National Issues

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National Issues include all national farm programs, dairy Issues, federal regulatory proposals, animal health and well-being, farm labor & farm safety and is overseen by PFB’s Federal Affairs Specialist.

Grant Gulibon

Environmental Specialist
717-761-2740

2022 Strategic Priorities

Every year, Farm Bureau members in more than 2.800 counties meet to discuss and vote on policies affecting their farms and communities. These same policies set the agenda for state Farm Bureaus and the American Farm Bureau. Our grassroots process gives strength to Farm Bureau, and helps us advocate on behalf of our farmers. Farm Bureau’s strategic priorities for 2022 include: agricultural labor, farm policy (including dairy), infrastructure, regulations (including the new proposed Waters of the U.S. rule), rural health, supply chain, sustainability, and taxes. Addressing these issues are critical for continued success of agriculture and our farmers. Farm Bureau looks forward to continuing to work with the 117th Congress and the Administration to address these issues.

This document provides a brief overview of these issues as well as our goals. Supply chain, sustainability, infrastructure, Waters of the U.S., and dairy are covered in individual background papers. More information on any of these strategic priorities are available upon request. For additional policy insight and analysis, and more detail about many of Farm Bureau’s strategic priorities, please visit AFBF’s Market Intel page at: https://www.fb.org/market-intel.

 

Agricultural Labor

U.S. agriculture faces a critical shortage of workers every year, as citizens are largely unwilling to engage in these rigorous activities and guestworker programs are unable to respond to the marketplace. This situation makes our farms less competitive with foreign farmers and less reliable for the American consumer. Securing a reliable and competent workforce for our nation’s farms is essential to agriculture and to the U.S. economy. Farm Bureau will work to:

  • Achieve meaningful legislation that helps farmers meet their labor needs.
  • Update H-2A rules to enhance farmers’ ability to hire the workers they need.

 

Dairy

Dairy is an important part of the agriculture industry, and plays a critical role in Pennsylvania’s economy, generating $14.7 billion in annual revenue and more than 52,000 jobs. Dairy also plays an important role in diets, because it contains nine essential nutrients, and is a good source of protein. While these facts are compelling, the dairy industry has also been greatly challenged in recent years. Farm Bill will work to:

  • Advance Modified Bloc Voting as the first step toward Federal Milk Marketing Order Reform.
  • Increase access to higher fat milks in schools.
  • Seek FDA enforcement of food standards regarding the labeling of dairy products, and measures that would prohibit the misleading labeling of nut- and plant-based food products as “milk” or other common dairy names.

Farm Policy

The farm bill is omnibus, multi-year authorizing legislation that governs an array of agricultural and food programs. It is typically renewed about every five years. The 2018 farm bill contained 12 titles encompassing commodity price and income supports, crop insurance, farm credit, trade, conservation, research, rural development, energy, and foreign and domestic food programs, among others. The 2018 farm bill was signed into law in December 2018, and brought another five years of certainty to farm families; upheld fiscal responsibility by being budget neutral; improved risk management programs; protected crop insurance; funded much-needed trade development; and invested in the future with funding for ag research and beginning farmer programs. The current farm bill will extend through the 2023 crop year and will cover the 2023/24 marketing year crops. Dairy provisions of the farm bill will expire in calendar year 2023.

Farm Bureau will continue to work with Congress and the new Administration on implementation of the 2018 bill, as well as surface proposals for inclusion in the 2023 farm bill and help set the stage for bipartisan farm bill discussions.

Infrastructure

Rural communities play an important role in our nation’s economy. They are home to a majority of U.S. manufacturing and our agricultural production. American agriculture feeds the world, creates millions of jobs and help keep our economy strong. Our international competitiveness depends on our ability to produce our products, and get them to market. This means we need the right infrastructure in our rural communities. Deteriorating rural infrastructure threatens the competitive leadership of American agriculture. Farm Bureau will work to:

  • Increase resources to expand rural access to reliable, high-speed broadband service.
  • Ensure authorized resources are responsibly and efficiently allocated to rebuild, repair and modernize transportation infrastructure, including rural roads and bridges, ports, and inland waterway locks and dams.
  • Increase federal investment in agricultural research.

