Sonny Perdue confirmed as next Secretary of Agriculture

Sonny Perdue, Secretary of Agriculture “The Minnesota Farm Bureau Federation (MFBF) thanks Senator Klobuchar and Senator Franken for voting for Governor Sonny Perdue’s confirmation as the next U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary of Agriculture,” said MFBF President Kevin Paap. “Secretary Perdue is a needed voice for agriculture as the new administration addresses issues like trade, regulatory reform, agriculture labor and the next farm bill. We look forward to working with the new Secretary to address issues facing Minnesota farmers and ranchers.”

Secretary of Agriculture

A late-afternoon confirmation vote on Monday means Sonny Perdue is finally Donald Trump’s new Secretary of Agriculture. (photo from the washingtonpost.com)

“Now that we have our Secretary of Agriculture in place, we look forward to getting down to business to address serious issues that the Secretary has committed to working on as well as filling other key roles in the U.S. Department of Agriculture,” said Paap.

 

Minnesota Farm Bureau – Farmers ● Families ● Food is comprised of 78 local Farm Bureau associations across Minnesota. Members make their views known to political leaders, state government officials, special interest groups and the general public. Programs for young farmers and ranchers develop leadership skills and improve farm management. Promotion and Education Committee members work with programs such as Ag in the Classroom and safety education for children. Join Farm Bureau today and support efforts to serve as an advocate for rural Minnesota, www.fbmn.org.

 

For more information on the Minnesota Farm Bureau log onto www.fbmn.org, www.Facebook.com/MNFarmBureau or www.Twitter.com/MNFarmBureau.

Wertish named interim president of MN Farmers Union

Interim president

Minnesota Farmers Union Vice President Gary Wertish was named in the interim President of the organization until a special election on January 21 to fill the last two years of retiring president Doug Peterson’s current term

Effective Monday January 2nd, 2017, Minnesota Farmers Union (MFU) will be led on an interim basis by Gary Wertish, who previously served as the organization’s Vice- President. Wertish, a Renville County farmer, replaces Doug Peterson who retired December 31st and served as MFU President for the past 14 years. Wertish has long been active in public farm policy and MFU, having served as the organizations Vice-President for the past 5 years.

 
“MFU is focused right now on the beginning of the Minnesota Legislative session and working with the new administration in Washington D.C., as well as our members of Congress” said Wertish, the newly named interim president. “I look forward to working with lawmakers to address health care, taxes and other issues to help our farmers, who face a challenging farm economy.”

 
Wertish will serve as interim president until a special election will be held Saturday January 21st, 2017 at the Minnesota Farmers Union office, where MFU County Presidents from around the state will vote on filling the remaining year on Peterson’s two year term. Wertish has filed for the Presidential election, as have Harmon Wilts, long time member and secretary of Swift County, former Senator Lyle Koenen of Chippewa County, and former Senator Vicki Jensen of Steele County.

OSHA withdraws harmful fertilizer standards

U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp today announced that fertilizer retailers in North Dakota and across the country will not have to comply with harmful standards issued last year by the Administration. The standards – which the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) must withdraw – would have applied tough, across-the-board restrictions on agricultural retailers that sell anhydrous ammonia, a common fertilizer, seriously burdening retailers and farmers.

Fertilizer

The U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that fertilizer retailers don’t have to live under new storage requirements that the Administration tried to implement without input from farmers and the agriculture industry.

In a decision issued this morning, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that the administration should have gone through a formal rulemaking process, seeking more meaningful input from farmers and fertilizer retailers. The Administration created the new standards in a July 2015 memorandum, and they became effective immediately. However, because of language Heitkamp helped include in the end-of-the-year spending bill Congress passed last December, OSHA postponed enforcement of the guidance until October 1, 2016.

“As I said yesterday at a hearing I helped lead, the administration should have listened to farmers, retailers, and rural communities before creating these standards – and today the courts agreed,” said Heitkamp. “This is a victory for rural communities whose economies rely on farmers’ accessing inputs like anhydrous ammonia fertilizer. Complying with those standards could have cost each facility up to $50,000, according to the North Dakota Department of Agriculture. More than 30 North Dakota retailers said they would have had to stop selling the fertilizer. With those huge impacts on our farmers, it was clear all along that there should have been a formal rulemaking process rather than just agency guidance with little input from those impacted.”

