The American Farm Bureau Federation's 440 state voting delegates gathered in Nashville, Tenn.
, Tuesday to determine future policy recommendations for the Farm Bureau. Big ticket items on the agenda included a change in FB board representation, animal identification, payment limitations, and country-of-origin support.
Heading into the next farm bill discussions, delegates approved "extending concepts" of the 2002 Farm Bill heading into the next farm bill. Debate centered around whether the 2002 policy sets U.S. programs up for future challenges, similar to the Brazil cotton case. One Illinois farmer urged voters to allow the Farm Bureau to be "leading the change rather than litigated to change."
Many said specific language in the approved policy allows for possible extension of the current farm bill if World Trade Organization talks aren't completed by the current farm bill's September 2007 expiration date. Individuals explained that "extending concepts" didn't say that the Farm Bureau was unwilling to change during the next debate, but wanted to see how WTO negotiations unfolded before taking strong cuts in domestic programs.
Wording in the policy also accepts reductions in trade-distorting support in exchange for increased market access and decreased export subsidies; a similar approach is already on the U.S. Trade Representative's negotiating table. Discussion also added in the need for green box compliant compensation programs for fruit and vegetable growers. If one isn't found, growers oppose the elimination of the planting prohibition which questioned the decoupled classification of U.S. commodity direct payments.
Farm Bureau kept its opposition to $250,000 payment limitations with 75% of the delegates voting against the lower limit, despite heart-felt testimonies from both sides of the issue. Iowa farmers introduced an amendment to lower the payment limit from its current $360,000 level as a way to give "self-discipline" to how self-government works. One Iowa farmer said less than 700,000 farmers will receive about $30 billion in government payments in 2005.
One Arkansas rice farmer said the payment limitation would be the end of his farming career. A Texas grower added that our world competitors, particularly the European Union, don't abide by payment limitations and would give them an unfair advantage.
Animal ID, labeling still hot issues
Approved policy states "only non-profit agricultural or meat/livestock organizations should have control of the animal ID program, not a private 'for profit' company." Producers wanted to make sure that existing infrastructures in place could still be used within a national identification system.
The word "voluntary" was also included into Farm Bureau's county-of-origin labeling provisions. This topic is one that has changed from an initial support of mandatory to now only voluntary.
Equal board member representation amendment denied
A proposed amendment failed from the current board of directors called for one board position per state. The change would have eliminated regional board positions and additional positions on regional membership levels. It also reduced board member terms from two years to annual.
An amendment approved to the bylaws increases the membership level required for each additional delegate from 15,000 to 20,000. It increases membership level required for each additional voting delegate by 1,000 after any year in which total delegates exceed 400.