During the 93rd Annual Convention of the American Farm Bureau Federation held recently, Tennessee’s voting delegates to the event had an opportunity to help make changes in the organization’s national farm policy resolutions. In a two-to-one majority vote the delegates approved to establish a program that protects farmers from catastrophic revenue losses by using a flexible combination of fiscally responsible tools and safety nets, but no direct payments as programs have been criticized for in the past. The adopted policy calls for a farm bill that “provides strong and effective safety net and risk management programs that do not guarantee a profit and minimizes the potential for farm programs affecting production decisions.”
The farm policy discussion and vote came about during the final day of the annual meeting. It was a general consensus of the delegates that it was time for the farming community to move forward and move on to a new farm policy that will protect all producers from catastrophic occurrences. The resolution passed also allows farmers to purchase insurance products to further protect individual risk. “Delegate action against the patchwork approach recognized that it is impossible to ensure equity between diverse programs for various commodities,” American Farm Bureau President Bob Stallman said. “Without that assurance, one program would inevitably provide more government protection than the next program and we would inadvertently be encouraging producers to take their signals from government programs rather than the marketplace.
“Our delegates approved a policy that is flexible enough to work within the funding constraints we, as a nation, are facing, and the fiscal challenges we have a duty to address,” Stallman said. “Our delegates recognize we need to move beyond the policies of the past and to move toward programs to help producers deal with risk.” One of the big advantages of the new AFBF farm policy position is that it offers a much simpler approach to farm program design than other farm policy proposals, according to Stallman.
During discussion on dairy policy, delegates voted to move away from the current dairy price support and Milk Income Loss Contract programs and toward a program that bases risk protection on milk prices minus feed costs, according to AFBF. They say this takes production costs into consideration, as well as recognizes the dairy industry’s regional differences.
On the day before the business session, delegates heard Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack deliver a message on challenges facing the United States and the world while giving high praise for agriculture being responsible for one in every 12 jobs in America. He pledged to Farm Bureau members, “That USDA would continue to listen to their concerns and would work with other federal departments and agencies on regulatory issues with potential impacts on rural America, including dust and youth labor rules.” Both the dust regulation issue and youth labor rules became part of the resolutions adopted by the voting delegates. The youth labor rules proposed by the Department of Labor has raised serious concerns in farm country and the rural community sees the rules as a major regulatory overreach.
During Vilsack’s address he also announced a reallocation of USDA facilities and resources in light of the government’s budget challenges. That includes a workforce decrease of more than 7,000 employees, streamlining of services and the consolidation and closing of 250 USDA offices across the country.
Of those offices, 131 are Farm Service Agency offices, Vilsack said. Of those, 35 already had no staffing and the remainder had either one or two employees and all were within 20 miles of another FSA office capable of handling farmer and rancher clients. He expressed optimism that providing service online would become a more viable option and assured farmers and ranchers that USDA service would not be sacrificed. Of those FSA offices suggested to be closed, nine are located in Tennessee. They are in the counties of Carter, Cocke, Sevier, Anderson, Bledsoe, Bedford, Cannon, Trousdale and Humphreys. It is hoped by Farm Bureau that before the final decision is made, that local farmers will be involved in that decision and a closer look is taken at what is the typical routes traveled by farmers in those counties to complete their necessary business to make that final closing call by USDA.
Of the 369 voting delegates at the AFBF business session, Tennessee had 34 members representing the state as they deliberated the policies that could be affecting farmers in 2012 and the future.
– Pettus L. Read may be contacted by e-mail at email@example.com