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Livestock industry encourages balanced approach in farm bill

Texas livestock producers cautioned members of the House Agriculture Committee to consider all of agriculture in farm bill debates during a recent field hearing in San Angelo, Texas.

“Be careful of unintentional consequences to the cattle industry,” said Dale Smith, a cattleman from Amarillo, Texas.

“The same goes for sheep and goats,” said Glen Fisher, Sonora, Texas.

Smith supports efforts to increase the nation’s renewable fuel supplies but pointed out that livestock “consumes 3 out of 4 bushels of the major feed grains harvested.”

He said efforts to increase renewable fuel production should not harm the livestock industry. Dee Vaughan, representing Texas corn growers, agreed and said taking grain from the livestock industry could be detrimental. “We don’t want our livestock produced overseas,” he said.

Livestock producers expressed other concerns.

Smith recommended replacing mandatory country of origin labeling (COOL) with “a much less expensive, market-based voluntary program.”

Representative Colin Peterson, D-Minnesota, ranking member of the House Agriculture Committee, said COOL should be initiated in a way that helps the industry. “We have our heads in the sand,” he said. “We may be making the situation worse.” He said current proposals would “make it almost impossible not to open databases up” to public scrutiny.

“I encourage folks to help us (develop) a workable animal ID system,” he said. “If we don’t, we will get to a point where foreign countries will not grant access.”

Brian Boehning, a dairyman from Muleshoe, Texas said price supports have helped the dairy industry and encourages Congress to retain them. “We need the safety net. A payment cap is a problem,” he said.

Fisher urged the committee to reauthorize the wool loan deficiency payment at a base rate of $1.20 per pound.

Smith said conservation programs and environmental regulations should be based on “common sense and sound science.” He said the Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) provides a good example of a program that does both. “But arbitrarily setting numerical caps that render some producers ineligible limits success of the program. All producers should be afforded equal access to cost share dollars under programs such as EQIP.”

He said efficiency should be a criterion for government support. He said rewarding inefficiency hurts farmers who are better managers.

Panelists expressed concern for WTO negotiations. They suggested that if agreements limit subsidies and production declines globally, prices for crops, livestock and milk could improve.

“If increases equal subsidy reductions, we may not need as much support,” Boehning said. “But if the increase is not equal, continued support will be necessary.”

Smith said the cattle industry supports “aggressive negotiating positions to open markets and to remove unfair trade barriers to our product. We support programs such as Market Access and the Foreign Market Development programs. I urge sustained funding for these long-term market development efforts.”

Boehning said the current milk income loss program is poorly distributed and costly.

Smith said continued investment in agricultural research should be an integral part of farm legislation. “One of our competitive advantages over foreign producers has been quality research and development programs supported by the government and private sector,” Smith said.

He said over-regulation also poses a threat to the livestock industry. “It is essential that USDA maintain the scientific expertise to protect producers from the erroneous claims of our opponents — that manure should be regulated as a hazardous waste. There is neither scientific evidence nor congressional intent to support this ludicrous argument. Cattle producers would appreciate any efforts by your committee to resolve this potentially disastrous situation.”

Smith urged the committee to address efforts to limit market options for cattle producers and to address proposals that “limit ownership of cattle, restrict marketing agreements and place the cattle industry at a disadvantage with other suppliers of protein, both domestically and internationally.”

Peterson also pledged support to U.S. sugar growers except for ethanol production. “That’s not a good bet,” he said. “It simply does not make economic sense.”

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