in the ownership of the peanut crop and have a risk of loss in the crop. Producers must have produced and sold peanuts in the last 2 years and must be able to provide records of production and sales of peanuts to validate their status as an eligible peanut producer. The National Peanut Board collects checkoff contributions from commercial U.S. peanut producers at the first point of sale and uses growers’ checkoff contributions to fund peanut research and promotion.    

Francis Victor Jordan III from Rayville, LA is the current At-Large member who serves on the National Peanut Board and Kyle Baltz from Pocahontas, Arkansas is the current alternate At-Large member. The term for the current At-Large board member and alternate expires Dec. 31, 2014.   

USDA seeks two nominees from each state for each position of member and alternate. The National Peanut Board will submit Louisiana’s slate of nominees to the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, who makes the appointments. The National Peanut Board encourages inclusion of persons of any race, color, national origin, gender, religion, age, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation and marital or family status. NPB encourages all persons who qualify as peanut producers to attend the meeting and run for nomination. It is USDA’s policy that membership on industry-government boards and committees accurately reflect the diversity of individuals served by the programs. 

About the National Peanut Board
The National Peanut Board represents all USA peanut farmers and their families. The mission of the Board is to provide USA peanut growers with a receptive and growing market for their peanuts and the information and tools for improved efficiencies. Through research and marketing initiatives the Board is finding new ways to enhance production and increase consumer demand by promoting the great taste, nutrition and culinary versatility of USA-grown peanuts.

Good Progress for Agriculture in 2014

The mid-term elections are finally over, including here in Louisiana after our primaries.

No doubt you’re as relieved as I am to see the campaign ads fade away. Now the holidays are already upon us. As we celebrate with friends and family, it’s a good time to pause, look back and give thanks for the past year. Not much sooner than the holiday dinner dishes are cleared from the table, we’ll also look to what we hope the next year will bring.

At Farm Bureau, we’re proud of the progress we’ve made so far this year, and we are eager to do even more for farmers and ranchers in the coming weeks and months.

Farm Bureau recently announced a historic agreement among agricultural technology companies and farm groups on farm data privacy and security principles. We have led in asking tough questions to ensure data remains secure as new technologies that make farming more efficient also expose farmers and ranchers to new risks. Farmers and ranchers overwhelmingly agree they should own their farm data, and Farm Bureau has played a leading role in educating them about asking the right questions before signing data sharing agreements.

Technological advancements also raise questions for consumers – questions that farmers must be willing and able to answer if we are to maintain access to biotechnology. Farm Bureau has equipped farmers with a new toolkit to help them answer consumers’ questions and dispel biotech myths, and we will be rolling out more resources to explain why agricultural innovation is important to us all.

Speaking of the recent elections, we were pleased to see that voters in Colorado and Oregon recognized that state initiatives requiring that “GMO” products be labeled as such would do more harm than good. Rather than a state-by-state or county-by-county patchwork, we support a national labeling bill introduced in Congress. Consumers have a right to know what’s in their food, but the information should be based on facts, not fear.

The EPA and Corps of Engineers also have been hard at work this year – trying to place more roadblocks on the productive use of farmland. The agencies’ Waters of the U.S. proposed rule amounts to an unprecedented land grab, as its vague and confusing language leaves plenty of loopholes for the agency to regulate most ephemeral drainage features, ditches and small wetlands on farmland and pastures, even if they are only occasionally wet. Hundreds of thousands of comments have been submitted to the public docket, many of them from landowners who joined Farm Bureau in calling for the agencies to Ditch the Rule.

Farm Bureau expects the 113th Congress to be hard at work on this and other key issues in the remaining weeks of this year. It’s time for regulatory overreach to stop standing in the way of common farming activities. We were pleased to see the House stand with farmers and ranchers by passing H.R. 5078, which would block implementation of the “WOTUS” proposed rule. Farm Bureau is urging the Senate also to act before the year ends.

Another top priority for farmers and ranchers is action on several important tax provisions that expired at the end of 2013. Farmers depend on tax incentives like bonus depreciation to increase their cash flow and allow them to purchase equipment without taking on too much debt. Restoring these provisions would help boost rural economies as farmers and ranchers plan their business decisions for the next season.

In a few short weeks, Farm Bureau members from all around the nation will gather in San Diego to set the agenda for next year, while the new Congress will be just getting under way in Washington. As we look to what’s next, we can also be proud of how agriculture has united for action this year, to ensure farmers and ranchers can keep doing their work of feeding a growing world.