Supply Chain

During the COVID-19 pandemic, our nation witnessed vulnerabilities throughout the supply chain that had not been seen before. Early on, consumers faced empty grocery store shelves, and long food bank lines. At the same time, farmers were asked to cull animals, dump milk and plow under fresh produce. Supplies of farm inputs like crop protectants, fertilizers, and seeds have been difficult to obtain, and expensive to purchase. Transportation of farm products and supplies is more expensive and less available today than at pre-pandemic levels, and timely maritime transportation of agricultural exports has been a challenge. Added to these challenges is the fact that agricultural labor – whether domestic or foreign – is increasingly difficult to access and expensive. Farm Bureau will work to:

  • Identify and pursue regulatory and administrative actions that decrease port congestion, reduce barriers to employment, speed up transportation of goods via rail and highway, and ease inflationary pressures.
  • Support infrastructure investments that foster long-term growth in production, processing, trade and distribution.
  • Expand agricultural processing capacity and enhance market transparency.
  • Provide support to small, intrastate meat and poultry processing plants to attain federal inspection.
  • Ensure access to agricultural inputs through proactive trade policies and science-based environmental assessments of chemical registrations.

Sustainability

U.S. farmers are at the forefront of climate-smart farming, and utilizing scientific solutions, technology and innovation to work to protect our land, air and water. They are producing more food, renewable fuel and fiber than before, while using less water, protecting against erosion and conserving more soil, avoiding nutrient loss, increasing wildlife habit and improving biodiversity. In fact, U.S. agriculture would have needed nearly 100 million more acres 30 years ago to match today’s production levels. Farmers are looking for solutions to strengthen this essential industry and improve our sustainability, but farmers can’t tackle this alone. Farm Bureau will work to:

  • Ensure that environmental sustainability efforts also ensure economic sustainability for farmers.
  • Provide voluntary, market-based incentive tools and technical assistance for farmers and foresters to enhance carbon sequestration and other greenhouse gas emissions reductions using scientifically sound standards.
  • Foster the development of private sector ecosystem services markets.
  • Increase public awareness of agricultural advances in conservation and climate-smart practices.

 

Rural Health

Farmers and farm families are increasingly experiencing stress and mental health issues. The pandemic, trade disputes, volatile commodity prices and more have all contributed to increased stress for the agricultural community. In fact, a strong majority of farmers and farm workers (66 percent) state that COVID-19 has impacted their mental health. Farm Bureau remains committed to providing resources and training, and advocating for legislation and policy ensuring mental wellness. Learn more on the Farm State of Mind (mental wellness): https://www.fb.org/land/fsom and FarmTown Strong (opioid epidemic): https://farmtownstrong.org/. Farm Bureau will work to:

  • Increase awareness of mental health resources and encourage broader availability of agriculture-specific assistance.
  • Expand programs to provide resources and address stigma surrounding mental health challenges.
  • Support policies and legislation to provide stress assistance programs to farmers, increase farmer-facing training opportunities, increase awareness and reduce stigma for rural mental health issues.

 

Regulations

Federal regulations have a direct impact on farmers. Today, agricultural producers are faced with a flurry of requirements that impact many facets of agriculture. These include the Clean Water Act (such as WOTUS, prior converted cropland criteria, wetlands jurisdictional determinations or total maximum daily load limits); the Endangered Species Act (through designation of species, establishment of critical habitat, application of the best available science); the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA); the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA); and immigration and labor regulations.

