My View From The Country

Finally And At Last, Here Comes A Farm Bill!

In the final moments of negotiation, the mainstream agriculture groups lost their leverage, and the activist groups dictated the outcome.

The Etta James song “At Last” is a classic love song, but it sure seems appropriate for the long-awaited arrival of a federal farm bill.

The whole world agreed that we needed more certainty for farm programs, as well as for the nutritional assistance programs that are contained in the farm bill. Disaster relief for those producers severely affected by drought – as well as for those impacted more recently by extreme winter weather – has languished for over two years as Congress was stalemated on a final resolution, and the grand compromise came this week. This week, the House approved the 900+ page conference report and the Senate is expected to vote on it next week.

While the real debate has focused on the big budget items like direct crop subsidies, the dairy program and, of course, the major share of the farm bill – nutritional assistance programs, the livestock title did have many issues for cattlemen ranging from disaster assistance to mandatory country-of-original labeling (MCOOL).

Not everyone is happy with what has resulted, but at least we will finally have some sense of certainty. As expected, the cuts (yes, they are not real cuts, but cuts in spending growth), were less than the fiscal conservatives demanded and largely cosmetic in nature. As has become the norm in Washington, there were a million promises broken in the final hours of negotiations as politicians scrambled to reach the consensus that would move the measure forward.

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) is one group that saw its wishes drift to the cutting floor as the final political trading began. As result, NCBA was opposing the bill, though it is expected to pass as additional changes at this point would be problematic. Unfortunately, the issue of MCOOL wasn’t addressed, and the U.S. will soon be facing trade retaliation and World Trade Organization judgment as a result. Perhaps that is the only way they will get addressed.


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It has to be sobering to the livestock industry that its interests and concerns were largely ignored in the farm bill. The anti-trade, anti-modern agricultural groups somehow seem to garner ever-more interest than the mainstream producer groups. The livestock industry, and agriculture in general, were perhaps too pragmatic from the beginning of the farm bill discussions.

They understood that the political winds dictated some budget cuts, and they knew the focus would largely be on the nutrition elements because they dominate the budgetary constraints. Yet they went in acknowledging that times had been pretty good, and that support would be reduced. I thought the attitude by the commodity groups was admirable and realistic, but we took any bargaining chips off the table. In addition, the lack of certainty without a farm bill led to a lot of pressure to just get something passed. Thus, in the final moments, the large mainstream groups had lost their leverage, and the activist groups were able to dictate the outcome in the end.


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Discuss this Blog Entry 8

on Jan 31, 2014

More and more activist groups are calling the shots on farming and animal agriculture. They've gutted dog breeders with the help of the government using the new APHIS rules as they've tried to do for decades. That's a pretty large group involved in animal ag that are no longer able to help fight the good fight. We'll fall one by one till we are all eating grass like the French peasants before the revolution. I saw the hand writing on the wall when we got Sunstein as regulatory czar, HSUS players were brought into USDA. I shouted it from the roof tops but I was a voice crying in the wilderness.

C B Smith (not verified)
on Jan 31, 2014

Let me explain this: mainstream agriculture groups= Big packers and factory farmer groups. anti-trade and anti-modern farming groups=any independent guy trying to make a living at this on his own( the large majority of us)

Slave to the Economy (not verified)
on Jan 31, 2014

My biggest question is why is the welfare issues grouped in with the farm bill. It's its own seprerate topic of debate.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Feb 3, 2014

The reason is that farming is not important to most legislators and will continue to be less important. Even though this is not true, unless an issue that involves many more people (SNAP, etc.) is tied with the farm bill, the farm bill will become less important until it is nonexistant. We, as farmers and ranchers, are an independent lot and it galls us to have to be an "add-on", just as it galls us to even need a farm program. But your question is now answered. In short, the number and voices of agriculturalists are miniscule compared to the rest of the urban America (or even little bitty hobby farmers).

Anonymous (not verified)
on Jan 31, 2014

80% of the NCBA's operating budget comes from the beef check off. They have very few members compared to the 800,000 U.S. cattle ranchers. It was the grassroots support that kept COOL in the Farm Bill.

averageman (not verified)
on Feb 2, 2014

Tell me more about what happened since you seem to be part of the even more lightweight organization claiming to represent the best interests of American cattlemen.

Doug (not verified)
on Feb 3, 2014

This describes the farm bill perfectly
Sad to say farming on the whole is one of the least independent professions, most farmers are afraid to farm without government.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Feb 15, 2014

Farm Bill is pretty pathetic, but hope it helps those who suffered serious livestock losses due to unusual storms.

For the record......again! NCBA does NOT get money for organizational programs from the Beef Checkoff. All contracts are on a cost recovery only basis, and investigation after investigation has found no basis for claims of mis-use.

Also of record: there are over 29,000 members, and it is the largest, as well as the oldest (since 1880's or '90's, I believe)'

Claims of "packers run it" are ridiculous, too. Only cattle producer members can vote on policy issues. NCBA members have some of the smaller, as well as some of the largest, and own and manage a very large number of cattle across the nation. The recent convention broke records for attendance, AGAIN, with well over the 8,000 which broke previous records TWO YEARS AGO at Nashville. That is a good place for high numbers in attendance, with states in that part of the nation having large numbers of people with small herds of cattle.

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What's My View From The Country?

As a fulltime rancher, opinion contributor Troy Marshall brings a unique perspective on how consumer and political trends affect livestock production.


Troy Marshall

Troy Marshall is a multi-generational rancher who grew up in Wheatland, WY, and obtained an Equine Science/Animal Science degree from Colorado State University where he competed on both the livestock...

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