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NACo Agriculture & Rural Affairs Committee Report - 2012 Legislative Conference

Posted Date: 
April 10, 2012
Kathy Bessette, Hill County Commissioner

Agriculture and Rural Affairs committee meetings were held on Sunday, March 4, 2012, beginning with the Agriculture Subcommittee.  This committee held a joint meeting with two subcommittees of the Health Steering Committee – the Health Disparities Subcommittee and the Public Health and Healthy Communities Subcommittee.  The discussion of both committees centered on two resolutions that support local and regional farm and food systems.  Following discussion of the resolutions, both committees offered support for them.

“RC and Ds are not dead,” Andrew Gordon, Executive Director of the National Association of Resource Conservation and Development, told the Rural Development Subcommittee.  He thinks 70% of the existing RC and Ds will survive; 20% will close; and 10% are on “life support.”  The association highlights the work that the Circle of Diamonds program performs in their communities and recognizes the good stewardship practices that have been established.

Patrick Woodall, Research Director of Food and Water Watch, spoke to the Food Safety Subcommittee regarding country of origin labeling.  He stated that the World Trade Organization ruled that COOL is a barrier to trade because of the cost.  The labeling has been legislated, but the written materials are confusing and don’t meet the legislated purpose.  Strengthening the information on the label would meet the purpose but will cost more.  Either way, Woodall thinks COOL is at risk and says the USDA should appeal the decision by the WTO.  More countries are doing food labeling, and the consumer has demanded that it be done.  It is very popular but Woodall fears that Congress will reject COOL.

Jennifer Yezak, Director of the Office of External and Intergovernmental Affairs of the USDA, was the speaker for the Agriculture and Rural Affairs Steering Committee.  She spoke about the accomplishments made by the USDA during the last 3 years.  The USDA works with other federal partners to safeguard the food supply, to prevent food-borne illnesses, and to educate the public about the food they eat.  Food exports in fiscal year 2011 reached a record high of $137.4 billion, exceeding past highs by $22.5 billion.  The work of USDA scientists and researchers touches the lives of every American, from the farm field to the kitchen table.  USDA science is on the cutting edge, helping protect, secure, and improve our food, agriculture, and natural resources.  She mentioned that the USDA, which was formed by President Abe Lincoln, is 150 years old. 

Erik Johnston, Associate Legislative Director, reported on the progress of the Farm Bill and feels the November election process will no doubt slow down the final product.  Chances are there will be a crop insurance program, but he doubts there will be direct payments.  He said the Rural Development dollars should be “steady,” mainly because the program is a large source of funding for rural infrastructure projects.

The committee reviewed, discussed, and passed the following resolutions:

1)    Legislation to limit closures of rural post offices;
2)    Support of local Farms, Food and Jobs Act (S.1773 and HR 3286);
3)    Legislation on Farm Bill programs supporting local food systems; and
4)    Restoring the ability of federal conservation easement programs to accept Department of Defense matching funds.  This would preserve agricultural and rural working lands, while limiting development on property abutting military installations.  (Thanks to Joe Briggs, Cascade County Commissioner, for helpful information which aided the discussion on this resolution).

I was able to attend several very informative workshops pertinent to Hill County.  Two of those were workshops that included information regarding levees and flood insurance – issues with which we are currently dealing.  Also there was a workshop detailing fracking, which was well attended as well as very interesting.  This workshop detailed the fracking process in Pennsylvania, which is done at a different depth than our area.

Kathy Bessette | | (406)398-5381