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Farmer-friendly farm bill implementation needed

By John Stencel

The ink has been dry for several months now on the 2002 farm bill, and USDA staffers are settling in to the arduous task of writing the rules that will govern its provisions. Just as producers lobbied for passage of the new farm bill, they need to stay informed and participate in rule-making.

Complaints have already surfaced in the area of proving program acres and yields. Following an outcry of farmers through their farm organizations, some of these regulations, specifically what data can be used in proving acreage and yields, have been expanded.

Earlier this year, Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman hinted that perhaps the mandatory country-of-origin labeling that was part of the new farm bill could be a “North American label.” Veneman recognized the high volume of Canadian beef being imported into the United States and didn’t want to offend her Canadian counterparts. Agriculture organizations, including Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, immediately responded with strong objections to labeling criteria that deviated from the “born, raised and processed” standard mandated by law. A third example of rule-making gone awry is one I learned of recently on the $150 million cattle feeding program announced in late August. Several members called me to complain of the structure of this program. Cattle producers in four states, including Colorado, can apply for a $23-dollar per head feed voucher, which can be redeemed at a list of feed stores.

One couple from Conejos County found that they were ineligible because they–like the majority of cattle producers in their area–had sent their cattle to summer in New Mexico, just a few miles south of them. Ironically, the very reason they sent them to New Mexico is because there was no feed in Colorado, yet because New Mexico is not included, rule-making vagaries have shut out southern Colorado ranchers who are pasturing cattle across the border.

As an appointed employee at USDA in Washington for a number of years, I had the opportunity to visit with rule-makers. I urged them to talk with producers before writing or at least before finalizing their rules. Unfortunately, this advice was largely ignored.

In the area of federal crop insurance, there is a need for clearer and more consistent rules. Producers need to be able to clearly know the rules going into a crop year and to have their questions asked promptly when they arise later on down the road.

Rocky Mountain Farmers Union and National Farmers Union will continue to monitor USDA rule-making. The most important factor in our ability to do this is the feedback we get from the countryside. Please continue to call, mail and e-mail us about any problems you see developing. RMFU’s phone number is 303-752-5800, or e-mail us at rmfu@rmfu.org.