THE agriculture sector saw some substantial policy wins in 2014, but there will also be some ongoing and new debates heading into the new year.
The biggest win, if you want to call it that, was completion and passage of the farm bill, which had been tied up for years as Congress tried to please interests in both the South and Midwest as well as anyone else looking for a piece of the pie.
Passage of the Water Resources Development Act, followed by the barge diesel fuel tax increase this fall, were huge wins for keeping the U.S. competitive.
With Republicans now controlling both the House and Senate, there are much bigger fish to fry in 2015.
I, by no means, use a crystal ball, but here's what I see rising to the top for policy action this year:
* Water rule. Despite some last-ditch efforts, Congress didn't institute a full-out ban on the Environmental Protection Agency implementing its proposed waters of the U.S. rule.
The year-end spending bill killed the EPA interpretive rule detailing agricultural exemptions to Clean Water Act permitting requirements. The interpretive rule was issued in conjunction with the proposed water rule and has created confusion in the oversight agencies as to what practices they can regulate with and without permits.
With more Republicans in charge, I expect this to get more congressional action if EPA moves forward. Enough Democrats oppose the water rule proposal but had been unwilling, to this point, to stick their necks out for fear of getting caught in the election guillotine.
* Trade. I know, there has been talk of reaching the "end game" on the Trans-Pacific Partnership for well more than a year now, but I do believe things are starting to truly get to that point. It all hinges on Japan and whether it can play by the same rules everyone else does of lowering tariffs and restrictions to advance trade.
Also, Congress needs to pass trade promotion authority (TPA), which gives the President the ability to take any finalized trade deal to Congress for just an up or down vote.
Darci Vetter, chief agricultural negotiator for the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, reported that the Administration is working closely with Congress in hopes of moving forward on TPA early in the year.
* Taxes. In another kick-the-can move, this year's tax extenders package merely provided a retroactive fix for 2014 and failed to do anything for 2015. It's a headache for planning purposes, but there is some indication that the move will provide the needed push to get a more comprehensive tax reform package out of the chambers in 2015.
At the top of the list for the agricultural community is how Congress will address Section 179 and depreciation bonuses. Also important will be how the Tax Code allows for some flexibility on conservation easements and the cellulosic and biodiesel tax credits.
* COOL. The trade issues surrounding the mandatory country-of-origin labeling (COOL) rule aren't going away and likely won't be resolved with USTR again challenging the latest World Trade Organization findings. Congress is going to have to step in eventually, because we can't afford for Canada and Mexico to retaliate.
* Immigration. As much as I think Republicans need to tackle immigration reform because it's good for the economy and even more crucial for agriculture to have a viable workforce, I don't think there's a strong will to get it across the finish line in 2015.