In a major speech, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack recently outlined the administration’s priorities for the 2012 farm bill. He acknowledged that funding will be reduced and agriculture will have to do more with less. Vilsack cited three core principles that have helped shape the success of American agriculture – maintain a strong safety net, support sustainable productivity, and promote vibrant markets. Those principles need to be protected and advanced as Congress works on the next farm bill, he said. The safety net needs to provide producers with assistance quickly after “they lose their crops to a natural disaster” and reflect the diversity of U.S. agriculture. Furthermore, the programs that comprise the safety net need to be “simple and understandable.” He also recognized the importance of conservation and research to the future of U.S. agriculture. Vilsack called for continued investments in USDA’s trade promotion programs, which studies have shown a return of “$31 for every dollar invested.”

Millionaires vs. Program Payments – Farmers whose annual income exceeds $1 million will no longer be eligible to receive direct payments as a result of an amendment by Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) that passed the U.S. Senate during consideration of the fiscal year 2012 agriculture appropriations bill. Senator Coburn said, “Sending direct payments to farmers who make more than $1 million a year is a de facto tax increase on every middle and low-income family who doesn’t receive this special benefits from Washington.” The issue will be considered by the House-Senate conference committee this month.

Restrictions on Agricultural Youth Employment – The Department of Labor (DOL) is proposing new regulations to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) that will curtail youth employment in agriculture. The proposed regulations would prohibit workers under the age of 16 from working with some kinds of animals and work around manure pits and storage bins. It would also prevent youth under the age of 18 from working in grain elevators, feedlots, stockyards, livestock exchanges and auctions. The proposal provides an exemption for youth who work on a farm owned by their parents. Congressman Denny Rehberg (R-MT) and 77 other congressmen sent a letter to Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis asking for an extension of the public comment period on the proposed regulation. The letter said, “As currently drafted, this proposal contains provisions that affect a wide variety of the subsectors within agriculture. These proposed regulations would affect those involved in livestock and grain production, commodity transport, youth agricultural education and other sectors. It challenges the conventional wisdom of what defines a family farm in the United States. Farmers, ranchers and all interested parties need time to examine the consequences and allow their voices to be heard accordingly.” Senators Ben Nelson (D-NE) and Jerry Moran (R-KS), along with 30 senators, sent a similar letter to the DOL. The DOL extended the comment period for an additional 30 days as a result of the letters.

P. Scott Shearer
Vice President
Bockorny Group
Washington, D.C.