These requirements can be the result of federal legislation, agency interpretations, or they can sometimes emanate from court decisions. But no matter how they are established, the result often can be controversial. Stakeholders may disagree on the language in the statute; affected parties may disagree on the science, the data or the models underpinning one or the other. Farm Bureau will work to:

  • Defend recent improvements to environmental regulations including the Navigable Waters Protection Rule, National Environmental Policy Act procedural updates, and the Endangered Species Act habitat rules.
  • Work for reform of decision making and appeals related to conservation compliance (Swampbuster) rules.
  • Ensure multiple use mandates on federal lands are respected.
  • Continue to work for a regulatory environment that enables farmers to be productive as well as environmentally and economically sustainable.
  • Ensure that renewable energy sources such as U.S.-grown biofuels are utilized to their full potential.

Waters of the U.S.

The definition of “waters of the United States” (WOTUS) has been the subject of controversy and multiple Supreme Court decisions over the years. The challenge is how a WOTUS is defined, and how that definition impacts the ability of farmers and landowners to use their land. The issue is of significant concern to many, especially to farmers. Now, the EPA and the Army Corps have proposed a new rule that would roll back the successful Navigable Waters Protection Rule and replace it with an updated version of the pre-2015 regulatory regime.

Farm Bureau will work to ensure that:

  • The Agencies produce a rulemaking that respects Supreme Court precedent and Congressional intent.
  • Any rulemaking provides clarity and certainty.
  • Landowners are able to understand when they need CWA §404 permits, including where federal jurisdiction ends and state jurisdiction begins.
  • Farm Bureau members can navigate the permit process or know when to obtain the services of environmental consultants and legal counsel.

Taxes

Agriculture is an uncertain business. Product markets, fluctuating input prices, uncertain weather, insects and disease outbreaks makes running a farm business challenging. Farmers also borrow and invest large sums of money in capital assets like land and buildings in order to operate their businesses. As a result, farmers need a tax code that recognizes the financial challenges faced by agricultural producers. Farm Bureau believes that tax laws must protect, not harm, the family farms that grow America’s food and fiber.

Individuals, family partnerships and family corporations own over 99 percent of our nation’s more than two million farms. America values these family-owned farms because of the food, fiber and fuel they produce; the contribution that agriculture makes to job creation and the economy; and the open space that farming protects. Farm Bureau will work to:

  • Secure permanent estate tax and capital gains tax law that allows family-owned farms to transfer from one generation to another.
  • Make low-income tax rates and business deductions permanent to permit farmers to keep more of their earnings and invest in their businesses.
  • Lock in tax code provisions that allow farm operations to match expenses with income so they can manage the seasonal and cyclical nature of their businesses.

Trade

Ninety-five percent of the world’s consumers live outside our borders. International trade and the relationships that go with it make our world a safer, more stable place. Fewer barriers to U.S. agriculture exports allow us to deliver more food into the hands of people who need it. Trade is vital to the success of our nation’s farmers. Farm exports make up a large portion of farmers’ income. In fact, more than 25 percent of all U.S. ag production ultimately goes to markets outside our borders. Farm Bureau will work to:

  • Expand trade opportunities for U.S. agriculture.
  • Encourage the U.S. to join the Comprehensive & Progressive Trans Pacific Partnership agreement.
  • Maintain the China Phase 1 agreement and ensure it is implemented.
  • Seek continued implementation of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, including produce plan implementation.
  • Reduce tariffs and non-tariff barriers to trade.
  • Engage in trade negotiations with the United Kingdom and other nations.
  • Advance reform of the World Trade Organization.

Supply Chain

Overview

COVID-19 has highlighted pinch points within the supply chain. Farm Bureau has been working over the last few years to address issues as they arise, and work toward long-term solutions designed to create a reliable and stable supply chain.

 

Background

During the COVID-19 pandemic, our nation witnessed vulnerabilities throughout the supply chain that had not been seen before. Early on, consumers faced empty grocery store shelves, and long food bank lines. At the same time, farmers were asked to cull animals, dump milk and plow under fresh produce. Supplies of farm inputs like crop protectants, fertilizers, and seeds have been difficult to obtain, and expensive to purchase. Transportation of farm products and supplies is more expensive and less available today than at pre-pandemic levels, and timely maritime transportation of agricultural exports has been a challenge. Added to these challenges is the fact that agricultural labor – whether domestic or foreign – is increasingly difficult to access and expensive.

