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The Ag Agenda

September 2008

Farm Bureau Pulls All-Out Offensive on Critical Feed


Bob Stallman
President
American Farm Bureau
By Bob Stallman
President, American Farm Bureau

One must always be prepared to take quick and decisive action. This tactic not only applies to the battlefields of war, it also holds true when dealing with the U.S. court system.

Case and example: This past July, a suit filed to challenge the Agriculture Department’s critical feed use (CFU) program would have been disastrous for farmers and ranchers if Farm Bureau had not formed an immediate line of attack.

Most Ricky-Tick

When the use of Conservation Reserve Program acreage as a critical feed source was attacked by the National Wildlife Federation in a U.S. district court, it was an assault on every farmer and rancher in America. The suit, which claimed that USDA failed to comply with federal rules, immediately halted the CFU program that gives farmers and ranchers permission for a special, one-time hay and forage use of certain CRP acreage.

The American Farm Bureau took immediate action, with the help of several other national industry groups, and the stalwart support of state Farm Bureaus around the country. AFBF led the charge by filing court briefs and declarations from farmers and ranchers across the nation about the investments they made to take part in the program.

For example, Travis Belcher, a New Mexico Farm Bureau member, relying on the CFU initiative, had agreed to lease 1,000 acres of CRP land in New Mexico and 320 acres of CRP land in Texas. To stock this acreage, Travis took out a $55,000 loan. He paid an additional $6,000 to purchase water, fencing, feed, medicine and trucking. If the court would have issued an injunction against the CFU initiative, Travis would have faced the prospect of defaulting on his loan and declaring bankruptcy.

It is because of the fast action taken by state Farm Bureaus to pull their farmers out of the fields and have them compile their personal stories for the court, that we were able to have a quick turnaround in providing the judge with our argument in only three days.

After-Action Report

Although we did not get a full return to the CFU program, Farm Bureau did achieve a compromise. While it’s not perfect, considering the boondoggle that might have occurred had we not interjected the producer’s voice, it’s definitely a big improvement.

We have subsequently spoken out in favor of legislation to fully implement the program and USDA has taken action to open CRP acres to producers willing to pay a fee in some areas hit by flooding or drought.

It was critical that Farm Bureau took action with the lawsuit not only because of the immediate impact on hundreds of thousands of farmers like Travis, but because of the trend playing out in U.S. western courts to automatically stop any federal program when a group files suit.

It’s imperative that courts realize they can’t just stop federal programs when farmers and ranchers have already made management decisions and monetary investments in compliance with the rules of the program. Enrolled in the CFU program or not, court decisions like these have a significant impact on all producers and their rights as property owners.

Farmers and ranchers can rely on Farm Bureau to be on the front line when it comes to litigation impacting U.S. agriculture. With the support of our members, the American Farm Bureau has significant resources to fight legal battles that go on for years, or a skirmish that lasts three days.