While some in Congress kick around the idea of tax reform or finding ways to fund highway infrastructure improvements, American Farm Bureau delegates apparently haven’t seen enough to bring any resolutions to the floor seeking new direction or reacting to any of that early talk.
Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau, said in his wrap-up press conference late Tuesday afternoon in San Diego that the lack of debate during the convention reflects that Farm Bureau has pretty mature policies in areas such as infrastructure investment.
“We want the infrastructure funded,” he said. “In terms of the question of precisely how to do that and where the funds come from, like many other budget-related issues, we have always said we are not the ones who make the choices about where the dollars come from. But we have been very adamant about funding our infrastructure system.”
On tax reform, Farm Bureau has a lot of tax policy. For intergenerational farming, Stallman referred back to some conversations earlier in the week with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack about looking for ways to transfer farms to new farmers while helping the sellers avoid paying high capital-gains taxes because of decades of accrued gains from the basis.
“If a landowner wants to sell that land, there’s a disincentive to do it now and maybe under tax reform we can address that for purposes of inter-generational farming,” Stallman said. Again reiterating a suggestion by Vilsack, Stallman added, “Maybe you can get a more favorable capital gains tax treatment, if you will, by doing that.”
Stallman, who has been Farm Bureau president since 2000, said he believes Farm Bureau’s policy is solid to deal with tax reform: “I’d just like to see a tax-reform effort start.”
Overall, Stallman said he would characterize this year’s delegate session as a lot of reaffirmation of Farm Bureau’s current policies “with some tweaking.”
Stallman noted the delegate session was largely devoid of “any grand policy debates,” mainly because Farm Bureau has worked on some of its policies on major issues for years. “Amazingly enough they don’t seem to go away. They just seem to hang around.”
In some areas such as the Clean Water Act, Farm Bureau has been clear on its opposition to redefining the waters of the U.S. Policy changes focused more on seeking changes to allow producers to work their land to mitigate soil erosion without having to get a permit in some cases.
Farm Bureau brought more clarity to opposition of state laws that restrict food from other states based on production practices. While that issue seems to focus mainly on California’s egg-production law, it could become a problem in other circumstances as well. “I think that’s going to be an on-going issue. It’s not going to go away.”
Regarding Big Data, Farm Bureau delegates approved a position supporting the rights of producers to remove their data from a program or data-collection company. “That data is theirs and no one has the right to have it and use it unless they say so.”
Stallman was also asked at the presser about his reaction to China banning U.S. poultry products over strains of highly pathogenic avian influenza found in some wild birds in Washington State. “We believe it’s certainly inconsistent with international trade rules for a country to put in these wide bans based on in this case, not even in a production area, but in wild birds,” Stallman said. “That’s overkill and it’s beyond the pale and we think they should be held to task.”
Farm Bureau sought to make some changes to this year’s convention by changing around its trade show and providing more “hard hitting” information in its seminars, Stallman said. Farm Bureau sees itself as the premier farm organization in the country and wants to make its convention and trade show the premier farm event in the country, he said. “Given the response of our attendees I got here, at least anecdotally, I think we were pretty successful at that,” Stallman said. “We’re going to continue on that path forward.”
Stallman added he was pleased to have Vilsack spend as much time as he did at the convention, which included a town hall meeting on Sunday as well as attending the general session on Monday. Farm Bureau recognized Vilsack with an award, which included giving the secretary a branding iron with “US AG” as its brand.
“He and I actually had some fun,” Stallman said. “To the extent our informal atmosphere encouraged that, which I think it did, it was a great thing. He told me ‘Hey, you and I should do more of those town-hall-like meetings.'”
Reflecting on the relationship built between Vilsack and Stallman, the Farm Bureau president said he thinks the agriculture secretary is correct that country-of-origin labeling will have to be resolved by Congress.
“Congress is the one who put the law in place and he feels, and the attorneys at USDA feel, they have gone about as far as they can until Congress gives them some direction,” Stallman said. “They can’t freelance. They have to follow the law that was given to them by Congress. I think to resolve this COOL issue, it’s going to take Congress making some tough decisions. They are going to have step up to the plate and do it. I hate to say this, but I think Canada may have to create the crisis to get the action to do it. I hope that Congress doesn’t wait that long.”