One of the most-high profile issues lately has been ongoing congestion and related logistical obstacles. These obstacles have threatened U.S. farmers’ ability to meet much-welcome increases in foreign demand for agricultural products. Fewer containers have been made available for U.S. agricultural commodities, as ocean carriers have circumvented traditional marketing channels and rushed containers back to be exported empty. Accessibility to export containers has been further limited by record shipping costs and harmful surcharges. With these factors combined, the ability for farmers to fulfill oversees contracts has been significantly impacted, with some estimates exceeding $4.2 billion in lost agricultural exports. Additionally, a survey by the Agriculture Transportation Coalition found that on average, 22 percent of U.S. agriculture foreign sales could not be completed because of ocean carrier practices like exorbitant freight rates, declined booking requests, failure to communicate schedules in a timely manner and several others.

As a result of the significant supply chain challenges, Farm Bureau has identified this issue as a strategic priority for 2022. Farm Bureau will be working to:

  • Identify and pursue regulatory and administrative actions that decrease port congestion, reduce barriers to employment, speed up transportation of goods via rail and highway, and ease inflationary pressures.
  • Support infrastructure investments that foster long-term growth in production, processing, trade and distribution.
  • Expand agricultural processing capacity and enhance market transparency.
  • Provide support to small, intrastate meat and poultry processing plants to attain federal inspection.
  • Ensure access to agricultural inputs through proactive trade policies and science-based environmental assessments of chemical registrations.

In September 2021, Farm Bureau sent a letter to USDA detailing solutions to address critical supply chain issues facing farmers. The letter asked USDA to consider action on livestock markets and processing capacity, farm inputs, transportation, labor, and trade. In addition, due to high fertilizer prices, Farm Bureau has been urging the Administration to look for ways to bring fertilizer prices down, which include resolving supply chain issues and removing import duties.

Additionally, in January 2022, USDA announced plans to increase capacity at the Port of Oakland in California and improve service for shippers of U.S. grown agricultural commodities, including a new 25-acre pop-up site to make it easier for agricultural companies to fill empty shipping containers with commodities.

Also, Farm Bureau supported the H.R. 4996, the Ocean Shipping Reform Act. This legislation, which passed the House by a bipartisan vote (364-60) in late 2021, is the first major update to federal regulations for the global ocean shipping industry since 1996. Farm Bureau also supports similar legislation, S. 3580, the Ocean Shipping Reform Act, in the Senate.

For More Information

AFBF Market Intel:

 

Legislative Request

Farm Bureau asks for cosponsorship and support of S. 3580, the Ocean Shipping Reform Act, which would update federal regulations for the global shipping industry.

Additionally, Farm Bureau asks the Administration and Congress to pursue initiatives and legislation to help resolve existing supply chain challenges and work toward improvements within the supply chain.


Climate and Sustainability

Overview

U.S. farmers are at the forefront of climate-smart farming, and utilizing scientific solutions, technology and innovation to work to protect our land, air and water. Farmers are looking for solutions to strengthen this essential industry and improve our sustainability, but farmers can’t tackle this alone.

 

Background

U.S. farmers are producing more food, renewable fuel and fiber than before, while using less water, protecting against erosion and conserving more soil, avoiding nutrient loss, increasing wildlife habit and improving biodiversity. In fact, U.S. agriculture would have needed nearly 100 million more acres 30 years ago to match today’s production levels. Farmers are also improving efficiency and promoting healthy soil by planting cover crops and adopting practices that reduce and, in some cases, eliminate the need for tilling—or turning the soil over. Healthier soil also means cleaner air and water, as farmers trap carbon in the soil and reduce runoff with these practices.

