While he knows farmers and ranchers have plenty of questions about looming new rules that will impact the marketing of livestock and poultry, a U.S. Department of Agriculture undersecretary couldn't address many of those concerns Wednesday in Aberdeen.
Edward Avalos, the USDA undersecretary for marketing and regulatory programs, said attorneys advised him not to discuss details about the so-called GIPSA rule.
GIPSA is the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration, the agency that will author rules proponents say will provide more protections to ag producers in their dealings with packers. Avalos was a featured speaker at the 62nd annual South Dakota Cattleman's Association Convention and Trade Show at Aberdeen's Ramkota Inn. About 170 people registered for the convention.
Avalos said more than 57,000 public comments on the proposed GIPSA rule were submitted before last month's deadline. That includes 55 pages - considered a single comment - submitted on behalf of the National Cattleman's Beef Association on behalf of its members.
That the National Cattleman's Beef Association is opposed to the GIPSA rule will come as no surprise to Avalos. He and Steve Foglesong, president of the National Cattleman's Beef Association, disagree on the issue, but still have a good working relationship, the men said. Foglesong also spoke Wednesday.
Avalos said he and others at USDA will read all of the submitted comments. He didn't know when a formal GIPSA rule might be proposed.
The comments are going to structure the final rule, he said.
Foglesong said that when the rule is proposed, the National Cattleman's Beef Association will try make sure there isn't funding appropriated for it. If needed, he said, it will file a lawsuit to stop implementation of the rules.
Avalos said the USDA has often been criticized for failing to protect ag producers. In June, it announced that the new GIPSA requirements would, among other things, create protections for producers required to invest in extensive capital upgrades of growing facilities, establish a arbitration process to resolve disputes between producers and packers and prohibit practices that are unfair, discriminatory, deceptive or retaliatory in nature.
Foglesong said he could spend plenty of time complaining about packers. But the national association thinks the GIPSA rule would restrict marketing agreements between producers and packers, dictate the terms of production contracts and require additional paperwork. Hence the opposition.
Cattle groups are split on the GIPSA rule with Farm Bureau and the national cattlemen, generally considered Republican-leaning, against them and groups like National Farmers Union and R-CALF USA, thought to be more Democratic, supporting the proposals.
Avalos, who grew up in central New Mexico on a farm that produced cotton, chili peppers, onions, corn and sorghum, has been with USDA for 14 months. He said the Obama administration is implementing a five-pillar plan to help rural America:
·Promoting domestic and international markets for farm and ranch products.
·Making a $2.5 billion investment of stimulus funds to make high-speed Internet service available in rural areas.
·Promoting the production of renewable energy, including biofuels.
·Capitalizing on outdoor and natural resources activities, such as hunting, that are a boon for farmers and ranchers.