National Issues Update from Maryland Farm Bureau

The Climate Change Legislation

This bill passed the House and is currently pending in the Senate. Maryland Farm Bureau and the American Farm Bureau Federation opposed this bill. Congressman Bartlett was the only member of the House Delegation to oppose the bill on final passage.

· Farm Bureau opposes Climate Change legislation and argues that it would increase input costs to farmers and ranchers because the cost to sue fossil fuels (coal, oil and natural gas) would increase. As fuel, electricity, general energy and manufacturing costs increase, so to would fertilizer!

· Climate Change legislation could ultimately lead to regulation of production methods and practices – an outcome raising significant concerns.

· The agriculture sector is being asked to accept higher costs from the Climate Change bill; while all farmers and ranchers will face potentially higher costs, only a few stand to benefit. While some claim the legislation is good for agriculture, the fact is most fruit and vegetable producers will not qualify for offset benefits. Not all farmers will have the capacity to site wind turbines. Western ranchers whose operations are dependent on the use of federal lands for livestock forage have very limited offset opportunities. Not all areas of the country are able to productively adopt conservation tillage practices, thus restricting their offset possibilities. Yet ALL producers will incur the same increased fuel, fertilizer and energy costs as all Americans.

· The Climate Change bill does not provide incentives to develop new sources of energy – such as nuclear energy. The bill necessarily results in the reduction of coal fired energy production and offers no clear alternatives.

· The Climate Change bill puts a costly burden on U.S. businesses even if our competitors in India and China refuse to adopt similar practices. The result of U.S. only greenhouse gas reductions will have very limited impact on the environment and will result in a further migration of U.S. farm and manufacturing jobs overseas.

Estate Tax Reform

Congress will be focusing on tax issues later this year and Estate Taxes will be one focus of the bill. Farm Bureau is seeking a higher exemption for agriculture operations - so farms and ranches are not harmed. The future of American agriculture depends on the Estate Tax exemption, and whether or not farmers can afford to purchase the land they need! Because Estate Taxes influence the sale of land, this tax can interfere with the orderly transfer of farmland to the next generation of farmers and ranchers.

The facts are:

· Individuals, family partnerships or family corporations own 98 percent of our nation's 2 million farms and ranches.

· Estate taxes threaten family owned farm and ranches and the livelihoods of families who make their living in production agriculture.

· It takes two and half years of farm returns for a moderate-sized farm operation to pay off the Estate Tax owed.

Clean Water Restoration Act

Farm Bureau members were extremely successful last Congress in stopping this damaging bill from moving from the House. This year, Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) introduced S. 787, which would greatly expand the regulatory reach of the Clean Water Act to the detriment of U.S. economic growth and agricultural operations. The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee passed this bill and it is moving towards consideration in the full Senate.

· If passed, nearly every wet area in the nation -- even if water is only present for a few days could become regulated by the federal government! This could include everything from ditches, to farm ponds, to prior converted cropland and possibly groundwater.

· This proposal would move the CWA beyond protecting wetlands and waterways, and create a regulatory nightmare for farmers, ranchers and property owners.

Health Care Reform
The House Energy and Commerce Committee continued its markup of health care legislation this week.

Farm Bureau wants to ensure that farm and ranch businesses that employ others are not burdened with costs that they cannot afford and opposes any healthcare legislation that includes an employer mandate. Farm Bureau sent a letter explaining our opposition to members of House.

Additionally, the letter addressed Farm Bureau’s belief that health care reform legislation should address the disparities that exist between rural and non-rural communities. Farm Bureau urged committee members to:

  • support equitable Medicare payment rates to rural hospitals and physicians and expand;
  • enhance Medicare beneficiary access to telehealth services;
  • address the critical shortage of qualified health care professionals and health care facilities; and
  • create incentives such as scholarships and loans to students who agree to provide health care services in medically underserved areas.

Farming and ranching businesses operate on tight profit margins and are cyclical. Requiring employers to provide insurance coverage will put added financial strain on already struggling farm and ranch businesses because payment will be due whether or not a farm or ranch business turns a profit.

Farm Bureau believes that any health care reform must address the disparities that exist between rural and non-rural communities. There continues to be a critical shortage of health care facilities and qualified health care professionals in rural areas. In addition, many rural residents depend on small rural hospitals that face unique health care delivery challenges due to their size and case-mix.

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