Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Senator Crapo OP-ED on the Farm Bill


FARM BILL:  SUPPORTING IDAHO AGRICULTURE AND FOREST INDUSTRIES

Guest column submitted by U.S. Senator Mike Crapo


I joined a bipartisan majority in the U.S. Senate and voted to approve the House-passed Agricultural Act of 2014 conference report, known as the Farm Bill.  All four members of the Idaho Congressional Delegation voted to support the final agreement.  This legislation is imperfect, as it could have better addressed spending concerns and costly permitting, labeling and inspection requirements.  However, overall, the legislation will reduce the deficit and help Idaho’s agriculture and forest industries continue to provide a safe and abundant food supply and forest products.

The Farm Bill consolidates conservation programs, slashes $23 billion in federal spending by ending direct payments and streamlines other duplicative federal programs.   Unfortunately, an opportunity was missed to enact more reforms that extend to the bottom-line spending.  Agriculture producers have made sacrifices that will lower spending, but the nutrition title, which comprises approximately three quarters of the bill’s price tag, should have received more scrutiny. 

The conference report also kept intact redundant permitting requirements relating to aquatic pesticides; costly and burdensome country-of-origin labeling requirements; and the duplicative U.S. Department of Agriculture’s catfish inspection program, which the Government Accountability Office singled out as a high risk for waste, fraud and abuse.  I am concerned that Idaho producers may face unprecedented costs and international trade retaliations as a result of these provisions.

While far from perfect, this bill offers much-needed reforms to strengthen risk management tools and is a far-cry from the status quo.  I worked with the leadership of the conference committee and numerous other colleagues to include provisions essential to Idaho in the final version:

  • Keeping the U.S. sugar program intact to give sugar growers the tools needed to combat trade-distorting subsidies that other nations implement for otherwise uncompetitive industries;

  • Modernizing the U.S. dairy industry to provide sound risk management tools to balance supply and demand;

  • Urging committee leadership to preserve the inclusion of a provision that will create a five-year pilot program to promote the use of pulse crops—dry beans, dry peas, lentils and chickpeas—in school lunch programs.  The bill finally authorizes the Pulse Health Initiative that will support expanded research into the health and nutritional benefits of pulse crops;

  • Securing language I authored with Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) that reaffirms positions taken by the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Supreme Court that forest roads used for logging activities will not be threatened by Clean Water Act litigation over water discharge permits as initially intended by Congress;

  • Maintaining stewardship contracting authority, which provides another tool for federal land managers to carryout important forest stewardship projects and avoid costly and time-consuming lawsuits;

  • Obtaining the inclusion of Good Neighbor authority, which would expand the federal government’s authority to partner with state foresters on restoration projects, including bark beetle treatments, across state-federal boundaries;

  • Working to streamline permitting requirements for projects to improve the health of our forests while meeting several restrictions;

  • And, leading a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers from western states in calling for the Payments in Lieu of Taxes, or PILT, program to be reauthorized for one year using savings in the bill to offset the cost. 

Thanks to the hard work of the forest and timber industry along with farmers and ranchers, Idaho products are growing in importance throughout the Pacific Northwest and competing in a global economy.  The importance of the Farm Bill to Idaho cannot be overstated.  But, even with its passage, we must continue to find ways to implement further market-based reforms that create an environment for growth, eliminate unnecessary obstacles for producers and continue to reduce the budget deficit.

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