Issues affecting farming and ranching prevail across the country, whether the concerns surround farm policy, regulations, federal lands or a host of others. The American Farm Bureau’s Issue Advisory Committees have representatives on each committee from selected state Farm Bureaus to discuss issues and develop policy ideas.  The AFBF IAC met March 8-9 in Washington, D.C. for the annual Issues Advisory Meetings.

Montana Farm Bureau had four members attending: Tonya Liles, a rancher from Terry on Animal Care; Don Steinbeisser, Jr., a diversified farmer from Sidney on Environmental Regulations; Megan Hedges, a small grains and pulse farmer from Chester on Farm Policy; and Chuck Rein, a cattle rancher from Big Timber on Public Lands.

Committee Meetings

Farm Policy

“The Farm Policy Committee discussed the timeline for the farm bill and when it may roll out. From what we’re hearing, they’re confident the agriculture section will go without a hitch,” noted Hedges. “It seems there will be not drastic changes in the crop insurance aspect of the farm bill. We talked about the “sod busting” and “swamp busting” issues, and how we can work with the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) to be more consistent nationwide. Some farmers have had a horrible experience with having the designation changed; others have had good experiences.”

Environmental Regulations

Steinbeisser said the discussions of the environmental regulations were eye-opening, as it centered around endangered species as well as invasive species. “More people have heard about the pallid sturgeon than I thought. The committee members said they’re watching to see how we resolve that problem in Montana.” Pallid Sturgeon are an endangered species that live in the Yellowstone and Missouri Rivers. Committee members from downstream states were interested in how Montana irrigators are dealing with the fish and related legal challenges near the Intake diversion of the Yellowstone Irrigation Project.

“A problem I didn’t even think about regarding regulations is unintended movement of invasive species. If there is an invasive species you don’t know about—say you’re moving a school of fish across state lines and there’s a fish considered an invasive species in there—the state Fish & Game consider it a misdemeanor, but it’s a $200,000 fine from the federal government. It’s the same with people who have a lumber operation. If they buy imported pallets of wood and there’s an insect in there you didn’t know was there, it can cause you a lot of trouble.”

The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERLA)--the rule which would make livestock owners measure and report emissions from cattle--was discussed. “The universities have developed a system but it’s not even close to accurate. Cattle emissions would change every day depending on what the animal ate and about 1,000-other environmental inputs,” Steinbeisser added. In addition, the U.S. Coast Guard is slated to monitor CERLA, which neither the Coast Guard nor any livestock owners, find beneficial.

Animal Care

One of the Animal Care Committee discussions centered around gene editing. Under the current definition, an animal with gene editing would be considered a drug, regulated under the Food and Drug Administration. Livestock groups are pushing to have gene editing regulated under the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Gene editing in cattle could enhance disease resistance as well as increase the animal’s productivity.

“We decided farmers and ranchers need to be educated to better educate consumers,” Liles explained. “Currently, everyone wants to educate the consumer, but we need to first educate farmers and ranchers so they can be better advocates for agriculture.”

Federal Lands

Chuck Rein said discussions in the Federal Lands Committee encompassed the 2017 fire season. “Fire management was front and center. With the wildfire season growing longer, one of the problems we have is with the federal fire fighters. We need to get in to fight that fire and then quickly get out.  They hold fire fighters at bay instead of letting them aggressively attack a fire.”

The Wilderness Study Areas—and the need to support the Congressmen who are pushing for the release of those areas—was discussed along with the challenges of access to public lands through private property.

“We’ve seen federal officials asking people to trespass to gain a prescriptive easement,” Rein noted. “This certainly is an action item and we need to work on some policy language on this subject, as well as policy regarding wildfire management.”

Steinbeisser praised the committee meetings. “I like the issue advisory meetings because you hear different inputs not only from people across the country, but from the different commodity producers. When you hear how a certain regulation is affecting someone in aquaculture or cotton, you get a much broader outlook about how one issue affects farmers or rancher across the board.”