September 11-13, 2023
Farmers Union members from across the country will gather in Washington, DC for the 2023 Fall Legislative Fly-In!
Attendees will have the opportunity to hear from U.S. Department of Agriculture officials about current events, opportunities, and other initiatives the department is undertaking on behalf of farmers. We expect to meet with officials from the Biden Administration about their important work on competition and resiliency in the food system. Participants will also receive briefings from key Congressional leaders, especially related to the 2023 Farm Bill.
The most important agenda items of the fly-in, however, are the meetings with legislators, which are a hallmark of our organization's grassroots structure. Farmers Union members will meet with their members of Congress to highlight their priorities, the challenges they are facing, and goals for future legislation. Congressional office buildings are slowly opening back up, and it will be exciting to return to in-person meetings in DC.
2023 Policy Priorities
Farmers Union members from across the country are in Washington, DC to advocate for a strong farm bill that addresses the monopoly crisis in agriculture, bolsters the farm safety net, and helps family farmers and ranchers tackle climate change. We urge Congress to act on these priorities in the upcoming farm bill.
Fairness for Farmers
Today’s thinly traded cash market for cattle is susceptible to manipulation by packers, which leads to lower prices received by producers. Preserving a robust cash market is essential for price discovery.
The Cattle Price Discovery and Transparency Act would establish regional minimums for cash trades to bolster and protect price discovery in cattle markets. The bill requires better reporting of 14-day slaughter counts, carcass weights, and cutout yield data, all of which will give producers better insight into the market and more leverage when negotiating prices for their cattle. The bill also makes permanent a cattle contract library to disclose more information about the marketing arrangements used in the cattle market.
The bill was introduced by Senators Deb Fischer (R-NE), Jon Tester (D-MT), Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Ron Wyden (D-OR), and by Representatives Randy Feenstra (R-IA), Mike Levin (D-CA), and Marianette Miller-Meeks (R-IA).
Livestock markets are highly consolidated, with just the four largest companies in each sector controlling 85 percent of the market for beef packing, 67 percent for pork processing, and 53 percent of broiler processing. These companies overcharge consumers and rake in massive profits while preventing farmers and ranchers from getting a fair price for their livestock.
The Meat and Poultry Special Investigator Act will create the “Office of the Special Investigator for Competition Matters” at USDA, which would investigate and prosecute violations of the Packers and Stockyards Act (PSA) by meatpackers and poultry integrators. The office would work in coordination with other federal agencies to address competition issues in agriculture and to protect the food supply from cyberattacks and other threats. This bill was introduced by ten senators, including Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Senators Mike Rounds (R-SD), John Hoeven (R-ND), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), and Martin Heinrich (D-NM).
The PSA protects livestock and poultry producers from unfair, deceptive, and monopolistic practices. The law has not kept up with changes in the industry, which has seen rampant consolidation, reduced market transparency, and the rise of unfair contract terms for farmers and ranchers.
In July 2021, President Biden issued an executive order on competition and directed the USDA to write new rules to strengthen and modernize the PSA. These rules, some of which have been published, and others which are currently being drafted, would provide additional protections for livestock and poultry producers, including protections against deceptive contracting practices, discrimination, and retaliation by meatpackers and poultry integrators, and require poultry companies to be more transparent in their contracting practices with growers. These rulemakings to protect farmers and ranchers were attacked in the House FY24 Agriculture Appropriations bill, which included harmful provisions to prevent USDA from finalizing its proposed rules. To make matters worse, these provisions would prohibit USDA from engaging in any similar rulemakings and are likely to come up in the context of the farm bill. NFU strongly opposes any attempts to hobble these important rulemakings and to weaken the PSA.
The American Beef Labeling Act of 2023 (S.52), introduced by Senators John Thune (R-SD), Jon Tester (D-MT), Mike Rounds (R-SD), and Cory Booker (D-NJ) would reinstate mandatory country of origin labeling (COOL) for beef by defining U.S.-produced beef as coming from animals “exclusively born, raised, and slaughtered, in the United States.” This bill would require the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR), in consultation with the Department of Agriculture, to develop a World Trade Organization (WTO)-compliant means of reinstating mandatory COOL for beef within one year of enactment. Should USTR fail to reinstate COOL for beef within one year, it would then automatically be reinstated.