Fertilizer

Fall anhydrous applications aren’t that far away. The retailers that sell it don’t have to live under burdensome new regulations from OSHA, thanks to a decision on Friday from the U.S. Court of Appeals.

Just yesterday, Heitkamp pushed key administration officials for a solution on the standards, pointing out – as the court said in its decision today – that the proposed standards looked more like rulemaking than guidance. Heitkamp called on the administration to voluntarily delay enforcing the standards given the impact they would have on farmers and retailers. The new policy would have required facilities that store or transport 10,000 pounds or more of anhydrous ammonia to obtain Process Safety Management Standard documentation. If the facility could not obtain this documentation, it would have been forced to purchase new storage tanks, costing $70,000 or more.

OSHA did not choose the traditional notice-and-comment rulemaking process, which would have given retailers and farmers an opportunity for more meaningful consultation as the rule was developed, and instead issued interpretive guidance, which did not include substantial input from affected industries.

In July, Heitkamp and Sen. Deb Fischer (R-NE) introduced bipartisan legislation to stop these harmful federal standards from going into effect. It would also require the agency to abide by a formal rulemaking process when instituting a similar policy change in the future. Click here to view text of the FARM Act.

 

 

Farm Bureau Members Travel to Washington, D.C.

Twenty-seven farmers and ranchers from across Minnesota met with their members of Congress in Washington, D.C. during the Minnesota Farm Bureau Federation’s (MFBF) Farmers to Washington, D.C. trip September 15-19.

Participants met with Senators Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken; members of Congress Tim Walz, Erik Paulsen, Keith Ellison, Tom Emmer, Collin Peterson and Rick Nolan; and staff members from the offices of John Kline and Betty McCollum.

Minnesota Farm Bureau Federation

Minnesota Farm Bureau YF&R Members took time out from meetings with elected officials in DC to chat with AFBF President Bob Stallman (Photo from MN Farm Bureau FB page (facebook.com/MNFarmBureau/photos

During their meetings, Farm Bureau members discussed the role of biotechnology both in food production and food labeling, and thanked Representatives Walz, Kline, Paulsen, McCollum, Emmer and Peterson for voting for the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act which establishes a federal, voluntary GMO labeling program. The participants also urged the Congressional delegation to act quickly on extending expired tax provisions including Section 179: Small Business Expensing and bonus depreciation, discussed the effects of the Endangered Species Act and reminded them of the importance of passing a long-term transportation bill.

In addition, attendees met with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) asking for clarification on the new rule that expands the definition of “Waters of the United States” under the Clean Water Act. Farm Bureau members also discussed the Renewable Fuels Standard as EPA continues to look at volume requirements for 2014-2016. Farm Bureau supports returning the requirements to match the levels set by Congress in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007.

Minnesota Farm Bureau Federation

After meeting with the EPA to discuss the WOTUS rule, the Minnesota Farm Bureau YF&R members stopped to visit Minnesota Congressman Nolan (Photo from facebook.com/MNFarmBureau/photos)

“This experience outfits young farmers and ranchers with the tools they need to become strong advocates for agriculture and rural Minnesota,” said Miles and Sarah Kuschel, American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) Young Farmers & Ranchers (YF&R) Committee members. “It also brings politics and rulemaking to life for our Farm Bureau members and instills the importance of discussing the issues that are important to us. If we are not sharing our story, then someone else will be.”

Some of the trip attendees included AFBF YF&R Committee members, state YF&R and Promotion & Education (P&E) Committee members and YF&R contest finalists.

YF&R contest finalists earned this trip by competing in the 2014 MFBF YF&R Achievement Award and Excellence in Agriculture contests held during the MFBF Annual Meeting in November 2014 or the 2015 Discussion Meet held at the MFBF Leadership Conference in January. In addition to the Washington, D.C. trip, state contest winners receive a $500 cash prize, a trip to the AFBF YF&R national leadership conference and a trip to compete in the AFBF contests. For more information about the MFBF YF&R program, contact your county offices or visit fbmn.org.

