Utah Farm Bureau list issues for 2013

Feb 1, 2013
by WLJ

The Utah Farm Bureau released its list of ‘Issues to Watch For in 2013’ Tuesday, Jan. 29 upon returning from the national American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) convention and at the start of the 2013 Utah general legislative session.

Though not exhaustive in scope, the list is based off the Farm Bureau’s policy book, adopted at its recent convention in November. The policy book will guide the general farm and ranch organizations public policy actions throughout the upcoming year—including the legislative session.

“It is important to note the policies advocated and defended by the Utah Farm Bureau come from the grassroots level, from actual farmers and ranchers on the ground and in the trenches— not simply from the ideas of one leader or board,” said Leland Hogan, a cattle rancher from Tooele and president of the Utah Farm Bureau Federation.

“These policies are in response to issues felt on the farm of the smallest town in Utah and through debate and deliberation, have the opportunity to make it to the American Farm Bureau and debated in the halls of Congress in Washington, D.C.”

Regulatory burdens: Ensuring that Utah’s farmers and ranchers do not face undue or over-burdensome regulations on the state and national level is an issue to watch in 2013. Current or proposed regulations that could impact the sustainability of farmers and ranchers is of great concern because it threatens the ability to make the long-term planning decisions necessary in agriculture.

In Utah, regulations of greatest concern involve air quality, the management of water rights and water quality. The legislature simply cannot allow air quality concerns of the Wasatch Front to be applied statewide, including many rural areas where air quality is not a concern. Another air quality issue involving state and federal agencies involves farm dust.

Certainty of water rights: There will be several bills dealing with water and the ability to move water from agriculture to Municipal & Industrial (M&I) uses.

Utah Farm Bureau holds firm that every transaction should take place between a willing buyer and willing seller. However, there are legislative threats that would give M&I uses priorities over decades of established western water law.

The ‘first in time, first in right’ philosophy has provided certainty in agriculture and other segments of our economy.

An available, legal and reliable labor supply: The availability of labor will continue to be an area of great concern for Utah’s farmers and ranchers. Utah and U.S. agriculture rely on the ability to get products to market quickly. For this to happen, an adequate supply of reliable and available labor is necessary.

Utah Farm Bureau recognizes the federal government’s authority in immigration matters, but feels it has neglected this important issue for too long. Farmers and ranchers are suffering under the current, ineffective policies that cause crops to sit in fields and leave livestock ranchers understaffed. However, we are hopeful state and national discussions will continue and we encourage a national policy ensuring a reliable, legal supply of workers in agriculture.

National concerns

Fiscal concerns and the 2012 farm bill: Permanent capital gains tax provisions that retain lower rates was a positive point of the recent fiscal cliff deal, as was the inclusion of enhanced expensing provisions for businesses. The measure restored the $5 million exemption level for the estate tax, which was in danger of falling to just $1 million. However, on the minus side, the top estate tax rate increased from 35 percent to 40 percent.

The 2012 farm bill remains one of the greatest concerns of farmers and ranchers. Those in agriculture know it is inevitable that changes take place with the legislation, but as changes are made, lawmakers need to make sure agriculture in Utah and in the U.S.

is protected by a flexible and sensible safety net from devastating natural and economic catastrophes that could otherwise threaten the stability of U.S. and global food supply.

“Extension of the 2008 farm bill, however, is little more than a stop-gap measure. We are glad a measure is in place for most of this year, however, but we are disappointed Congress was unable or unwilling to pass a comprehensive five-year farm bill proposal along with the fiscal cliff package,” Hogan said. “Now, it will be up to the new 113th Congress to put a new farm bill in place, and we will continue to insist on the kind of reforms that were included in the proposals approved by the Senate and the House Agriculture Committee during the 112th Congress.”

Over-regulation: While legislative proposals often receive publicity and much public attention, new regulatory requirements often represent the greatest challenge facing farmers and ranchers. Today, farmers and ranchers face some of the most daunting federal requirements ever, nearly all of them resulting from regulations interpreting or re-interpreting laws that have long been on the books. To put the issue in a broader context, one estimate has pegged annual federal regulatory costs to the U.S. economy at close to $2 trillion.

“While agriculture is a bright spot in the economy, the overall jobs picture is daunting. One reason is the incredible regulatory burden facing farms and ranches,” said Bob Stallman, a rice and cattle farmer from Texas and president of AFBF. “According to information released by the Small Business Administration, one of every three dollars earned by Americans goes to pay for or comply with federal laws and regulations. Much of this burden falls on the backs of small businesses like familyowned farms and ranches.”

With regulatory costs and impacts escalating each year, it is critical that the regulations implementing federal law reflect congressional intent, be transparent, be based on sound science and also impose the least cost necessary to accomplish the legislative purpose. Too often, federal regulations are perceived to be biased, either in the science or economics they use or in the process employed to implement the regulations. The governing federal law, the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), has not been significantly amended since its enactment in 1946—long before agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and others were even in existence. Scientific knowledge and economic data have both advanced in the decades since the APA was enacted. It is now time to update the law to ensure that the regulatory process is fair to all those affected. Farm Bureau supports legislation that would update and modernize the federal regulatory process.

As Utah Farm Bureau begins this new calendar year with the state legislative session and then follows up with the many planting, nurturing and harvesting decisions of the growing season, its public policy process will lead the way in helping government and community leaders understand the needs of a successful agriculture industry.

For further detail on priority issues, please contact the Utah Farm Bureau Federation at 801/233-3003.— WLJ