Chairman Hal Rogers Ranking Member Nita Lowey
House Committee on Appropriations House Committee on Appropriations
H-305, The Capitol 1016 Longworth HOB
Washington, DC 20515 Washington, DC 20515
Dear Chairman Rogers and Ranking Member Lowey:
As you work to complete the annual appropriations process, I would like to share the perspective of the National Farmers Union (NFU) and its members who are engaged in all aspects of agriculture throughout this nation.
NFU is the second largest general farm organization in the United States. Since 1902, NFU has advocated for the economic and social well-being and quality of life of family farmers and their communities by supporting the sustainable production of food, fuel and fiber. NFU represents 200,000 members nationwide with members in almost every state and organized divisions in 33 states. NFU is a federation of state and regional organizations.
As you know, agriculture is the backbone of rural America and impacts the lives of each and every American at least three times a day. Ensuring that resources are in place and programs are sound and effective is of the upmost importance. The 2014 Agricultural Act (P.L. 113-79) took over four years and multiple attempts over two separate Congresses to ensure that agriculture and rural America had the resources and programs necessary for the continuation of agriculture as a robust economic engine.
NFU has worked on basic protections for contract growers through the Grain Inspection Packers and Stockyard Administration (GIPSA) provisions for many years. These protections, such as notice of termination of contract and recourse from retaliation, are essential to ensuring farmers have fair conditions in an increasingly consolidated marketplace. While these basic protections were included once again in the 2014 Agricultural Act, the rules have yet to be promulgated due to appropriations riders. I am pleased the subcommittee did not include the GIPSA rider in this year’s bill, which would have once again forbidden the United States Department of Agriculture from promulgating rules on these basic protections. I strongly urge the full committee to follow their lead and leave the rider out of the bill.
As an organization, NFU is also concerned that the steps taken by the Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Subcommittee on the Fiscal Year 2016 Agriculture Appropriations Act would undermine the compromises reached during the 2014 Farm Bill. We are specifically concerned that the changes in mandatory programing as it relates to the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP), and the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP).
Conservation programs are an important instrument for farmers wishing to improve the environment in which they operate. Both EQIP and CRP provide financial assistance to help plan and implement conservation practices that work to improve soil, water, plant, animal, air and related resources on agricultural and forest land. REAP and BCAP are equally important to producers and rural economies. BCAP works to expand the infrastructure needed to make more renewable fuel options available to American consumers, while creating a benefit to producers and rural economies. REAP has likewise benefited producers as energy efficiency grants help them make the necessary upgrades to reduce costs to their operations.
In addition to funding reductions, NFU is concerned over flat funding provided for the Commodities Futures Trading Commission (CFTC). For producers, futures are an important option to hedge against risk, while also serving as a critical price discovery mechanism. The integrity of these markets is central to commodity producers. Since 2008, when CFTC’s authority expanded by roughly $400 trillion when over-the-counter swaps became a part of its jurisdiction, CFTC’s resources have been inadequate. This bill does not resolve that inadequacy. During this particularly busy time for CFTC, it is crucial that the commission has the resources it needs to address threats to the system, which could otherwise undermine large swaths of the agricultural economy.
Beyond changes in mandatory spending and flat funding, NFU is concerned with Section 748 of the bill, which prohibits penalties from being issued in the 2016 reinsurance year for those who are deemed non-compliant with conservation requirements mandated under the 2014 Farm Bill. NFU recognizes that there are problems resulting from a lack of coordination between the Risk Management Agency and the Farm Service Agency, but those problems are administrative, not legislative in nature. With sales closing dates around the corner, these issues must be resolved quickly for the benefit of producers and cannot wait for the passage of an appropriations act. Given your committee’s interest in this subject we would urge you to use your offices, not this bill, in calling on the U.S. Department of Agriculture to fulfill its statutory requirements under the 2014 Farm Bill.
We recognize that there were many competing demands on your committee as you worked to construct this legislation. But we would urge you to consider the concerns listed above as you go forward for the benefit of family farmers and rural communities. We appreciate your attention to this matter and remain ready to assist you in your ongoing work.