Agriculture can also play a role in offsetting emissions beyond the farm gate. From climate-smart farming practices to voluntary management of forests, grasslands, wetlands and croplands, farmers are not only reducing their footprint, but also are actively absorbing carbon from the atmosphere. According to the EPA, land management practices alone removed 764 million metric tons of CO2 from the atmosphere in 2018. That is equal to taking 165 million vehicles off the road for a year. Consider these facts about American agriculture:

  • Less than 10% of total U.S. GHG emissions stem from agriculture.
  • Combined, U.S. agriculture, land use and forestry are a net sink for carbon emissions. U.S. carbon sinks offset 12% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. The largest carbon sink involved U.S. forestry lands.
  • 140 million acres (15% of all farmland) are enrolled in USDA conservation programs. That’s equal to the total land area of California and New York combined.
  • Cropland productivity has increased by nearly 50% since 1990 while the net emissions “flux” – the net of carbon emissions and carbon sinks associated with land use and land-use changes – has remained consistent.
  • Over the last decade, nearly three trillion pounds of corn have been used to produce clean, renewable ethanol for blending into motor fuels. In 2018 alone, the use of ethanol and biodiesel reduced carbon emissions by an amount equivalent to 17 million cars.
  • Livestock production has become far more efficient and less greenhouse gas-intensive in recent years, accounting for only 3.3% of emissions, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. These numbers are declining thanks to improvements in feed and feed production.

The next steps to meet sustainability goals must begin by recognizing the achievements across agricultural sectors and building on the unique role farming plays in a balanced ecosystem. If agriculture is to continue to lead the way, our country must prioritize its investment in agriculture research and innovation, with a focus on solutions that ensure vibrant rural communities and a healthy agriculture economy. Farm Bureau encourages policymakers and others to continue to build upon the strong foundation of voluntary stewardship investments and practices to guide policies and partnerships to improve the sustainable practices carried out on farms across the U.S.

Farm Bureau believes that adaption strategies and tools can be utilized to face the challenges of more inclement weather and a changing climate. Appropriate funding and emphasis should be given to agricultural research. Having the technology, traits and production practices will be more beneficial than burdening the economy with additional regulations.Farm Bureau support policies and incentives that encourage the production and utilization of biofuels and renewable energy. The production and use of biofuels and renewable energy not only helps to reduce GHGs, but creates American jobs, encourages rural development, enhances our national security and protects Americans from price shocks. Increased biofuel production also diversifies our energy portfolio to make America more secure and resilient to the increasing costs for energy.

Farm Bureau policy supports market-based solutions, rather than federal or state emissions limits, being used to achieve a reduction in GHG emissions from any source.

Status

In June 2021, the Senate passed the bipartisan Growing Climate Solutions Act, which would create a certification program at USDA to help solve technical barriers to entry for farmers and forest landowners who wish to participate in voluntary carbon credit markets. One of the provisions in the bill would establish a GHG Technical Assistance Provider and Third-Party Verifier Certification Program through which USDA would be able to provide transparency, legitimacy and informal endorsement of these providers to help landowners. Another provision would create a new website, administered by USDA, to serve as a “one stop shop” of information and resources for producers and foresters who are interested in participating in carbon markets. Farm Bureau worked with the bill’s sponsors in the Senate to develop the bill, and is also supporting the companion bill, H.R. 2820.

As discussions about credit markets evolve, Farm Bureau is also working closely with industry partners and lawmakers to identify solutions to ensure ecosystem credit markets are voluntary and economically viable for farmers, and they work with the climate smart practices in place on the farm.

For More Information

AFBF Market Intel:

Legislative Request

Farm Bureau asks Congress to support H.R. 2820, the Growing Climate Solutions Act


Dairy

Overview

Dairy is an important part of the agriculture industry, and plays a critical role in Pennsylvania’s economy, generating $14.7 billion in annual revenue and more than 52,000 jobs. Dairy also plays an important role in diets, because it contains nine essential nutrients, and is a good source of protein. While these facts are compelling, the dairy industry has also been greatly challenged in recent years.

