WASHINGTON — Free trade agreements. Estate taxes. Energy.
The faces of those attending the Ohio Farm Bureau county presidents’ annual trip to Washington D.C. may change, but sometimes the song remains the same.
The Ohio farm leaders were in Washington March 9-11 to talk to their legislators about agricultural issues that affect them back at home — issues that have been on the Farm Bureau plate before and show no signs of going away.
As of presstime Tuesday, no Congressional visits had been held, but the county leaders had a full afternoon Monday of issues briefings and an update at the Organization of American States headquarters.
Several issues will reappear on the legislative agenda this year, joined by new directions from a new administration.
One of the recent hot issues is the so-called “cow tax,” or a proposal by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, including methane and other emissions from livestock, under the Clean Air Act.
The regs, as proposed, could kick in for farms with as few as 25 dairy cows, according to Rick Krause, senior director of Congressional relations for the American Farm Bureau Federation, who briefed the Ohioans. Many farms would be required to pay a fee for an operating permit.
If the EPA’s proposal makes it through the rulemaking, Farm Bureau estimates it would cost farmers $175 per dairy cow, $87.50 per beef cow and $21.87 per hog.
And it wouldn’t just hit livestock farmers. Last year, the USDA noted the 100-tons-per-year emissions threshold would also encompass farms with more than 500 acres of corn.
The Ohioans were encouraged to ask their senators to co-sponsor S.527, introduced March 5 by Sens. John Thune, R-S.D., and Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. The bill would prevent the EPA from imposing the permits on agricultural operations.
Several American Farm Bureau policy analysts told the Ohio group to get ready to hear more about alternative fuels, cap-and-trade policies, greenhouse gas emissions, and carbon fuel standards — under one big, comprehensive energy bill.
On the House side, Democrats have indicated that a comprehensive energy/climate change bill will move to the floor by Christmas. The Senate is even more ambitious, with players championing a bill by late summer.
AFBF’s Rick Krause calls both timetables “unrealistic,” since nothing has even been written on either policy yet.
Krause said, however, climate change legislation is a high priority of the Obama administration, and he expects to action to ramp up before December’s United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen.
He looks for cap and trade standards as part of any proposed legislation. The “cap” means that greenhouse gas emissions will be capped at a certain level; the “trade” means that companies or entities whose emissions fall under their standard, could sell their excess allowances to those who aren’t meeting their emission caps.
The big question will be whether agricultural production will also be “capped,” or whether agriculture will be seen as a “net sink” that can offset emissions through conservation practices or other measures.
What is known, Krause added, is that agriculture will bear increased costs as a result of any cap and trade policy: higher fuel costs, higher energy costs and higher fertilizer costs.
Although American Farm Bureau currently has no policy related to the issue, Krause said cap and trade “is moving forward with or without us.”
“We’re working to get as good a deal as we can for American farmers.”
“You all [Ohioans] are kind of target No. 1 for HSUS,” said Kelli Ludlum, who also works in Congressional relations for the American Farm Bureau.
The Ohio farm group is bracing for the next salvo in the animal rights group’s state-by-state effort to stop certain livestock production practices.
Ludlum, who works on livestock issues for the national ag group, emphasized that the grassroots has to be involved in correcting misinformation about how the industry cares for agriculture — it can’t be a top-down strategy.
“The good news is going to have to start from the countryside,” Ludlum said, adding that public education and public outreach has to be part of Ohio’s proactive plan.
She pointed to the more stringent regulations governing animal agriculture in the European Union as a possible trend.
“The future can be pretty bleak if we don’t do something about it now.”
Ludlum said H.R. 503, introduced in January by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. John Conyers Jr. of Michigan, would ban the shipping, transporting, delivering, possessing, purchasing and selling (among other things) of horses to be slaughtered for human consumption, including exports.
The new component to the bill in this go-round is the addition of criminal penalties, Ludlum said.
One of the major concerns is that the bill doesn’t address the issue of unwanted horses, and restricts end-of-life options, she explained.
She looks for Conyers to push for a hearing before the Easter recess.
The Ohio Farm Bureau local leaders will be meeting with their legislators in district meetings, hoping to put an Ohio farm face on the various issues.