Leaving 2011 in the dust
WCN FILE PHOTO
Agricultural dust is common in Texas as farmers prepare the land during the drought-like conditions of 2011.
Persistence -- the quality of continuing despite problems
“Persistence” might be the one word, other than “drought,” to best describe the ag sector in 2011. Although Mother Nature’s fury took a hard toll on farmers and ranchers, the ag sector did have some victories on the state and federal levels during 2011.
Eminent domain reform again made headlines, but this time Texas Gov. Rick Perry signed SB 18 into law in May. Key provisions include that a bona fide offer must be given in writing for the property in question, a time frame given, and a compensation clause included with relocation costs for property taken under eminent domain.
The Texas groundwater bill, SB 332, clarified landowners’ rights and ownership of groundwater. Due to passage of this bill in June, groundwater is considered in the “surface section of land ownership” that includes gravel and sand.
On the federal level, President Barack Obama signed three free-trade agreements into law, with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea.
While this will open more markets for the United States, another trade-related issue, Country-of-Origin Labeling (COOL), divided the ag sector.
After months of anticipation, the World Trade Organization officially announced its ruling regarding COOL. The ruling “affirmed that the United States has the right under the World Trade Organization rules to adopt COOL requirements,” but the World Trade Organization panel said the ruling “disagreed with the way the United States designed its requirements and determined that they provide less favorable treatment to Canadian and Mexican livestock.” The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative was considering all options, including appealing the decision, as the year came to an end.
The proposed U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Grain Inspection, Packers, and Stockyards Administration rules released in 2010 continue to divide the ag industry. In a June 28 Senate hearing, a USDA economist was grilled, with national beef organizations and beef packers divided on the issue. Funding was cut in the Fiscal Year 2012 Agriculture Appropriations bill, and discussion of the fairness-in-marketing rule, as proposed in the 2008 Farm Bill, will continue in the new year.
Another issue that carried over from 2010 was the alleged misuse of check-off funds from the Beef Act and Beef Order by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association for the fiscal years 2008-10. As the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and the Cattlemen’s Beef Board reached an agreement that included the Cattlemen’s Association reimbursing funds to the Beef Board, the amount of disputed check-off funds continued to rise, from $25,000 in July 2010 to $305,365 in June 2011. Members of the Cattlemen’s Beef Board voted on rules proposed by the roles and responsibilities committee during the Cattle Industry Summer Conference to avoid misuse of the check-off funds in the future. But before the conference, Cattlemen’s Beef Board CEO Tom Ramey and Chairman Tom Jones resigned.
Also regarding regulations, the U.S. Department of Labor invited comments on proposed changes in the child labor regulations. Comments, due by Dec. 1, were received from various agriculture groups voicing opposition to the changes.
It was a case of déjà vu for the proposed Animal Disease Traceability Framework, with groups carefully examining the remnants of the former National Animal Identification System that caused much dissatisfaction in the ag industry.
In February 2010, ranchers were concerned about the new U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Veterinary Services Animal Disease Traceability Framework, and in August the government posted the rules for comments in the Federal Register. Under the new rules, only animals moved interstate -- across state lines -- are subject to an official identification, such as tags.
Prior to this announcement, the Texas Animal Health Commission discontinued brucellosis testing at all Texas livestock markets as of Aug. 1, due to the lack of state funding.
In September, the Texas Animal Health Commission announced plans for a state traceability program.
While traceability plans and trade issues headlined the agriculture pages, environmental concerns also rippled, with changes in the Clean Water Act.
The White House announced provisions of the Clean Water Act as a means to protect America’s waters by modernizing “water resources guidelines” and to “update Federal guidelines on where the Clean Water Act applies nationwide.”
On the state level, as the Eagle Ford shale exploration continued in South Texas, the Texas Railroad Commission adopted chemical disclosure rules for hydraulic fracturing chemicals. The rules require Texas oil and gas operations to “disclose on a national public website all the ingredients ... used to hydraulically fracture wells.”
While the state contended with a drought, the issue of dust was revisited by the Environmental Protection Agency. The Farm Dust Regulation Act (HR 1633) was approved by the U.S. House of Representatives, but President Obama’s senior advisors recommended that the president veto the bill.
With the new year, the effects of the La Niña weather pattern continue to prey on the minds of those in the ag sector. One thing is certain: Issues such as the 2012 Farm Bill and other legislative bills will be discussed in Congress, and members of the ag industry will continue to watch so as to protect their interests as they continue to feed the world.