The first part of the conference included speakers discussing subjects such as Farm Bureau Policy Initiatives and the Farm Bill.
The conference started with the Director of Content of Penton Media Agricultural Group Forrest Laws speaking about the history of the farm bill and Oscar Johnston, the man who pioneered the Agricultural Adjustment Act, a precursor to the Farm Bill.
Johnston was a Mississippi cotton farmer and attorney and was appointed general council of Delta and Pine Land Company in the 1920s. He became an official in the USDA during the Roosevelt administration.
During this time with the USDA, he was involved in solving the problem of large surpluses of cotton.
In 1933 Johnston helped to create a 10 cent loan rate to help with the prices of cotton, which had plummeted to five cents a pound, as well as requiring the farmers receiving this loan rate to sign an acreage reduction contract to reduce the surplus.
These were added to the 1933 Agricultural Adjustment Act.
Laws explained that if the current Farm Bill does not pass this year, the farm laws will revert to the 1949 Farm Bill, which is a permanent law.
The Farm Bills since then have just been amendments to this bill.
“Farming is not like other industries and I think all of us, if given the opportunity, can make a case that we still need these farm programs,” said Laws. “We still need Congress to be aware of what’s happening out in the countryside and just how important this industry and these programs are to our economy.”
After Laws, Samantha Newman, Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation’s director of public policy, spoke about the Farm Bureau Policy process and the bills that were passed in the 2013 Legislative Session.
The Farm Bureau’s Policies booklet contains everything that the Farm Bureau will advocate and make recommendations on.
“We really encourage our membership to say what is they need us to do through our process,” said Newman.
The Bureau starts its process in the summer with commodity meetings and then goes to policy development meetings in the fall.
After this, the issues go to the State Resolutions Meeting in November and then go to the annual meeting in December.
If these issues pass in December, they are put into the booklet and are lobbied on.
During the 2013 Legislative Session, many significant bills that were supported by the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation were passed into law.
Some of these bills include the Country of Origin Labeling Bill, which closed a loophole where foreign fish were being labeled as U.S. Farm-Raised Catfish; the Harvest Permits Bill, which extends the permits for carrying an additional 4,000 pounds during harvest season; the Livestock Theft Bill, which adds criminal penalties for stealing livestock and requires buyers at stockyards to pay promptly upon purchase; and the Nutrition Labeling Bill, which moves the authority for nutrition labeling, including genetically modified organisms, to the legislative body instead of the local governmental bodies.
Daniel Ulmer, the legislative assistant to U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran, said the Farm Bill has been in the works for three years.
He saidt he financial situation of the country plays a large roll in the Farm Bill, as well as the political environment and commodity prices.
“We’ve got government debt, really high prices, a Republican House and a Democratic Senate,” said Ulmer. “Those three things make it really tough.”
According to Ulmer, some of the urban representatives do not think that we need a Farm Bill because farming is doing well right now but Ulmer said, “We have to make a Farm Bill for the bad times, not just the good.”
The senate has passed a Farm Bill but cut $24 billion dollars worth of funding.
It also discontinued direct payments because the president and other officials in the House and Senate opposed it, according to Ulmer.
There is price protection in this bill, however.
This would protect farmers if prices on their crops plummet by giving them a set price.
Crop insurance is strong in the Senate’s Farm Bill, according to Ulmer.
The House Farm Bill did not include a Nutrition Title, which has been controversial issue.
“In 2008 and the years following the recession, nutrition assistance spending skyrocketed,” said Ulmer.
The $750 billion a year program over 10 years was thought to be too much.
The Republicans think that the $20 billion cuts were not enough while the Democrats believe it to be too much.
Since the Nutrition Title was the big problem for the House Farm Bill, it was taken out after the first two attempts to pass the bill failed.
After the House passes the bill, the next step will be for the House and the Senate to come together and put the bills into one that the president can sign.
If the Farm Bill is not signed off on by Sept. 30, the farming laws will revert back to the 1949 Farm Bill, unless an extension is granted.