Minnesota Farm Bureau representing Farmers • Families • Food is comprised of 78 local Farm Bureaus across Minnesota. Members make their views known to political leaders, state government officials, special interest groups and the general public. Programs for young farmers and ranchers develop leadership skills and improve farm management. Promotion and Education Committee members work with programs such as Ag in the Classroom and safety education for children. Join Farm Bureau today and support our efforts to serve as an advocate for rural Minnesota, www.fbmn.org.

For more information on the Minnesota Farm Bureau log onto www.fbmn.orgwww.Facebook.com/MNFarmBureau or www.Twitter.com/MNFarmBureau.

Proposed changes to the Beef Checkoff

Many of the major American agriculture groups came together earlier this year to sign a Memorandum of Understanding regarding a proposed change to the national beef checkoff. The discussions were contentious at times, and at least two of the groups dropped out of the discussions due to disagreements.

The discussion included more than how to raise the checkoff from 1 to 2 dollars per head sold. Several major proposals to enhance the checkoff came out of the discussions as well.

“We came to a point in the discussions where we wanted to know what else we could do to enhance the checkoff,” said National Cattlemen’s Beef Association Past President Scott George. “It took a lot of compromise across the board to get things done. We focused in on 4 main areas.”

Scott George

Scott George is a dairy farmer and beef producer from Wyoming, and he served as the President of the NCBA in 2013. (photo from BeefMagazine.com)

“If you debate a hundred different things,” said George, “you’ll never get agreement on all of them.”

The first discussion item was the biggest one, and it was how much to actually increase the checkoff.

“There were people that argued strongly that Australia is charging $5 a head on their checkoff,” said George. “Canada is charging $4 a head. These countries are competitors, and there were people in the room saying we need to collect $5 a head to compete with these folks.

“Others were saying to get back to par we need to collect $2.20,” said George, “but $2.20 is not easy for people to figure out. Let’s say you’re selling 137 head of cattle. A checkoff collector would have to multiply 137 by $2.20, and that’s not simple.”

When the group was putting the proposal together, representatives from the Livestock Marketing Association and the National Livestock Producers Association, which are both auction market associations, were involved in the process. George said they wanted to keep this process as simple as possible.

George said, “In the end, the group said let’s raise it at least a dollar. Let’s go to 2 dollars, because it’s simple and clean. Everyone can understand it. So the group compromised on the money.”

Beef cattle in Sale Ring

For each head of livestock sold, beef producers currently pay $1 per head to the national checkoff. A new proposal would change that to $2 a head, but have a refund available for producers who don’t want to pay the extra dollar. (Photo from angusbeefbulletin.com)

George said raising the checkoff amount requires an act of Congress. The group came up with an idea to make the process a little simpler.

“We proposed a change in the referendum process,” said George, “in which you can petition to change the checkoff amount in the referendum process, rather than requiring an act of Congress. So, we compromised on the dollar amount, and going forward, if in 5 to 10 years we feel like we need to raise more money, we do it through the referendum process and producers have the final say.”

George said when you talk about enhancing a program like the checkoff, there are a lot of costs that go into it. The idea of cost to producers led to talk of a refund policy.

“We decided the second dollar would be refundable,” said George. “If you don’t like it, you can get your money back. We thought of putting requirements in the agreement, like maybe they should have at least 10 cows. After all, it costs money to do a refund. Someone has to sit down, do the paperwork, and mail the money back to you. We also talked about charging producers a fee, but in the end, we said that’s not fair.”

George added, “If a person wants a refund, they should get the full amount, whether it’s a dollar for 1 head, or 10 dollars for 10 animals. A big selling point to this is we have people in Congress that don’t like checkoff programs, and the fact that constituents can get their money back for any reason might help us with Congress as well.”

He added that the initial $1 collected today would remain as it is with no refund allowed. This would maintain financial stability for the state Beef Councils and at the national level they can plan on a certain amount of money to run a program.

“In this Checkoff Enhancement Working Group,” said George, “some strongly advocated for a mandatory referendum every 5 to 7 years. But to do a referendum would cost the checkoff into the millions of dollars.

“Some members of the group strongly objected, saying they weren’t paying into the checkoff to spend millions of dollars every 5 years to see if they want to keep the program.”

The group then looked at several different checkoff programs as potential models of what they’d like to see. Currently, there are 19 different checkoffs with varied models in use.

