Washington Farm Bill programs must account for the market factors that influence Americas cattle producers, the largest segment of American agriculture, the National Cattlemens Beef Association (NCBA) asserted today in testimony before the Senate Agriculture Committee.
"Market forces are understood and embraced by cattle ranchers," said Eric Davis, Vice President of NCBA and a cattle rancher from Bruneau, Idaho. "Government programs that adversely affect the beef industry are not. We are concerned about programs that would increase farm income by raising input prices on the beef industry."
The beef industry contributes $35 to $40 billion annually to the $200 billion agriculture industry and sale of cattle and calves is the single largest contributor to farm receipts. Livestock also consumes more than three out of every four bushels of the three major feed grains (corn, sorghum and barley) used domestically. Government programs affecting the price of feed grains or creating distorted market signals have a big impact on the beef industry.
"The environmental and conservation programs in the Farm Bill are also of interest to the cattle industry," continued Davis. " It is encouraging that the conservation initiatives being considered by this committee recognize the importance associated with keeping producers operations and lands profitable while at the same time conserving the natural resources on those lands."
The scope of the Farm Bill, in terms of its regulatory impact and the financial resources being allocated, make this bill singularly influential in guiding federal conservation policy over the next decade.
"Livestock producers, facing costly environmental regulations to protect water quality, should be provided with access to offsetting, voluntary incentive funds," stated Davis. "The financial assistance provided in the Farm Bill should be matched by a commitment to provide an ample supply of public and private technical assistance that will enable livestock producers to conserve their natural resources.
"Farm Bill 2002 must also continue to recognize the contributions grazing lands make to a healthy environment by providing assistance for grazing lands and grasslands conservation programs," Davis said.
Industry estimates that water quality maintenance will cost swine, fed cattle, dairy and poultry operators, with more than 50 animal units, at least $12.2 billion dollars over the next 10 years. This analysis includes costs operators will face in seeking additional land for the application of manure. It uses recent United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates of capital costs for the work, current public and private programs that are carrying out such activities, as well as published USDA estimates of the number of livestock and poultry operations subject to these provisions. The analysis does not represent the full costs of meeting Environmental Protection Agencys (EPAs) recently proposed concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) regulation.
In his testimony, Davis also provided recommendations for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and the Grazing Lands Conservation Initiative (GLCI). The NCBA Vice President also reiterated the importance of research, surveillance and monitoring for foreign animal diseases and strong disaster relief for pasture, range and forage losses.
Davis concluded with a sentence from an open letter to American agriculture from Lynn Cornwell, NCBA President and a rancher from Glasgow, Mont. "It is time for all of us to step outside the traditional thought process and develop a comprehensive package that assures sustainability and competitiveness of US agriculture during the 21st century."