Farm bill conferees were informed to be in town Monday, Jan. 27 in hopes of finalizing remaining outstanding issues yet to be worked out on the farm bill. House Republicans are away Jan. 29-31 for a party-wide retreat.
In an email sent out to conferee staff, conferee members were asked to be in town Monday morning for either a conference meeting to decide final issues or a GOP conferee meeting to discuss the agreement and collect signatures.
"Conversations are ongoing and we remain optimistic that we can reach agreement in time to be on the floor next week," the email said. "It is still unclear as to what meetings will be needed for this to reach a conclusion."
Mary Kay Thatcher, senior director of congressional relations at the American Farm Bureau Federation, said she's heard rumors both ways on the need for a meeting of the conferees versus just signing off on any final deal.
"I have to believe there has to be a meeting. If Steve King doesn't get his way on the Commerce Clause, he'll want a meeting so he can have a vote. If COOL is no longer mandatory, [Sen. Max] Baucus will want a vote," and the list goes on, Thatcher explained.
"Plus, I think you will just have conferees that will be embarrassed to go home and tell constituents the only thing that got to do in a conference committee was give a three minute opening speech," Thatcher added.
One main outstanding issue is the country-of-origin labeling rule. The National Pork Producers Council said it is urging conferees to include in the farm bill changes to the new rule to make it compliant with World Trade Organization trade rules. Reports indicate the U.S. Trade Representative, which must defend the law on the world scene, is also lobbying the conference committee to replace current COOL requirements with either a "Product of North America" label for meat from animals imported into the United States, or a "Product of USA" label for meat from animals exclusively produced in the United States.
Nearly 100 groups including R-CALF wrote conferees outlining why COOL should not be touched in the farm bill. "Now is not the time to roll back the country of origin labeling provisions behind the closed doors of the conference process. Any changes to country of origin labeling should occur in full view of the American public with ample debate and recorded votes," the groups wrote.
National Farmers Union president Roger Johnson also warned, "If any harmful changes to COOL are included in the farm bill, it could very likely affect NFU’s ability to support the entire farm bill."
Two other provisions important to the livestock industry pertain to the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) provision and the King Amendment.
NPPC said it supports a provision to prevent GIPSA from writing a rule that dictates the terms of private livestock contracts. The language has been included in several recent appropriations bills.
The King Amendment would prohibit a state from excluding lawfully produced agricultural products from other states from being sold within its borders.
How to address payment limitations continues to need to be worked out between southern and Midwest interests.