Farm bill, pesticides top list of national issues to watch

National Association of Wheat Growers’ (NAWG) staff, Keira Franz, environmental policy advisor, and Jack Long, government relations representative, updated growers on issues NAWG is watching in Washington, D.C., during a break-out session at the 2023 Tri-State Grain Growers Convention.

By Trista Crossley
Editor, Wheat Life

Capitol Hill may seem far away, but what happens in Washington, D.C., has a direct impact on Eastern Washington farmers. Two National Association of Wheat Growers’ (NAWG) staff, Keira Franz, environmental policy advisor, and Jack Long, government relations representative, gave an “inside the beltway” perspective about Congress at the 2023 Tri-State Grain Growers Convention.

Next year is an election year, and as Franz pointed out, running for election takes time away from D.C., plus things tend to get more political. In the House, all members are up for election every two years, while a third of the Senate is up for election. In the House, there are 24 members that say they are not running for re-election. In the Senate, several prominent members are not running for re-election, including Sen. Debbie Stabenow, chair of the Senate Ag Committee.

“That opens up a lot of seats, a lot of activity, but also kind of changes the dynamics of the discussion,” Franz said. “That’s going to put pressure over the next year to get this bill done. We believe she (Stabenow) has a very strong interest in getting another farm bill completed before she leaves Congress. With the countdown at a year to get that done, the pressure is really on.”

Editor’s note: Just the day before this presentation, Congress had passed a one-year extension to the 2023 Farm Bill as part of another continuing resolution, pushing its renewal into an election year. During her presentation, Franz said passing a farm bill extension isn’t unusual. It was done when the 2002 and 2008 farm bills expired.

For the farm bill, NAWG will be looking to protect and enhance crop insurance; institute a meaningful reference price increase; double trade promotion funding; continue voluntary, incentive-based conservation programs; and oppose conservation compliance requirements.

“(Conservation compliance) has changed over the last few farm bills, adding requirements and linking that to crop insurance, and we don’t want to see that expanded any further,” Franz said.

Some of the farm bill obstacles that NAWG is seeing are debates on permanent disaster funding, the appropriations process, the upcoming elections, and the politics that are creating delays and turmoil in Congress. Legislators are also discussing a base acre update. NAWG does not support a mandatory base acre update; they prefer the current system of historical bases.

One of the big farm bill debates comes down to funding and where the funding comes from to increase the wheat reference price and to double trade promotion funding. Franz said that one of the funding sources that is being talked about is the Inflation Reduction Act, which earmarked $18 billion for conservation programs.

“Stabenow is adamant that money should be maintained for conservation and for the climate-smart practices of conservation,” Franz said. “Nutrition funding is always a hot button issue, and we don’t expect that to wane.”

There are also delays from the Congressional Budget Office and delays tied to the agricultural appropriations legislation.  

“We will be working hard to see more farm bill activity next year, to get more significant activity through the committees and then, hopefully, a final bill prior to the end of September next year,” Franz said.

Although the farm bill is taking a lot of NAWG’s focus, there are other national issues the association is also keeping tabs on. One of those is herbicide and pesticide regulations. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a herbicide strategy plan in 2022 in response to a lawsuit that said EPA wasn’t complying with Endangered Species Act regulations. Long said there were several things in the plan that were concerning:

• Pesticide-use limitation areas.

• A system of efficacy points and mitigation practices that are given with those points.

• The economic impact on producers.

NAWG joined with other commodity groups to submit comments, which EPA is considering.

“Hopefully, we see some shift in some of the mitigation practices they offer, something easier for producers to utilize, and something that is definitely economically efficient for them as well,” Long said.

One win for NAWG and producers happened recently when a federal court of appeals vacated EPA’s regulations banning the use of chlorpyrifos. NAWG is also monitoring treated seed litigation that would prevent growers from using treated seed until the seed itself is registered with the EPA. NAWG is preparing to submit comments.

In transportation, Long said NAWG is looking into reciprocal switching and has drafted a letter to the Surface Transportation Board (STB) about rules that impose impossible hurdles on customers and doesn’t create competition. STB has responded that they are drafting a final rule on reciprocal switching that would provide additional relief to rail customers suffering from poor service and provide for additional competition.

NAWG is also monitoring Congress for any potential legislation that might impact the lower Snake River dams.

Finally, Franz touched on the Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) legislation, which has been an ongoing issue for years. A revised regulation went into effect in September, but several legal challenges have been filed against it. 

“We are still dealing with this patchwork of implementation of where the WOTUS regulation is in effect,” she explained. “We are really looking at what are those jurisdictional waters, and how do you determine what is navigable, what is a tributary, and how much flow does a river need to have to be considered a jurisdictional water of the U.S.?”