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Monday, January 19, 2015

Moving forward in 2015; predictions and outlook

by Traci Eatherton, Editor

The year 2015 is likely to turn out some big decisions affecting agriculture, considering the new GOP-led House and Senate, and the long list of unresolved topics at the Capitol. A number of agriculture organizations have been busy making plans for the New Year and have shared with WLJ their priorities, predictions and outlook for 2015.

The general theme, for the most part, seems to be finding some common ground for agriculture on the contentious topics, along with sustainability and feeding the growing population.

Livestock Marketing Association’s (LMA) number one priority for 2015 is looking out for the best interests of the livestock industry, particularly in the market area.

“We want market owners to have the freedom to operate and will be pushing back against limiting factors, such as antiquated GIPSA [Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration] regulations and unnecessary EPA restrictions,” shared LMA’s Lindsay Graber, Director of Marketing and Com munications.

The American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) just finished up their annual meetings in California, setting their 2015 priorities which include all the big ticket items, such as immigration reform, Water of the U.S. (WOTUS), and the Endangered Species Act, plus a number of others, like tax reform and farm bill implementation.

“When our board sets the course for the coming year, the key components of their decision-making focus is on: What are the issues that have national scope that affect farmers and ranchers?; what is the likelihood that a given issue(s) will be considered or acted upon by Congress and/ or the administration?; and what is the expectation that AFBF will be able to impact the outcome?,” said Dale Moore, AFBF Executive Director of Public Policy.

National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) is getting ready for their annual convention in February, and they are working on the organization’s top five priorities for the year ahead, which will be reviewed and approved at the convention.

“That said, I would expect the dietary guidelines, tax reform, and trade to be major policy priorities in 2015,” Chase Adams, NCBA Director of Communications shared.

U.S. Cattlemen’s Association (USCA) has put educating consumers at the top of their priority list, with country of origin labeling (COOL) and the recent dietary guidelines leading the focus.

What are your (or your organization’s) priorities this year for agriculture?

“Two issues of priority to USCA as we start out 2015 are country of origin labeling and the recent dietary guidelines discussion that resulted with a draft proposal to reduce the inclusion of meat within the Food Pyramid,” USCA President Danni Beer shared.

R-CALF CEO Bill Bullard also shared his organization’s priorities for 2015, which focuses on educating producers on the woes of the current packing industry.

The top priority Bullard shared was, “To ensure that U.S. cattle and sheep producers do not succumb to supplychain capture…” As Congress gets underway, the organizations see opportunity for some changes surrounding some of the bigger topics, with COOL still leading many discussions.

“It’s clear that COOL will be a topic of conversation this year. At the end of 2014, Congress included in the FY 2015 omnibus appropriations bill a directive for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to report recommendations no later than May 1, 2015 to Congress on changes to U.S. mandatory COOL requirements for meat products in order to comply with U.S. trade obligations,” LMA’s Graber pointed out.

“Our delegates discussed our country of origin labeling and worked to ensure that we resolve the dispute with Canada and Mexico in the most efficient manner possible and in a way that protects the ability of farmers and ranchers to promote their commodities and products derived [from them] to U.S. consumers through COOL,” AFBF’s Moore shared.

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“We fully expect that the WTO will yet again find that COOL violates our trade agreements with our largest trading partners; and after years of dispute, with this upcoming decision being the final step before actual tariff retaliation, we would expect Congress to act swiftly to eliminate the failed COOL program,” NCBA’s Adams shared.

But the COOL topic will likely still divide the industry through 2015.

“USCA believes that the WTO appeal will see a decision by mid-year. We are hopeful that the panel will rule in favor of the U.S. Given the increasing number of imports from Canada and Mexico, we see the panel concluding, as we have, there cannot be discrimination as claimed by the two countries,” Beer shared.

“COOL is a great tool for consumers to use on a daily basis. Granted, many consumers are still not aware of how to read these labels. However, in today’s market, consumers want to know more about their product not less. We must inform the public about their ability to choose at the meat counter. Our goal is that they will choose U.S. born, raised and harvested meat products each time they go to the meat counter,” Beer added.

And R-CALF will continue its more extreme stance on the topic with plans to: “Defend the right of U.S. ranchers to remain competitive in their domestic market by preserving country of origin labeling, which promotes competition by enabling U.S. consumers to distinguish and choose U.S.- produced beef and lamb from among the growing tide of imported beef and lamb and beef produced from imported livestock,” Bullard shared.

WOTUS will likely go by the wayside, according to a couple of the groups.

“Our Ditch the Rule campaign continues. We are keeping our focus on opposing expansion of federal jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act,” Moore shared on AFBF’s 2015 plan.

“We fully expect EPA will move forward to finalize their Waters of the United States rule. [NCBA] will continue to pursue all efforts to prevent this massive land grab by the administration, looking at both legislative and judicial options,” Adams shared.

“Agriculture should resolve to come together to increase demand for our products and address perception concerns with a unified voice,” LMA’s Graber shared, on the organization’s recommended New Year’s resolution for the industry.

In this growing global economy, ag is the big picture, feeding the growing population, but the unpretentious may be the ones who come out on top.

“I think it’s important that as we continue to work for U.S. cattle producers this coming year, with the strong markets, stronger market signals, and policy wins of 2014, we resolve in 2015 to remain humble,” Adams shared.

[Editor’s note: read Part 2 of 2015 predictions in WLJ’s next issue.] Traci Eatherton, WLJ Editor


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