American Farm Bureau Government Affairs Director R.J. Layher shed light on several pressing farm issues happening in Washington last week at the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation’s annual meeting, providing updates on the farm bill, California’s Prop 12 and other legislative and regulatory challenges facing agriculture. 

Layher said the recent one-year extension of the farm bill bought some time for the House and Senate agriculture committees to continue working on the legislation, but he stressed the urgency of securing a comprehensive five-year farm bill in early 2024. 

Passing any legislation will be­come more difficult later in the year as the presidential election cycle approaches, he pointed out.

“We were happy to have that extension because it gave certainty to our producers, certainty that the programs that they utilize would be available to them, but going forward we want to make sure that we’ve got a five-year farm bill that meets the needs of our members,” he said. 

“We’re going to keep the foot on the gas to make sure that we get it done in a timely fashion so that we don’t have to go through this whole process all over again.”

He underlined Farm Bureau’s commitment to ensure that the bill meets the diverse needs of its members and is completed in a timely manner to avert future uncertainties.

Estimates from the Congressional Budget Office project the farm bill to be the most expensive in history, potentially reaching $1.3 trillion to $1.5 trillion, Layher noted. 

Key priorities for Farm Bureau include ensuring the viability of crop insurance and other risk management tools, and securing funding for working lands programs such as EQIP and CSP.

Layher also highlighted the importance of maintaining the integration of nutrition and farm programs and ensuring the farm bill remains a bipartisan effort.

“We want a farm bill done that works for producers and keeps together with nutrition programs. If it splits apart, it’s going to fail,” he said. “We need to have that that urban and rural coalition -- making sure that rural members understand the needs of urban members and urban members understand the needs of rural members and their constituents. At the end of the day, you can’t pass it with one party votes. It has to be bipartisan.”

Farm-state lawmakers are also working a legislative fix to quell state efforts, like California’s Prop 12 or Massachusetts Question 3, that attempt to mandate how livestock or other products are grown or produced in other states. 

Prop 12, which prohibits the sale of meat and eggs not produced according to the state’s requirements, took effect in California on July 1 but there are still a number of questions regarding how farmers and retailers ca obtain certification proving their products are compliant, Layher said.

“There are more questions than answers,” he said. “The one thing we need to be very certain of is we need to make sure farmers do have some right to privacy.”

He expressed concerns about a patchwork of state regulations affecting agriculture, underscoring the need for a national solution to prevent uncertainty and increased costs for farmers and consumers alike. One potential solution is the EATS Act, short for Ending Agriculture Trade Suppression, which would preserve states’ authority to regulate agriculture within their own borders.

“Right now, (Prop 12) primarily affects hogs, but if it’s allowed to stand, it could spill over into dairy, beef, poultry, etc. It has the opportunity to be very detrimental to the livestock industry here in the United States and in Iowa,” Layher said. 

Farm Bureau is also watching a number of regulatory issues at the USDA and Environmental Protection Agency, Layher said. They include:

-Proposed changes to the Packers and Stockyards Act to increase competition and transparency in livestock markets. Final rules are expected sometime next year.

-A proposal to begin accepting beef imports from Paraguay, which raises concerns about livestock diseases.  

-The EPA’s implementation of a revised Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule, which continues the agency’s efforts to expand its jurisdiction.

-Proposed pesticide and Endangered Species Act regulations that could restrict access to important crop protection tools.

Lair emphasized the need for Farm Bureau to remain vigilant in navigating the challenges facing American agriculture, especially given the uncertainty in Washington D.C. with narrow majorities in the House and Senate.

“Everything remains fluid right now,” he said. “Conversations are happening back and forth in both chambers, so all we can do is just wait and see, and be prepared to react in a way that best benefits our members.”