The Country of Origin Labeling Enforcement Act of 2023 (H.R. 5081), introduced by Reps. Ro Khanna (D-CA) and Harriet Hageman (R-WY), would also reinstate mandatory country of origin labeling for beef but changes the definition for U.S.-produced beef as coming from animals “exclusively born, raised, slaughtered, and packaged in the United States.” It also states that no ruling by the WTO may affect the implementation of COOL for beef, where the American Beef Labeling Act (S.52) directs Administration officials to determine a means of reinstating COOL that complies with WTO rules.
Further, the bill would impose a $5,000 per pound penalty for beef not in compliance with the proposed law and requires the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture to submit a report on the false labeling of foreign beef, along with an assessment of the financial losses incurred by U.S. ranchers as a result.
Farmers and ranchers deserve the Right to Repair their own farm equipment or to do business with the mechanic of their choosing. But farm equipment manufacturers are standing in the way. Modern farm equipment requires software tools to complete certain repairs and manufacturers have withheld full access to those tools, giving farmers no choice but to take equipment back to the dealership. This has created a repair monopoly for manufacturers and dealers, reducing competition, inflating service prices, and creating service delays during tight planting and harvest windows.
The solution is Right to Repair legislation that gives farmers and ranchers access, on fair and reasonable terms, to the tools and information required to make timely farm equipment repairs. Progress has already been made at the state level; in April 2023, Colorado became the first state to enact a Right to Repair law for agriculture (which goes into effect in January 2024). But the fight is not over, because farmers across the country deserve the Right to Repair. NFU is seeking a federal legislative solution that guarantees all farmers and independent mechanics in the U.S. the Right to Repair farm equipment.
Farms and ranchers cannot succeed without adequate markets for their products. Traditional markets remain valuable for many producers. To ensure a farm and food system that is resilient, farmers must capture a larger share of the retail food dollar. It is essential to foster the development of alternative market opportunities at various scales, including local and regional markets with shorter supply chains. Farm bill programs play an important role in building and strengthening these markets.
The Strengthening Local Processing Act would increase processing options for livestock and poultry producers by creating a competitive grant program for small and very small establishments, state inspected facilities, custom exempt facilities, or new small-scale slaughter facilities. The bill also seeks to address workforce and cost issues, by establishing new meat processing working training programs, and increasing the federal cost share for state facility inspections and for Cooperative Interstate Shipment (CIS) facilities. The bill was introduced by Representatives Chellie Pingree (D-ME) and Jim Baird (R-IN) and Senators John Thune (R-SD) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and co-sponsored by Senators Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Angus King (D-ME), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Mike Rounds (R-SD), and Tina Smith (D-MN).
The Local Farms and Food Act would support the growth of the core farm bill local food promotion programs. The bill would simplify applications for certain Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program projects, increase funding for the Local Agriculture Market Program (LAMP), reauthorize the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program, and reduce barriers to the Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program (GusNIP). The bill was introduced by Senators Sherod Brown (D-OH), Tina Smith (D-MN), Peter Welch (D-VT) and John Fetterman (D-PA), and Representatives Chellie Pingree (D-ME) and Dan Newhouse (R-WA).
The Fairness for Small-Scale Farmers and Ranchers Act is championed by Representative Greg Casar (D-TX) and Senator Peter Welch (D-VT) and addresses corporate consolidation in our nation’s food system.
The bill would prohibit large agribusiness and grocery mergers and require retroactive reviews of such mergers, expand the Local Agriculture Market Program (LAMP), strengthen the Packers & Stockyards Act, and implement mandatory COOL for beef, pork, poultry, and dairy.
This bill shows how lawmakers are acknowledging that competition legislation must be a priority in the farm bill. The Fairness for Small-Scale Farmers and Ranchers Act is, in many respects, a competition title and is a good example of what NFU seeks in the next farm bill.