Background

Volatile markets, declining milk prices, increased milk production worldwide, trade impacts, weather challenges, reduced consumption, and a global pandemic have led to dire straits in the dairy industry. As a result, an increasing number of dairy farmers are exiting the business. A report from USDA in February 2020 showed the largest annual decline in the number of dairy operations since 2004. Pennsylvania lost 370 dairies in 2018, 470 in 2019, and 300 in 2020. The total number of dairy farm losses in the Northeast was 630 in 2020, with Pennsylvania having the highest losses.

In 2016, USDA projected that the nation’s per capita milk consumption had declined 25 percent over twenty years. Milk price volatility, the proliferation of imitation “milk” and bottled water products, reduced consumption of ready-to-eat cereals, and government policies limiting school milk options all contributed to the decline in milk sales.

While the 2018 Farm Bill strengthened the safety net for dairy farmers, it is not enough to reverse the financial challenges we are seeing in the dairy industry. The USMCA agreement – with its increased access for dairy products to Canada, changes in the Canadian supply management system, and continued strong trading relationships with Canada and Mexico – will also provide some much-needed benefits to dairy farmers.

Federal Milk Marketing Orders

Except for the 2018 farm bill, the Federal Milk Marketing Order program has not undergone substantial changes in almost two decades. Farm Bureau is concerned about the large imbalances in the pricing and pooling of milk, which have recently cost dairy farmers hundreds of millions of dollars. COVID-19 caused unprecedented volatility in milk markets, and highlighted the urgent need for dairy farmers and the industry to consider ways to modernize the FMMO system.

Farm Bureau believes that dairy farmers should have an opportunity to directly vote on FMMO issues as they impact milk prices and farm profitability. Currently, only dairy farmers who are independent and not members of cooperatives may cast individual ballots. Cooperatives may allow their members to vote independently, but then lose their ability to bloc vote on behalf of their non-participating members. Modified bloc voting would allow for coop members to be able to vote independently and confidentially, while allowing cooperatives to cast ballots for farmers who choose not to vote individually. Modified bloc voting is the first step to obtaining FMMO reform.

Status

In the 117th Congress, Farm Bureau is supporting two dairy bills, H.R. 818, the Giving Increased Variety to Ensure Milk into the Lives of Kids (GIVE MILK) Act and H.R. 1861, the Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act of 2021. H.R. 818 would increase access to milk in the WIC program by allowing reduced fat (two percent) and whole milk options for participants, and reverses existing rules limiting participants to low-fat (one percent) or nonfat milk. H.R. 1861 would allow for unflavored and flavored whole milk to be offered in school cafeterias.

In the 116th Congress, Farm Bureau also supported the Dairy Pride Act, which would require that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) take enforcement action against manufacturers labeling non-dairy products as dairy. The bill would stop the use of dairy terms such as milk, yogurt, cheese, etc on the labels of non-dairy products made from items like nuts, seeds, plants, etc. It does not prevent the sale of non-dairy products, it only addresses the labeling issue. Farm Bureau has called on FDA to vigorously enforce food standards regarding the labeling of dairy products and prohibit the misleading labeling of nut- and plant-based food products as “milk” or other common dairy names.

For More Information

Federal Milk Marketing Order Reform: https://www.fb.org/issues/farm-policy/federal-milk-marketing-order-reform/

AFBF Market Intel Articles:

Legislative Request

Farm Bureau requests support for:

  • Modified Bloc Voting as a first step toward Federal Milk Marketing Order Reform
  • FDA enforcement of food standards regarding the labeling of dairy products, and measures that would prohibit the misleading labeling of nut- and plant-based food products as “milk” or other common dairy names
  • R. 818, the Giving Increased Variety to Ensure Milk into the Lives of Kids (GIVE MILK) Act
  • R. 1861, the Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act of 2021

Infrastructure

Overview

Rural communities play an important role in our nation’s economy. They are home to a majority of U.S. manufacturing and our agricultural production. American agriculture feeds the world, creates millions of jobs and help keep our economy strong. Our international competitiveness depends on our ability to produce our products, and get them to market. This means we need the right infrastructure in our rural communities. Deteriorating rural infrastructure threatens the competitive leadership of American agriculture.

