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Roberts says government overregulates farms, ranches.

Senate Agriculture Committee ranking minority member Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) says that the administration is overregulating farmers and ranchers. In a letter to President Obama, Roberts outlined specific directives and regulations the administration has proposed or has in development that would affect farmers and ranchers.

The letter comes following an Aug. 17 town hall meeting the president hosted in Illinois during which a farmer expressed concerns over proposed regulations impacting dust pollution, noise pollution and water runoff. The president answered the man by telling him he shouldn't believe everything he hears.

"I want to assure you that this farmer's concerns are justified," Roberts said. "Mr. President, I hope this list of regulations provides more clarity on the real, proposed regulations and policy changes by your administration that will add costs to every farming, livestock and forestry operation in this country, while also increasing costs for consumers. I urge you to do all that you can to put the brakes on this regulatory agenda aimed at Rural America."

Among other issues that Roberts brought to the president's attention is the controversial rule proposed by USDA's Grain Inspection and Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) regarding livestock marketing practices. The senator noted that: "USDA has proposed a new regulation for livestock marketing that will undo years of progress and innovation in the livestock industry. Many of the provisions of this proposed rule were rejected on a bipartisan basis during debate on the last farm fill, which was signed into law when you were serving in the U.S. Senate.

"This proposed rule could eliminate the use of many alternative marketing arrangements in the livestock industry. A 2007 GIPSA study showed that over ten years a 25 percent reduction in alternative marketing arrangements would cost feeder cattle producers $5.1 billion; fed cattle producers $3.9 billion; and consumers $2 billion. If marketing arrangements were eliminated, the 10-year cumulative losses for producers and consumers would top $60 billion."

The beef, pork and poultry industries have consolidated over the past three decades, with the number of cattle producers failing from 1.6 million in 1980 to 950,000 today and the number of hog farms dropping from 660,000 to 71,000, according to USDA.

The 2008 farm bill required USDA to promote competition within the beef, poultry and pork industries. Last year, the department proposed rules that he said would do that just that. Consolidation has given the packers ever greater control over the producers and allowed them to keep a larger share of revenue, said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack at the time. This loss of bargaining power, the secretary argued, is one of the big reasons livestock farmers have struggled financially in recent decades--with tens of thousands forced out of the business.

The key provision would make it easier for farmers to sue under the Packers and Stockyards Act. Instead of existing rules requiring that farmers prove that a company had reduced industry competition, the new rules require a farmer to show only that a company has engaged in discriminatory acts against the farmer, such as by offering higher prices to preferred suppliers. That provision likely would unleash a wave of litigation and dramatically change feedlot and packer buying practices, two big reasons for the push-back against the proposal.
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Publication:The Food & Fiber Letter
Date:Aug 29, 2011
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