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.

Farm Bureau President Duvall Talks Ag Issues

The 98th American Farm Bureau annual convention is going on this week in Phoenix, Arizona. Once a year, Farm Bureau members come together in one location to learn and talk about the future of agriculture. Farm Bureau voting delegates will also debate policy and put together the Farm Bureau policy platform on important Ag issues for the coming year.

Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall talks Ag issues

American Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall addresses reporters during a press conference at the 98th Farm Bureau annual convention in Phoenix, Arizona. (photo from oklahomafarmreport.com)

Farm Bureau President and Georgia farmer Zippy Duvall spoke to reporters on Sunday during a press conference in Phoenix, tackling several issues important to agriculture. One of the first questions dealt with the lengthy search for the next Secretary of Agriculture. Duvall wanted the candidate selected a little quicker, although he seems encouraged by the fact that the Trump team has interviewed a good number of excellent candidates. What happens if the President-elect would happen to pick someone who doesn’t have an extensive Ag background?

“At this point, I’m not worried,” Duvall said, “I have full faith in the new president picking the right person. He’s looked at many different people, a lot more than we expected him to look at. We just think he’s doing a thorough review.”

 

 

As far as the reason it’s taken so long? Duvall said he honestly isn’t sure and anything he would add is speculation. “I’m honestly not sure whether he’s had people who just weren’t interested,” Duvall said, “or whether he’s had so many good candidates he can’t really pick which one he wants.”

 

 

 

One of Trump’s main talking points in the campaign was building a wall along the southern border between the U.S. and Mexico to help control illegal immigration. A good number of those same immigrants are vital to agriculture getting its work done every year. Immigration will be one of the biggest ag issues the Farm Bureau will keep an eye on in 2017. Duvall is hoping some kind of compromise on immigration can be reached so agriculture isn’t short on labor, especially at harvest time.

 

“If you look at the increase in H2A applications over the last few years,” Duvall said, “we’ve had a tremendous increase in that area. The demand for workers is there and we also know that the American people aren’t going to do that work, otherwise, they already would have started.”

 

 

 

He adds, “We want to give them an opportunity to stay here and work. It comes down to a moral and a safety issue. Their families are here and we have to do the right thing.”

 

 

 

Trade will be another of the biggest ag issues to keep an eye on this year. One of the biggest concerns agriculture has with the incoming president is his stance against the Trans-Pacific Partnership and trade agreements in general. Duvall says after talking with the Trump team, the President-elect has a better understanding of how important trade is to agriculture.

 

“We’re really excited about the opportunity to sit down with the Trump team and talk about the workings of a trade treaty that is friendly to agriculture,” Duvall said. “My discussions with the Trump team before the election went like this: ‘we’re concerned about Mr. Trump’s opinion on trade.’ That’s what we told them. He seems to be negative on trade  and agriculture is very dependent on it for up to 30% of our income.”

 

 

 

“This won’t be the first time a new president appeared to put us (Ag) at risk,” Duvall added. “Yes, we are nervous about that (trade wars). We do want America to stand up and have a backbone, but you have to be really careful about how you do that because you could destroy our industry if you don’t do it right.”

 

He added, “We’re there at the table trying to have those conversations.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.