Agriculture issues impacted by the 2015 Omnibus Spending Bill


After pouring through multiple articles highlighting various aspects of the 2015 Omnibus spending bill recently passed in Washington DC, here are some of the major highlights that will be impacting agriculture in the upcoming year:

Second Beef Checkoff

The legislation would prevent Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack from implementing a new beef checkoff program, a move the secretary has been considering because of an industry impasse over making changes to the existing program. The National Cattlemen's Beef Association applauded the move. “We appreciate Congress' support of the beef checkoff program in siding with America's cattlemen and women, against the Administration's duplicate checkoff,” said NCBA spokesman Chase Adams.  

National Farmers Union (NFU) President Roger Johnson and United States Cattlemen’s Association (USCA) President Danni Beer sent a letter to the House and Senate leaders strongly objecting to the provision.  “National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) is so fearful of losing its $40 million-plus revenue stream through the beef checkoff that it has lobbied for this language to be included in the report rather than allowing producers the ability to have their comments recognized and addressed through the commenting process. NCBA has lobbied Congress on a mandatory producer checkoff program that they control.”

Country of Origin Labeling

The bill will keep the debate over country-of-origin labeling for meat a hot topic in 2015.  Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack would be directed to propose changes to the law. He must produce the proposals by May 1 or within 15 days of when the World Trade Organization's final determination of a challenge to the law by Canada or Mexico, whichever is earlier.  

The inclusion is strongly supported by the COOL Reform Coalition but “NFU and USCA are very concerned that the report language included on Country-of-Origin Labeling (COOL) could be used as an opportunity to stop the appeals process at the World Trade Organization or re-open the legislation that mandated COOL, both of which are unacceptable.” 

Sage Grouse 

The EPA will be barred from spending any money next year on rules to protect sage grouse. The bill also delays protections for the related Gunnison sage grouse of Utah and Colorado and for two subspecies of greater sage grouse in Washington, Nevada and California. Prior attempts over the past two years to block protections for grouse through stand-alone legislation failed.  BUT there’s also $15 million included for the Bureau of Land Management to conserve sage grouse habitat.  

Environmentalists immediately blasted the sage-grouse rider, though they said there are other ways to save the bird from extinction and preserve the sagebrush habitat.

Waters of the US

The funding bill would block the EPA from applying the “waters of the United States” interpretive rule, meant to clarify to farmers which agricultural practices are always allowed under the Clean Water Act. But Republicans and agriculture groups complained that it added confusion and could be read to greatly expand the EPA’s authority.  Killing the interpretive rule is the “first step in killing the massive regulatory overreach” of the WOTUS rule, said Don Parrish of the American Farm Bureau Federation.

However, the underlying “waters of the United States” proposal to redefine the EPA’s jurisdiction over water bodies like ponds and streams would be left in place, which has also received great backlash from Republicans who say that it would massively expand federal reach. The EPA plans to make it final in the spring.

Other provisions in the spending bill: 

–The ban on the slaughter of horses would continue in effect because of a prohibition, included in the bill, on USDA inspection of horse processing.

–Compensation to ranchers for livestock killed by wolves set at $1 million.  With current cattle prices, let’s hope the wolves don’t try to eat very many! 

– Increase for FSA farm loans – including $1.5 billion dollars for direct farm ownership loans and $1.3 billion for direct operating loans This funding level represents an almost tripling of recent funding levels to help alleviate the large backlog in farmers who are approved for but unable to obtain FSA loans due to lack of funding.

–Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) takes a big hit.  $402 million will be cut from the porgram over ten years,  and includes a reduction of 2.3 million CSP acres around the country. CSP rewards farmers for practices that protect natural resources, including those that improve soil quality and protect waterways. 

–No funding for the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Individual Development Account designed to help farmers in most need of financing get started in agriculture.  

–EPA will have their budget slashed by $60 million from last year to a to a total of $8.1 billion.  The cuts will result in staffing reductions, the lowest levels since 1989.

–Cow Methane:  The EPA will be prohibited from issuing any regulation “requiring the issuance of permits under title V of the Clean Air Act…for carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, water vapor, or methane emissions resulting from biological processes associated with live- stock production.”

–The Department of Agriculture's Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) would be forced to repeal some regulations affecting the livestock and poultry industry.  GIPSA would be prevented from implementing regulations on the livestock and poultry industry designed to prevent deceptive, anti-competitive and retaliatory practices against farmers and ranchers..  CLICK HERE for more information.  

–Recipients of benefits under the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program would be allowed to use their benefits to buy white potatoes.

–Chinese Chickens:  School lunch programs receiving federal funding cannot use funds made available by this act to purchase chicken processed in China.

–School Lunch Program will allow schools a waiver on buying whole grain products “if the school can demonstrate a hardship.”

MSN:  Big Spending bill covers bullets, cow farts and Chinese chickens

Billings Gazette:  Spending Bill Delays Protections for sage grouse

Sustainable Agriculture:  Final budget bill guts conservation funding and farmer protections

National Farmers Union:  NFU Strongly Objects to Anti-Family Farmer Provisions Snuck Into Appropriations Bill

Agri-Pulse:  Spending bill sets stage for battles over WOTUS, school nutrition

Washington Post:  What’s in the spending bill?  We skim it so you don’t have to

The Hill:  Spending bill would block protection efforts for at-risk bird

Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy: Farmers and eaters lose, corporate money wins in budget deal



© Northern Ag Network 2014 

Jami Howell


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