The heads of more than 40 state agriculture departments convened in Des Moines, Iowa last week to discuss the state of the industry at the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) Annual Meeting. The meeting provided a venue for discussion on recent achievements and challenges in state farm policy as well as the adoption of new policy priorities for the upcoming year.
It has been a year of highs- high costs and temperature that is- for the Agriculture sector. In particular, strong export demand and the Midwest drought have fueled price increases for commodities like corn and soybeans. While good news for some, these prices are also driving up costs on a range of products—from biofuels to consumer food items- and are impacting the bottom line of many farmers. Depending on the crop or product in question, this could be a year of boom or bust.
Adding to this divide is a lack of certainty around future federal Agricultural policy. With a new Farm Bill in the works but far from completion, state officials are faced with another stopgap continuing resolution and an uncertain future for many federal farm programs. The need for a new Farm Bill was stressed throughout the meeting and culminated in the NASDA membership adopting an action item urging the passage of a 5-year Farm Bill as soon as possible. Of particular concern to meeting attendees was the sentiment that Agriculture programs are a likely target for large federal spending reductions.
Beyond federal policy, this year’s meeting covered the other major issues facing the Agriculture sector including drought, water quality, and biofuel production. All three topics highlighted a common theme—America’s farmers are being relied upon to produce more food, fiber and fuel with less government support and increased regulatory requirements. With regards to regulation, finding the right balance between state and federal oversight was another theme heard throughout the meeting.
Some of these concerns made their way into NASDA policy at the meeting. Adopted by the NASDA membership, the following issues will be part of the NASDA organization’s priorities as it communicates with Congress over the coming year:
- Border Security and Labor Workforce Reform
- State Management of Invasive Species
- Water Quality Permitting
- School Lunch Programs
- The Dairy Security Act
In addition to official policy positions, the NASDA membership also spent time discussing a number of other issues impacting the states including:
- The role of corn in ethanol and food production
- The increasing importance of agricultural exports
- Increasing public interest in GMO labeling and Biotechnology
- Advances in agricultural practices to address nutrient runoff
NASDA leadership also changed at the 2012 meeting with outgoing president Bill Northey, Secretary of the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship handing the gavel to Commissioner Steve Troxler of the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Commissioner Troxler will host the 2013 NASDA Annual Meeting next September in Asheville, North Carolina. During his term, the Commissioner will guide NASDA efforts to ensure the issues addressed at the Annual Meeting are raised to policy makers in Washington, D.C. As a next step in this process, NASDA will reconvene in February in the Washington, D.C. area for its Winter Policy Conference.