Participation in the Political Process Provides Platform to Make a Difference

Participation in the Political Process Provides Platform to Make a Difference

By Alan StephensALAN STEPHENS

A delegation representing Nebraska’s pork producers traveled to Washington, DC, to participate in the National Pork Producers Council’s (NPPC) Fall Legislative Action Conference. The conference provided an opportunity to meet and discuss critical issues impacting our industry, including producers and other stakeholders, with lawmakers and their staff. The Nebraska Delegation included: Scott Spilker, Nebraska Pork Producers Association (NPPA) President and pig farmer from Beatrice; Todd Kavan, Pork Leadership Institute (PLI) participant and pig farmer from Wahoo; Kent Bang, NPPC Board of Directors from Omaha; and participants in the NPPA Pork Leadership Program, Alan Stephens of Elkhorn, Ali Prochaska of Columbus, Danielle O’Neel of Lincoln, Jennifer Ruby of Howells, Mike Wisnieski of Omaha, and Sandra Kavan of Lincoln.

The conference opened with a welcome from NPPC President, Dr. Ron Prestage, who emphasized the importance of several significant issues that each delegation would be addressing, with particular emphasis on those related to Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) and Waters of the United States (WOTUS). For each of these two issues, Dr. Prestage described NPPC’s positions, and recommended solutions, to be fairly straight-forward: COOL needs to be repealed (not amended or modified) in order to avoid potential and likely retaliatory tariffs from Canada and Mexico; and WOTUS – the biggest power-grab ever by the Federal Government – needs to be “ditched” in its entirety.

Following introduction of the NPPC Staff and PLI Class, Dr. Steve Meyer presented an economic update, addressing the key factors that he believed would impact growth and profitability of the Pork Industry in 2015 and 2016. Key factors include:

  • 2015 crops
  • Disease (Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus (PEDv) and Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI)
  • Beef industry rebuilding
  • Consumer demand
  • Global monetary issues

Dr. Meyer presented data and information suggesting that forecast corn and soybean harvest would contribute to the lowest hog production costs in over 10 years. As a result of increased placements and improved productivity, total hog production is expected to increase. Benefiting from a growing GDP and increase in disposable income, pork consumption appears likely to continue its upward trend, although the rate of growth is expected to slow somewhat. While it’s difficult to predict the impact of the upcoming PEDv and HPAI seasons and the myriad of pending or potential export and trade issues, Dr. Meyer suggested that hog producers can expect break-even markets through the rest of 2015, returning to moderate (~$7/head) profitability in 2016.

Next, various NPPC staff provided an overview of the issues that we would be discussing with our elected officials during our visits on Capitol Hill. We were also given hard copies of issues papers which summarized the importance, background, and NPPC position for each issue, as well as an outline for key points of discussion.

In addition to the COOL and WOTUS issues mentioned above, NPPC’s positions on the following issues were covered:

Mandatory Price Reporting: In order to insure continued transparency, accuracy and timely market information related to pricing of hogs, NPPC supports a 5-year authorization of the reporting act, including adding a new “negotiated formula” price category to better reflect the total number of hogs negotiated each day, authority for the USDA to include late-day sales in the following day’s reports, and language that would ensure that reports are available during government shutdowns or emergency furloughs.

UPDATE: The Mandatory Price Reporting Act of 2015 was passed in the Senate with an amendment by Unanimous Consent on September 28, 2015. It was approved by the House on September 28, 2015. The Mandatory Price Reporting Act became Public Law September 30, 2015. National Pork Producers Council shares praise for its passage.

Child Nutrition: NPPC urges USDA, Health and Human Services and Congress to ensure that animal protein maintains its scientifically supportable place on the American Table and in child nutrition programs.

UPDATE: USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, left, and Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia Burwell testified during a hearing before the House Agriculture Committee on October 7, 2015, on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., announcing sustainability will not factor into the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Section 179 and Bonus Depreciation: NPPC supports restoring the Section 179 maximum deduction to $500,000, the purchase threshold amount reinstated to $2 million and renewal of the expired 50 percent Bonus Depreciation for the purchase of new capital assets, including agricultural equipment.

Following the issues briefings, Michael Taylor, FDA Deputy Commissioner for Foods and Veterinary Medicine, spoke to the group about the FDA’s shared interest with the pork industry in the production of safe food. Taylor discussed antibiotic resistance and the objective of targeted, specific use of antibiotics with emphasis on flexibility, accountability and verification of progress through data collection and verification. He then reviewed the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), with specific emphasis on the focus on imported foods, and the Feed Controls Act, which provides for the establishment and auditing of Good Management Practices for animal food production facilities, including off-farm mills.

Armed with an arsenal of information, facts and knowledge regarding the critical issues facing the pork industry, we proceeded to Capitol Hill for scheduled appointments with each of our Senators (Fischer and Sasse) and Congressmen (Smith, Fortenberry and Ashford). Each 30-minute meeting provided ample opportunity for introductions and discussion of each of the key issues with the Senator/Congressmen and their staff. With few exceptions, each of them were fully understanding and supportive of our positions on every issue. Through our discussions, we were able to gain some insight into the political process and build on important relationships with our elected officials.

Throughout the day, we also reiterated to the Senators/Congressmen and their staff an invitation to the “Rack of Pork Reception” – an exceptional opportunity for continuing discussions and social interaction with industry representatives while enjoying some fantastic pork! This event has come to be known by Capitol Hill as THE industry event of the year, so turnout was excellent and provided a great way to wrap up our day.

The next morning’s schedule included a “Report Back Breakfast,” giving each state delegation the opportunity to report to the group a summary of their meetings and discussions on Capitol Hill. Many states described experiences similar to ours, with support and alignment on the key issues; others were met with opposing positions, but most felt that they were able to provide information and perspective that would insure future decisions and votes, consider the interests of our industry.

The Legislative Action Conference is a tremendous opportunity to be part of the political process – to get to know and talk with our elected officials about the issues that have an impact on our industry and each of our livelihoods. While the political process can at times seem out of control and daunting to the individual citizen, participating at this level gives us the chance to have our voice heard and make a difference.

The Nebraska delegation shared meaningful conversation with Senator Sasse.
The Nebraska delegation shared meaningful conversation with Senator Sasse.