Farm Safety Net
Since the 2014 Farm Bill, commodity crop farmers have had access to two vital economic safety nets: the Agricultural Risk Coverage (ARC) program and the Price Loss Coverage (PLC) program. PLC provides assistance when prices drop below a level set in statute, and ARC triggers if revenues fall below the average level of previous years. However, farmers may enroll cropland in only one of these two programs. Market and growing conditions are volatile, so this choice sometimes leads to lower levels of assistance. Farm program participants should have the option to enroll in both ARC and PLC so that they are protected against losses due to declines in price as well as in revenue. A dual enrollment option would remove much of the uncertainty from the annual program sign-up decision and would provide farmers with the higher-of assistance level for either ARC or PLC.
The 2018 Farm Bill made small adjustments to programs like ARC, PLC, marketing loans, and crop insurance. Since then, the farm economy has weathered tremendous price volatility, a diminished export market due to the trade war with China, and the havoc unleashed by the COVID-19 pandemic on the supply chain. Commodities markets and production costs have changed dramatically since the last farm bill, so higher reference prices and marketing loan rates should be established in the next farm bill.
Furthermore, NFU supports a voluntary update to base acres. This option was last made available to farmers and landowners in 2014, and farm owners should be provided the chance to adjust their program acres in accordance with their actual recent plantings.
Dairy farmers have experienced boom and bust price cycles for decades. These volatile cycles are triggered by an imbalance between supply and demand. When milk prices are high, farmers respond by increasing production to meet the demand, and when prices are low, dairy farmers also respond by increasing production to help their bottom line, unintentionally flooding the market and driving prices down further. The wild price swings that result make it difficult to manage a business, and over the last decade, the U.S. has lost an average of five dairy farms a day.
The Dairy Revitalization Plan is a growth management strategy that coordinates milk production growth among all dairy producers to stabilize and improve prices for everyone. It would offer a series of incentives and disincentives to better align milk production growth with demand growth. The plan would promote growth in the dairy industry, but in a coordinated way, among all dairy producers, so that all have the potential to reach their desired levels of production and profitability.
According to a recent study, had the Dairy Revitalization Plan been enacted in the last fFarm bBill, milk prices would have been higher by an average of $1.41/cwt. between 2014 and 2021. The degree of variation in prices above or below the average milk price was reduced by approximately 50 percent in the study. Income was higher for farms that stayed within allowable growth across all levels of production.
The Whole Farm Revenue Protection (WFRP) program is a crop-neutral revenue insurance product designed to protect a farmer’s entire operation, including livestock, not just one crop. WFRP is intended to provide diversified and diversifying farms that might not have access to separate crop or revenue insurance policies for each crop they grow an option to insure all their crops and livestock under one policy. But right now, too few producers find this program accessible and available.
Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Peter Welch (D-VT), John Fetterman (D-PA), Tina Smith (D-MN), Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Raphael Warnock (D-GA) introduced the Whole Farm Revenue Protection Program Improvement Act, to ensure that more farms are able to access crop insurance. The bill will direct the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation (FCIC) to streamline access to WFRP and close the coverage gap for our country’s small to mid-sized, beginning, specialty crop, and diversified producers.
The next farm bill should incentivize farmers to voluntarily remove marginal or environmentally sensitive agricultural land from production on an annual basis in exchange for crop insurance protections. The 2018 Farm Bill created the Soil Health and Income Protection Program (SHIPP) pilot program under the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), and the SHIPP concept could serve as a template for an effort for a permanent program in the next farm bill. Policy tools like this can play critical role in helping farmers implement practices that fight climate change, build soil health, and increase resilience.
Climate and Conservation
Dairy and livestock producers have an important role to play in voluntarily reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) to help address climate change. The Converting Our Waste Sustainably (COWS) Act aims to reduce GHGs, improve air, and water quality, and improve soil health through sustainable alternative and pasture-based manure management practices. The bill would establish a voluntary Alternative Manure Management Program to provide grants and technical assistance for installation of equipment and infrastructure for pasture management and alternative manure treatment and storage practices. The bill was introduced by Representatives Jim Costa (D-CA), Chellie Pingree (D-ME), and David Valadao (R-CA), along with Senators Alex Padilla (D-CA) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH).