Background

Infrastructure – such as reliable rural broadband connections, competitive agricultural research facilities, and reliable highways, bridges, railways, locks and dams, harbors and port facilities – is critical to agriculture. Unfortunately, investment in rural communities and overall infrastructure has not always kept pace with need. Rural communities have seen their infrastructure deteriorate, jeopardizing jobs, health and well-being, and overall competitiveness in agriculture and other industries important to agriculture.

Transportation infrastructure is one of the most obvious needs in rural communities, but not the only need that must be addressed. In addition, critical needs exist in providing affordable housing options for rural families, expanding broadband access across rural communities, updating ag research facilities, and enhancing the ability to supply affordable, reliable and secure power for the rural economy.

Federal investment plays a vital role in repairing and expanding our nation’s infrastructure; however, federal funds cannot fully meet the vast diversity of needs. This is why public-private partnerships and other creative solutions are necessary to meet the challenges of rural America. For infrastructure funding to be utilized to the highest degree, we must ease burdensome regulations and outdated statutory requirements, as well as fund projects in a way that ensures completion in a timely manner

Farm Bureau is part of a coalition called Rebuild Rural, which is a group of more than 220 organizations from across the country representing agricultural producers, cooperatives, rural businesses, rural communities and rural families. As part of the joint effort, we are working to elevate infrastructure issues impacting rural communities and are calling on Congress to pass bipartisan legislation to strengthen the nation’s infrastructure, especially those that would address some of the unique needs facing rural communities and agriculture.

Rural Broadband

Expanding broadband services to rural areas has been a chief concern of Farm Bureau. High-speed internet access allows individuals to reach health care and educational services, government agencies, and new business opportunities. In agriculture, for example, many of the latest, yield-maximizing farming techniques require broadband connections for data collection and analysis performed both on the farm and in remote data centers. Precision agriculture allows farmers to be more efficient, economical and environmentally friendly, but not all farmers who want to use precision tools have access to reliable broadband.

Rural communities need access to health care, government services, and educational and business opportunities. For many rural communities, access can only be gained by using broadband services and sophisticated technologies that require high-speed connections. According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which measures fixed deployment data at the census block level, roughly 14.5 million people in America don’t have access to broadband with over 11 million of them residing in rural communities. However, user data from Microsoft, which measures usage much more granularly, shows that some 157.3 million people in the U.S. do not use the internet at broadband speeds. This means that in reality a much larger share of America’s 53.8 million rural residents do not have access to broadband.

Current and future generations of rural Americans will be left behind their fellow citizens if they are without affordable high-speed broadband service that enables them to tap into health care and education services, government agencies and new business opportunities.

In Pennsylvania, roughly 18 percent of rural Pennsylvanians lack access to internet service, or only have low-speed options. Research performed by the Center for Rural Pennsylvania found that median broadband speeds across most areas of the state do not meet the FCC’s criteria to qualify as broadband. In fact, research showed that there were no counties in Pennsylvania where at least 50 percent of the populace received broadband connectivity.

The Broadband Deployment Accuracy and Technological Act (Broadband DATA Act) was signed into law in 2020. This bipartisan and comprehensive bill, which AFBF supported, improves the accuracy of broadband coverage maps and better direct federal funds for broadband buildout. Congress appropriated funds for implementation of the legislation as part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, and the FCC established the Broadband Data Task Force to lead a cross-agency effort to collect data and develop more precise broadband maps. The FCC continues to work on these broadband maps.

