Key Ag Issues From 2013
Created by rrummel on 1/8/2014 4:31:26 PM

Become Key Ag Issues For 2014

From the Clean Water Act to taxes and immigration reform, Congress, federal regulatory agencies and the courts will be dealing with some of farmers’ and ranchers’ top issues in 2014. 

With high expectations for the farm bill and the Water Resources Development Act to be finalized early in the new year, farmers are anxious for Congress to move immigration reform legislation that meets agriculture's labor needs. 

The Senate in June passed a balanced, Farm Bureau-supported immigration reform bill that includes a fair and workable farm labor provision.  The House took a piecemeal approach, passing a series of immigration reform bills at the committee level, including an agricultural guest worker bill. As this is the second session of the 113th Congress, these bills are still in play.

“Passage of the Senate bill last year gave us great momentum,” said Kristi Boswell, American Farm Bureau Federation labor specialist.  “We respect that the House wants to do things differently.  Through the House process, farmers and ranchers will be right alongside lawmakers, making sure they understand how critical this issue is to agriculture and all consumers who count on U.S.-grown food.” 

Much-needed tax reform is also key for farmers and ranchers, who for the past year-plus have been sharing their concerns with the House and Senate tax-writing committees.  While lawmakers had planned an overhaul of the tax code, since Sen. Max Baucus’ (D-Mont.) appointment as ambassador to China, the focus has narrowed to the 55 tax provisions that expired at the end of 2013. 

Among the provisions most critical to farmers and ranchers is one related to small business expensing.  Through the end of last year, under the Section 179 small business expensing provision, the maximum amount that a small business can immediately expense when purchasing business assets instead of depreciating them over time was $500,000.  On Jan. 1, that maximum plummeted to $25,000. 

“With the maximum at $25,000, farmers and ranchers lose a valuable income averaging tool that could result in higher taxes,” said Pat Wolff, American Farm Bureau Federation tax specialist. 

Another cash flow-related tax provision that expired is bonus depreciation, which could be used immediately when new equipment was purchased. This improves cash flow and allows farm and ranch businesses to better match income and expenses.

Other expired tax provisions address renewable fuels, food donations and farmland preservation.

As for regulations, farmers and ranchers are bracing themselves for the imminent release of a proposed rule from EPA that would significantly expand the agency’s regulatory reach and erase the word “navigable” from the Clean Water Act.

If EPA succeeds in gaining authority over every drop of water and the land it settles on, environmental activists will no doubt seize the opportunity to target litigation at farmers and ranchers or the agency to force the regulation of farmland and ranch land, according to Don Parrish, AFBF water quality specialist.

Also, there’s a good chance that many things farmers and ranchers currently do on the landscape will start to look like point-source activities from a legal and regulatory perspective. Farmers and ranchers will have to be prepared for citizen litigation that will demand new permits for activities like spreading manure or applying crop protection chemicals.    

In the legal arena, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals is expected to rule this year on the American Farm Bureau Federation’s appeal of a district court decision that upheld EPA’s “pollution diet” for the 64,000-square-mile Chesapeake Bay watershed. AFBF will file its opening brief in late January, asking the appellate court to reverse the September 2013 district court ruling that gives EPA wide latitude under the Clean Water Act to dictate local land-use and development decisions. The outcome of the case will directly affect farmers, home builders, towns and others within the Bay watershed, and will influence whether EPA can take similar action across the nation.

“This is a wrongly decided case that has dangerous implications for farmers and many others in the Chesapeake Bay area and nationwide,” AFBF President Bob Stallman said when the organization announced its appeal. “This case isn’t about whether or not to protect the Chesapeake Bay—we all share that goal. This case is about whether EPA can dictate where farming will be allowed, where homes can be built and where businesses can be established. By taking over decisions like that, EPA has turned the whole concept of cooperative federalism out the barn door.”

In addition, now that EPA and the environmental interveners filed an appeal of Lois Alt’s win against EPA, the issue of Clean Water Act permit requirements for farmyard rainwater will now go to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia ruled in October 2013 that, contrary to EPA’s contention, ordinary storm water runoff from Alt’s farmyard is exempt from federal Clean Water Act permit requirements.