Cover crops are critical tools that some farmers employ to slow erosion, promote soil health, improves water availability, suppress weeds, attract pollinators, control pests, increase biodiversity, and tackle climate change. In some cropping systems, cover crops can increase crop yields and reduce crop insurance losses. The Conservation Opportunity and Voluntary Environment Resilience Program (COVER) Act would provide farmers who plant cover crops a crop insurance discount of $5/acre to increase cover crop adoption and reward farmers for implementing this practice, similar to the Pandemic Cover Crop Program. The bill also includes a pilot program to evaluate other risk reducing practices. The bill was introduced by Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Representatives Sean Casten (D-IL) and Elissa Slotkin (D-MI), along with original co-sponsor Representative Mike Bost (R-IL)
The Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) provides grants and guaranteed loans to agricultural producers and rural small businesses purchasing and installing renewable energy systems and making energy efficiency improvements. It is a critical program that has been helping farmers, ranchers, and rural small businesses install solar and wind energy, and make energy efficiency improvements, for years. The REAP Modernization Act would increase cost share for REAP grants, streamline the application process, improve outreach, technical assistance, and education, and make greenhouse gas emission reductions a more integral part of the program’s mission. The bill was introduced by U.S. Representatives David Valadao (CA-22R-CA) and Abigail Spanberger (D-VAA-07) and Senator Tina Smith (D-MN).
The farm bill is not only an agriculture bill – it is also a food bill. The farm bill nutrition title is key to reducing hunger and poverty in our country. A major portion of the nutrition title funds SNAP, or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, once known as food stamps. For decades, SNAP has served as the nation’s primary food safety net, allowing families to meet their most basic needs when they face difficult economic circumstances.
Food and farm programs go hand-in-hand and should continue to be included in the same comprehensive legislation. We should reject any proposed cuts to critical food and nutrition safety net programs in the farm bill that help feed hungry Americans. NFU supports maintaining a strong farm bill nutrition title that supports food and nutrition security, reduces hunger in our communities, and expands access to local and regional farm products.
Legislation in the farm bill can help boost our nation’s liquid fuel supply and transition new combustion vehicles to use advanced engines that take advantage of higher-octane fuels, like higher blends of ethanol. This transition would increase the amount of ethanol that can be utilized in the fuel supply while also lowering prices at the pump for farmers and consumers.
Due to ethanol’s high-octane rating, greater ethanol blends result in both additional fuel efficiency and significant greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction. Ethanol is also priced lower than gasoline, making it the most cost-effective octane source. The Next Generation Fuels Act would establish a minimum research octane number (RON) standard of 98 for gasoline, which is higher than the typical octane of 91. It also requires the added octane value to reduce carbon emissions by at least 40 percent compared to regular gasoline.
By requiring high-octane fuel to use low-carbon sources, the Next Generation Fuels Act will decarbonize liquid fuels as vehicle technologies advance. This requirement, coupled with a new limit on harmful aromatics content, ensures that progress already made to expand the use of ethanol while lowering emissions will continue.
We can improve the quality of life for farm families by making sure we all have access to important services. The Expanding Childcare in Rural America Act does just that, in a major way by finally addressing the difficulties that rural families face in finding quality, affordable childcare in their communities. The bill would create a multi-program initiative at USDA’s Rural Development to address the availability, quality, and cost of childcare in agricultural and rural communities. For the purposes of this bill childcare means any program that provides care and early education for children who are in kindergarten or younger and is operated as a center (including school-based programs) or in a family home.
Farmers Union has long advocated for greater mental and behavioral health resources for farmers and rural communities. The Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network (FRSAN) is a critical program that connects farmers, ranchers, farmworkers, and their families to stress assistance programs. The Farmers First Act reauthorizes and increases funding for FRSAN to expand access to mental health services in our farm and rural communities.
There are many causes of stress among farmers and ranchers, including the financial risk involved in agriculture, corporate consolidation in our food system, and a changing climate. Access to care remains limited, as rural areas face significant mental health professional shortages. FRSAN is essential for serving populations where the need is great, and resources are limited.
Farm bill programs are primarily implemented by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). In 2022, USDA had 5,300 fewer staff than in January 2017. Staffing shortfalls impede program implementation and must be rectified and should not be made worse by changes to existing programs. The next farm bill should dedicate more funding and resources for USDA to hire, retain, and train high-quality staff throughout the department, particularly in county or regional offices, to best serve family farmers and ranchers.