Jan 10, 2011

Schedule for KRC's Legislative and Policy Watch Teleconference Conference Calls Set

As part of the Legislative and Policy Watch Program, KRC is offering a pilot program of teleconference calls on legislative issues.  Led by Paul Johnson, these calls will give participants an opportunity to get up to date information and analysis of key agriculture, food related and conservation issues .

Much like KRC's monthly Grazing Teleconference Calls which link up farmers and ranchers to hear from experts on forages, grazing and livestock management issues, these calls will provide timely information on happenings in the Statehouse.

The calls in the pilot program are free.  Simply follow the call-in information below on the times and dates and link up with us!

Thursday January 20  8 p.m.

Thursday February 3  8 p.m.

Thursday February 17 8 p.m.

CALL-IN  Information: 

   Dial: 1-888-387-8686
   Enter room number: 588 898 2#
   and wait for moderator.

2011 Legislative and Policy Watch Program E-Report #1: January 7

Welcome to KRC's Weekly E-report on agriculture, local foods and related topics before the Kansas Legislature!
Frankly, there is very little debate on farm and food policy before the Kansas Legislature. The major farm organizations lobby on related issues such as the elimination of the estate tax in Kansas, softening state environmental regulations, limiting water restrictions for agriculture and protecting the special sales and property tax breaks that benefit the farming community. It will take an educational effort and proactive agenda to increase the production/consumption of local foods in Kansas, increase the role of the remaining 58 small meat processors to meet the consumer's increasing demand for local, natural meats, and promote conservation and environmental protection of our resources.
The political environment has substantively changed in Kansas given the results of the November elections. The Kansas House of Representatives now has 92 Republicans to 33 Democrats while the Kansas Senate has 32 Republicans and 8 Democrats. These are the highest number of Republicans in the State Legislature since the landslide election of President Dwight Eisenhower in 1952. 
Last year, a coalition of moderate Republicans and Democrats in both the Kansas House and Senate were able to pass an increase in the sales tax to hold off more draconian budget cuts. Kansas Governor-elect Sam Brownback will not accept any tax increase and there are only about 45 moderates left in the Kansas House. The Kansas Senate will play the key role in tempering this new political climate.

2011 Kansas Legislative Session Preview 

BUDGETARY CHALLENGES: The new Governor will have a difficult challenge to develop a budget for the 2012 Fiscal Year (FY) that begins July 1, 2011. Kansas has a state budget of $13 Billion. This budget is divided between the State General Fund (SGF) of $6 Billion - that is primarily funded by personal income and sales tax - and the remaining $7 Billion that is federal funds, highway funds, property taxes and dedicated fee funds. The Kansas Legislature primarily works on the SGF portion of this entire budget.    
Over the last three years, over $1 Billion has been removed from the SGF. In the present FY 2011 State Budget that ends June 30, 2011, there are $490 million of 'final' federal stimulus funds of which $200 million has been used for public education. The Governor-elect has stated that the $200 million for public schools will not be replaced for 2012 so schools will have to cut expenses with less personnel and larger classes or increase local property taxes.  
Beyond the reduction to public education, the promise is that budgets for 'core functions' can be held level to their present levels. The fiscal debate will be to define 'core functions' and what other state duties can be curtailed or eliminated. 

GOVERNOR'S REORGANIZATION ORDER: Rumor has it that the new Governor will propose some extensive re-organizational changes to state government. The Governor has 30 days after inauguration to propose such an order. The Kansas House and Senate have 45 days to review this reorganization order. By a simple majority, either chamber can vote down this reorganization order but cannot amend it. This reorganization order can change existing statues and duties of departments in the executive branch. It is possible we will see certain environmental programs moved from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment to the Kansas Department of Agriculture. The Kansas Health Policy Authority - that controls $2.5 Billion in medical programs - is presently not under direct control by the Governor and so that may be changed.  

DEFINING SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE: Last year, the Kansas Grain and Feed Dealers proposed legislation to define 'sustainable agriculture' in state statue. In essence, they wanted to call all existing farming practices sustainable. I believe 7 other states have defined sustainable agriculture in law. The bill was introduced in the Kansas Senate Agriculture committee but the proponents changed their minds over calling for a hearing on the bill. This bill will have to be re-introduced to be considered. 

FEDERAL FUNDING IMPACT: Congress was unable to pass a complete year budget for 2011. The federal budget Continuing Resolution passed in December expires March 4 so budgetary challenges for conservation, organics, value-added grants, beginning farmer programs, etc. will be formidable. The commodity groups will fight hard to protect their direct farm payments while many hunger advocates will fight to protect the expanded food stamp program so other farm programs will be under attack. Senator Pat Roberts will now be the ranking Republican on the Senate Agriculture committee while the new chair will be Senator Debbie Stabenow from Michigan who has a broader view of specialty crops and conservation programs. Reductions in direct support and federal research grants for Land Grant colleges will impact K-State Research & Extension. 

Field Notes

CONSOLIDATION IN KANSAS AGRICULTURE: In 2007 Kansas had 65,531 farms with sales of $14.4 Billion. 3,268 of these farms accounted for 75% of total sales. Since 1978, the number of Kansas' dairies has declined from 5,691 to 776 in 2007 with 21 now accounting for 65% of milk sales. Kansas had 13,749 hog farms in 1978 while today Kansas has 1,542 with 219 accounting for 75% of pork sales. From 1995 to 2009, 85% of the $13.5 Billion in farm bill payments went to the top 20% of all Kansas' farmers. <http://farm.ewg.org/> View a state map of these large factory farms by county at www.foodandwaterwatch.org /click on food at the top of the website and click on factory farms.

COWS EAT GRASS? : The Chronicle of Higher Education reported that Ricardo Salvador - a former professor at Iowa State University and finalist for director of the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture - lost out on this position when he mentioned in his interview that the natural way to produce meat is on land suitable for grasses and perennial crops. When asked whether cows evolved to eat grass, Wendy Wintersteen - dean of ISU's agriculture school - replied she did not have an opinion on Salvador's statement.
(MOTHER EARTH NEWS December 2010/January 2011 - page 20)

RURAL GROCERY STORES: According to Kansas State University, 82 grocery stores in communities of fewer than 2,500 people in Kansas have closed since 2007. In total, 38 % of the grocery stores in Kansas' towns of less than 2,500 closed between 2006 and 2009.
(CENTER FOR RURAL AFFAIRS December 2010 Newsletter - page 3)

Your FOOD ENVIRONMENT Atlas: This is a remarkable database on food and farms in your county. This was developed in conjunction with Michelle Obama's 'Let' Move' campaign to confront childhood obesity. This data basis documents the availability of local foods, food assistance, eating patterns, proximity to supermarkets, food taxes, obesity levels and many other related issues. http://maps.ers.usda.gov/FoodAtlas/foodenv5.aspx

rBGH Free Labeling:  In October 2010, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth District overturned the Ohio law restricting rBGH-free labels.  Two years ago the State Of Ohio issued a regulation that restricted a company's ability to state that the milk it markets is rBGH-free and produced without antibiotics, added growth hormones or pesticides.  A lower court upheld the law, but in October the Sixth District Court reversed that decision, agreeing that consumers have a right to know how their dairy products are produced. The court also found that there is a significant compositional difference between milk produced from untreated cows and milk from cows injected with rBGH.
(From The organic and Non-GMO Report, November 2010)