Congress provided additional funding and established several new programs for broadband purposes through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, and the American Rescue Plan Act. Most recently, Congress passed the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), legislation supported by Farm Bureau, which included a $65 billion investment in broadband. The majority of this investment will be administered by the NTIA which is currently soliciting feedback to inform new programs including the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment Program. Farm Bureau will closely monitor the implementation of the IIJA.

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which passed in 2021 included a $65 billion investment in broadband with a goal to deliver reliable, affordable, high-speed internet to every household. Also in 2021, the House passed H.R. 3193, the Eliminating Barriers to Rural Internet Development Grant Eligibility (EBRIDGE) Act, which would remove barriers for broadband projects under Economic Development Administration grants and allow for local communities to partner with the private sector in deploying broadband projects. Farm Bureau supported this legislation.

Legislative Request

Farm Bureau asks Congress and/or the Administration to support legislation and/or initiatives that help us achieve the following goals:

  • Increase resources to expand rural access to reliable, high-speed broadband service.
  • Ensure authorized resources are responsibly and efficiently allocated to rebuild, repair and modernize transportation infrastructure, including rural roads and bridges, ports, inland waterway locks and dams and water projects.
  • Increase federal investment in agricultural research.

Waters of the U.S.

Overview

The definition of “waters of the United States” (WOTUS) has been the subject of controversy and multiple Supreme Court decisions over the years. The challenge is how a WOTUS is defined, and how that definition impacts the ability of farmers and landowners to use their land. The issue is of significant concern to many, especially to farmers.

Background

The Clean Water Act (CWA) authorizes the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to federally regulate “navigable waters,” defined in the CWA as the “waters of the United States (WOTUS), including the territorial seas.” All other waters generally remain under state and local protection.

For decades, confusion surrounding the CWA’s reach has led to widespread regulatory uncertainty, costly litigation, and stifled economic growth. In June 2015, the Agencies finalized a rule that significantly expanded the definition of “waters of the United States” (WOTUS) under the Clean Water Act (CWA).

Finalized in 2020, the Navigable Waters Protection Rule (NWPR) provided clarity and commonsense oversight to ensure clean water. The NWPR was environmentally-protective, and clarified which level of government – federal or state – oversee water features and dry land that is sometimes wet, and it also provided clear definitions of terms that have previously caused confusion and litigation. Now, the EPA and the Corps have proposed a new rule that would roll back the successful NWPR and replace it with an updated version of the pre-2015 regulatory regime.

In December 2021, the revised “step 1” WOTUS rule was published in the Federal Register. As indicated above, the proposed rulemaking would repeal the NWPR and replace it with an updated version of the pre-2015 regulatory regime. Once the “step 1” rule is complete, the agencies plan to work on a “step 2” rule that broadens the WOTUS definition even further.

Farm Bureau offered comments in response to the proposed rule. The comment letter expressed the concerns with the new rulemaking, including:

  • The profound affect the rule would have on everyday farming activities through increased permitting requirements;
  • Unclear rules potentially leading to unlimited jurisdiction, including the unconstitutionally vague significant nexus test;
  • The expansion of federal jurisdiction exceeds limitations set by Congress; and
  • The proposed rule exceeds the scope of the federal government’s authority.

Additionally, on January 24th, the Supreme Court announced that they would grant cert in the high-profile CWA case, Sackett v. Environmental Protection Agency. A decision in this case could provide significant clarity on what is the proper test for determining which wetlands are “waters of the United States” under the CWA.

For More Information

 

Farm Bureau Position

Farm Bureau supports a rule that conforms to the limits set by Congress and reinforced by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Farm Bureau seeks to ensure that:

  • The Corps and EPA produce a rulemaking that respects Supreme Court precedent and Congressional intent;
  • Any rulemaking provides clarity and certainty;
  • Landowners are able to understand when they need CWA §404 permits, including where federal jurisdiction ends and state jurisdiction begins; and
  • Farm Bureau members can navigate the permit process or know when to obtain the services of environmental consultants and legal counsel.