The February ARA (Agricultural Retailers Association) Board Meeting in Washington, D.C., allowed for a large number of government and association representatives to speak before the Public Policy Committee and the entire board.
The meeting provided the opportunity for the ARA Legislator of the Year awards to be presented to two members of Congress as well as checks to be given to Washington-area representatives of the 4-H and FFA.
Board members also made “hill” visits to talk with members of Congress or their staff agricultural leads.
The legislators of the year awards were presented to Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) and Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-Ohio). Each has provided strong legislative efforts for ARA-supported acts limiting agency overreach.
It was noted that Johanns has been supportive of ARA positions on many Department of Agriculture and legislative actions throughout his career as secretary of agriculture, governor of Nebraska and now as a senator. He serves on five senate committees including the Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee. Johanns said in accepting his award, “I believe in the future of agriculture…We simply over regulate this business.”
Gibson is a first-term representative who serves on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the Agriculture Committee. He chairs the subcommittee of Water Resources and Environment.
Gibson provided his own example of trying to limit regulation. He said, “I think that H.R. 872 is important.” The act came out of his subcommittee and passed the House to limit the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permitting requirements. It would help keep the agency from expanding Clean Water Act oversight.
In the Public Policy Committee, legislation such as H.R. 872 was discussed as part of ARA’s staff report on a wide list of issues, topics and legislation—environment and stewardship, the farm bill, sustainability, biotech, transportation, chemical security, conservation, endangered species, taxes and finance, agricultural labor and the LightSquared proposal.
The public policy priorities for ARA staff to lobby Congress were increased with more farm bill areas of concern. Aspects of the farm bill could have a huge impact on farm income if a safety net is not included in the final bill. The number one priority is preserving the crop insurance program and supporting an extension to the insured prevented planting date.
The first quest speaker during the Public Policy Committee meeting was Kent Bacus, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, who talked about transportation issues, including the association’s support of higher weight limits. He also mentioned attempts by some groups, other than the NCBA, to limit open border truck access by Mexican trucks. He also outlined NCBA’s other governmental priorities.
Wayne Honeycutt with the Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service outlined how the NRCS revises its conservation practice standards regularly and how the 590 nutrient management standard is being implemented.
“We have recently updated that standard to make sure it brings in some of the most contemporary technologies and practices available, to help us achieve our goals of improving nutrient use efficiency for crop producers so that they are not spending more than they have to, but also for our environmental clientele so that we are also protecting our water,” Honeycutt said. He also noted the Conservation Effects Assessment Program (CEAP) to quantify and measure the impacts of conservation programs.
Kellie Bray, CropLife America, provided an update on two major Endangered Species Act (ESA) lawsuits. She explained that activists are filing lawsuits using the fact that the EPA and either the National Marine Fisheries Service or the Fish and Wildlife Service are not completing a “consultative process” as required in the ESA. She noted the agency and services are approaching species protection with different mind sets.
Frank Gasperini with the National Council of Agricultural Employees spoke about the need for labor from Mexico and Latin America to meet the seasonal needs of growers, mainly for harvesting specialty crops. “If we send all the ag workers home, we’ll send their jobs with them,” he said.
He also addressed the Labor Department’s first attempt to stop farm children from assisting their families. Young farm labor isn’t recognized by the regulators as developing “the future of agriculture.” He contends, “The future of agriculture comes from all walks of life, not just farm kids.” He warned the ag retailers in the room that they cannot dare have youth around a retailer operation because the rules are too tightly written in terms of minimum distance away from storage, chemicals, equipment, etc.
A panel of three legislative committee staff and counsel provided an inside look at what is happening with legislation, mainly the farm bill. Presenting insight was Jonathan Coppess, chief counsel, Senate Agriculture Forestry and Nutrition Committee; Kevin Kramp, chief counsel, House Agriculture Committee; and Ryan McKee, professional staff, House Agriculture Committee.
Process, budget and possible timelines for writing the farm bill were major topics. Senate Agriculture Committee hearings are ending in March. “The timing is a little uncertain, to say the least, but we also think that as this year wears on, particularly as we get into the summer months, it is going to be a lot harder to get anything done. We do not want to wait,” said Coppess. “The chairwoman (Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich.) has been very clear, and Sen. Roberts has agreed as well, that this needs to be done in short order.”
It was noted that a lot of work has already been done because of having to submit budget cuts to the Joint Committee last year. Krump said the ag committees are possibly “the last bastion of bipartisonship in the city,” and committee members are standing together to protect agriculture as much as possible.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and National Personal Protective Technology Laboratory (NPPTL) functions were explained by Kim Faulkner, Ph.D.
She explained that NIOSH and the laboratories are “leading providers of quality, relevant and timely personal protective technology research, training and evaluations.”
Faulkner emphasized that NIOSH is not an enforcement agency, but the institute is conducting a program to identify why ag workers and applicators are not following personal protective equipment guidelines and what can be done about the situation. It is logical to expect some regulatory changes could occur following a final NIOSH report.
The final outside presenters to the Public Policy Committee came from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)—Adrienne Corson and Bill Delbagno, who work with the Weapons of Mass Destruction Directorate (WMDD) and Chemical Countermeasures Unit (CCU).
It was explained that there are 56 field offices of the FBI and each of them has a Weapons of Mass Destruction Coordinator. The FBI wants to “facilitate establishment of communications” between the agricultural and chemical industry and the WMD coordinators in the field. As part of this goal, the FBI is conducting regional Chemical Industry Outreach Days across the nation.
Educating workers to identify suspicious activity is a major part of outreach. The FBI is enhancing education materials and programs so suspicious activity is identified and reported.
“There is no secret that the government is paying very close attention to what is going on with ammonium nitrate, and because of that, we are seeing a lot of domestic terrorists going away from those (more obvious) things,” said Corson.
The last outside presenter was actually done via a video/teleconference and was done before the entire board. Bernard Engle, Ph.D., Purdue University, explained the Driftwatch program that the university launched in Indiana in 2009 and that had expanded to Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota in 2011.
Driftwatch is a voluntary Web-site based program for growers to register the location of their pesticide sensitive crops via a Google map program. Pesticide applicators (private or commercial) can see the specific crop fields so that more stewardship can be accomplished to avoid crop damage from off-target pesticides.
The program allows viewers to see a statewide map and zoom into local field maps and boundaries. Once a grower places a sensitive field map onto the site, it has to be approved by the Web-site data steward. And registered applicators in the region of the sensitive crop can sign up for e-mail alerts.
Engel quoted the results of Red Gold Tomato growers using the site. They saw a 90 percent reduction in incidents of crop damage compared to the year before Driftwatch launched.
There were several questions from board members relating to whether Driftwatch “could raise the standard of care” or “transfer additional liability to applicators.”
Because of pesticide manufacturers and ag retailers concerns, Engel admitted that the program is being assessed for a name change as the organizers and administrators look at spreading the Web-based program to all states of the contiguous U.S.
And finally, in special ceremonies near the end of the board meeting, checks were presented to both the 4-H Council and the FFA Foundation. The money was donated based on the selection of persons completing the recent ARA membership survey. The 4-H Council received a check for $420, and the FFA Foundation received a check for $1,015.