Hang Onto Your Hat

February 24, 2016 02:42 AM

By Anna-Lisa & Chris Walljasper

If you live in a swing state, politics are top of mind—or driving you out of your mind. We know we’ll elect a new president this year, but what other activity in Washington will affect farms? Policy analyst Roger Bernard of Informa Economics and attorney John Dillard of OFW Law explain. 

WOTUS: An important issue involving the federal Clean Water Act is the Waters of the U.S. rule (WOTUS). Heavily debated and opposed by agriculture groups, WOTUS has stalled and likely won’t be resolved soon. “WOTUS is held up in court,” Dillard says. “In 2016, we’ll see some movement in the litigation, but it’s not likely we’ll see a solution this year.”

TPS16 Takeaways
  • Environmental challenges tied to water will remain a major point of concern. 
  • Crop insurance continues to face the ax as lawmakers tighten the budget.
  • The new ag secretary will affect farmers more than the new U.S. president.

Clean Water Act: Dillard says the Des Moines Water Works lawsuit will tell us what we need to know about the reach of the Clean Water Act. The utility is suing drainage districts in three rural Iowa counties for increased levels of nitrates. “The suit alleges excess nitrogen is coming from tiled fields,” Dillard explains. “Water Works is arguing that the water leaving the drains is a point source of pollution.”

Ethanol: The presidential election hasn’t included many agricultural topics other than the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS).  “I think ethanol’s probably been the one that’s come up the most, and that focused really on Mr. [Ted] Cruz,” Bernard says. “His statements, his positions were not very favorable.” No matter who wins, RFS is likely to stick around even after its 2022 expiration date.

Trade: President Obama signed the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement Feb. 3, but producers won’t see a vote in Congress anytime soon, Bernard says. “Mitch McConnell has already made it clear he’s not going to bring it up for a vote before the election,” he says. Bernard and Dillard agree it could be 2017 before the deal is finished. Meanwhile, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, a trade deal with Europe, won’t be completed in the near term either, Bernard points out. 

Cow Palace: Activists are targeting livestock facilities as they did in Yakima, Wash. Cow Palace Dairy was first to be targeted under the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, but Dillard says “copycat lawsuits are spreading.” The lawsuits allege that spreading dairy manure above agronomic uptake rates amounts to open dumping of solid waste. This is the year you should create a nutrient management plan.

Crop Insurance: These programs faced scrutiny in the past year, and it won’t be any different in 2016, Dillard says. Crop insurance has narrowly escaped death by budget cuts, but it’s not over, Bernard notes. “Be aware, crop insurance will be in the crosshairs again,” he says. “That seems to be the place most anti-subsidy folks are focusing their attention.”

USDA: The race to the White House commands media attention, but farmers and ranchers probably will be most affected by whoever the new president taps for the top spot at USDA, Bernard says. “What is their focus going to be?” he asks. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack has been on the job since 2009, and some analysts think he could be selected as Hillary Clinton’s running mate. “You can’t rule it out,” Bernard says. “Keep in mind that when Mr. Vilsack ran for president [in 2008], when he pulled out of the race, he threw his support behind Hillary Clinton.” It all depends on where the Clinton campaign thinks it needs support.

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