2006 was a good year for issues of concern to members of the American Farm Bureau Federation, according to Bob Stallman, president. At a press conference on Sunday he cited improvements in international trade, resolving BSE issues in the United States and legislation to help protect the rights of property owners as successes.
But Stallman, a cattle producer from Columbus, Texas, says there were some disappointments as well. "Attacks on the livestock industry continue and we are going to have to fight to keep a healthy livestock industry in this country."
Regarding the deadlocked DOHA round of international trade negotiations, Stallman said, "We haven't given up hope. We continue to look for a successful outcome of that round but we are not going to 'give away the farm' in the process. It has to be an agreement that's good for American agriculture."
The 2007 Farm Bill is probably the major topic being discussed here this week during the 88th annual AFBF convention. Stallman said he is optimistic about getting a new farm bill passed this year because "the playing field has changed with Democrats taking control of Congress. We have a good working relationship with the new chairmen of both the Senate and House Ag Committees."
"We are not waiting to see what the USDA is proposing for the 2007 Farm Bill," said Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation at a news conference Sunday. "We are moving ahead with our own policy development resolutions."
With regard to funding for the 2007 Farm Bill, "in my opinion, we are better off with a Democratic Congress than perhaps we would have been with the Republicans. We won't see a major change in the farm bill, however. Farm policy tends to be evolutionary rather than revolutionary and I don't see anything that makes me change my mind as to how this will unfold. It's difficult to make radical changes because the law of unintended consequences is always out there waiting to bite you. I think we will have some changes, but it's difficult to believe we would have a wholesale elimination of Title 1 programs.
"Funding will still be an issue, however, and the ag budget has a big target on it. It's up to us to defend why we need the funding for those programs," he added.
When asked whether Congress will be able pass a farm bill with WTO trade talks stalled, Stallman replied, "Congress does have to pay attention to current WTO rules. But Congress probably should not, from our standpoint, try to craft a farm bill that fits some sort of preconceived negotiating stance as we continue the WTO negotiations. A farm bill needs to be passed, taking into account WTO negotiations, but also written to address the needs of U.S. agriculture."
Recent winter storms that killed or stranded cattle in states like Colorado, Kansas and Nebraska will probably put a little more pressure on Congress to provide disaster assistance as part of the farm bill, according to Stallman. "It just points out once again that agriculture is subject to the fickle nature of weather in terms of economic disaster. It highlights the need for economic assistance for producers and helps increase the chances of getting some permanent disaster assistance as part of the farm bill."
Regarding immigration reform, Stallman said the AFBF is "somewhat optimistic. Given what President Bush has said about his guest worker program and with Democrats taking control of the House, I believe it will be easier to pass comprehensive immigration reform. There are a lot of elements to that but the one we have to address is a way to provide an adequate labor force for American agriculture."
Throughout the next few days convention delegates will work on resolutions as to where AFBF stands on these issues. Resolutions will be formally adopted on Wednesday. Stallman pointed out that this process is surprising to farm organizations in places like Europe and Australia. "Leaders in those countries have told me they can't believe we open our decision making process up the media."