“The checkoff that the group liked the most was the soybean system,” said George. “In the soybean model, the Secretary (of Agriculture) designates a certain time period every few years. During a certain month, the Secretary will say everyone can go to their government agency office to verify they are a producer who’s qualified to do this, and sign a petition for a referendum.

“If 10 percent of the producers sign the petition,” said George, “then the Secretary will hold a referendum.”

One of the big reasons for changing the petition process is consistency.

“There was a petition drive a few years ago,” said George, “and there were 3 different reprimand letters issued by the USDA because people were holding drawings for things like hats and boots. People were signing up thinking they were just registering for a drawing. In reality, there were signing a petition for a referendum.

“The USDA had to go back and hire an outside firm to take all these signatures that had been submitted and verify that they were producers,” said George. “When many of the people were called, they said ‘we don’t know what you’re talking about. We’ve never owned cattle in our life.’

The US Department of Ag had to verify producers knew they were signing up for a referendum when they were told it was just registering for giveaways.  (photo from commons.wikimedia.com)

The US Department of Ag had to verify producers knew they were signing up for a referendum when they were told it was just registering for giveaways. (photo from commons.wikimedia.com)

George said, “This is one of the issues we’re trying to address. By having producers go to an FSA office or Extension building, setting aside a set period of time, and having it every 5 years, we thought this would be a good compromise.”

The Checkoff will still bear the cost of the referendum, but the USDA would help bear the cost of gathering the signatures. Producers could petition for getting rid of the checkoff, or even increasing the amount of the checkoff through the process too.

George added, “If, in 5 years, during the month of January 2020, the Secretary will say the beef producers can go in, sign up, and if ten percent of them go in and say they want to increase the checkoff to $2.50 a head, they’ve then petitioned for a referendum. The process allows you to step forward for an increase, or to eliminate the program as well.”

He said this was yet another compromise in the process.

“Under our current law (the 1985 act), if 10 percent of the producers sign a petition at any time, and request a referendum,” said George, “the Secretary of Ag will hold a referendum. We thought that was a good safeguard; so let’s leave that one in there as well. So, if producers get upset with the checkoff for any reason and ten percent sign the referendum, then bang, the Secretary will have a referendum and we’ll have a vote.”

George said it was important to the Group to give the producers the final say in whether or not the checkoff will continue.

“Under this whole process, we’re talking about working through Congress to get it passed, get the President to sign it, and then get the Secretary to write the order,” said George. “But before it would be enacted, it will all have to go before the producers in a referendum. The producers need to have the final say. The Group was unanimous on that declaration. Nobody needs to force this down someone’s throat.”

The last thing the Board did was deal with some confusion over the involvement of industry groups in the checkoff.

“The checkoff benefits every cattle producer in the country,” said George. “I don’t care what segment of the industry, be it cow/calf, stocker, feeder, or dairy. I don’t care if they raise bucking bulls or roping steers. In the end, it brings value to every single segment.”

He added, “It’s not political. Just because NCBA does some of the checkoff programs, it doesn’t mean only buy cattle from NCBA members. It’s fallacy to think that. But there are other industry organizations that want to be involved.”

George said it’s important to remember that the group that has authority over the checkoff is the 20 member operating committee, which has ten Federation seats and ten Beef Council seats.

“Right now, the Beef Board has a separate nominating committee that interviews candidates for the Beef Board seats. The Federation (of state Beef Councils) has a separate nominating committee to interview candidates for their seats. So we came up with a compromise in the interview process.”

He said the Beef Board nominating committee has 7 seats, and the Federation nominating committee also has 7 seats.

“What we’re proposing is 7 additional seats be given to industry organizations that want to participate,” said George. You’ll have a 21-member nominating committee to interview candidates for the Federation and the Beef Board seats. They will have to receive a two-thirds majority vote to move that candidate forward.”

One group in particular didn’t like that suggestion, but George said there were good reasons for it.

“They said ‘we just got all the policy people kicked out of here,’” said George. “But other groups said having industry organizations sitting in the room looking at the quality of candidates and helping with the decision gives them ownership and involvement. It can’t help but educate the people about who they are interviewing and what we’re trying to accomplish with the checkoff.”

The goal of this process is to get qualified candidates for the Beef Operating Committee.

“This idea was a compromise, just like the others,” said George.