WASHINGTON — Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas) assured members at the National Chicken Council’s annual convention here that he’d look out for the industry’s interests in the 2018 farm bill negotiations, but he also cautioned there would be a lot less money to work with than legislators had when they drafted the 2014 bill.
Even as Conaway, who chairs the House Agriculture Committee, warned there is “no new money,” he also noted that with farm income now half of what it was when the last farm bill was drafted, there should be more consensus that agriculture needs some safety nets than last time.
Conaway said he is committed to getting a farm bill to the House floor for a vote by early next year and said the Senate is working on a similar timeframe. The current bill expires in September 2018.
GIPSA, organic rules, immigration, trade
Touching on the aspect of farm policy relevant to the industry, Conaway praised Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and the decision last month to withdraw an interim final rule opposed by the processing industry. Known as the Farmer Fair Practice Rules, the regulations would have updated the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration’s (GIPSA) Packers and Stockyards Act of 1921 and was promoted in the previous administration as protecting farmers and ranchers from anticompetitive business practices.
Conaway said he would work to keep any similar GIPSA changes out of the next farm bill. He also voiced support for current efforts to delay and ultimately withdraw proposed organic livestock rules.
In September, The Organic Trade Association sued USDA, alleging it violated the Organic Foods Production Act and illegally delayed the effective date of the final livestock standards.
While Conaway could not predict when there might be resolution to current attempts to re-negotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), he said he is telling U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and other administration officials “every chance I get” how important the trade supported by this pact and trade in Asia are to the agriculture industry.
After meetings with Canadian trade officials, however, he said he concluded it would be hard to get them to agree to changes, since there isn’t much to gain by changing the current pact from their perspective.
Conaway was encouraged by current efforts to change guest worker visa programs (H-2C) to allow foreign workers to work in slaughter processing plants year around, though he noted the rules would allow work in primary (slaughter) processing only and not further processing plants.