With the Senate set to move on the farm bill, the National Agricultural Law Center (NALC) is preparing to lead a Thursday (June 21) webinar on the legislation. The webinar, open to anyone around the country, will begin at 11 a.m. (central) and is expected to run for an hour. Those who miss the live session can access an archived copy.

The webinar can be accessed here.

A few days prior to the NALC presentation, Harrison Pittman has just entered his office at the University of Arkansas’ Food Science Building at the research farm. “I come and go through the farm itself so it feels like I work on a dirt road,” says the NALC director, who grew up in the Arkansas Delta. “I like that.”

Besides delving into the farm bill, while speaking with Farm Press Harrison also touches on the NALC’s 25 year anniversary, agriculture-related concerns around the country that the center is keeping an eye on and the importance of keeping spin to a minimum. Among his comments:

On the NALC and issues around the country…

“Our mission is to serve as the nation’s leading source for agricultural and food law research and information. That’s a heavy task when you consider all the local, state, federal and international laws, policies and regulations that impact agriculture.

“Right now, obviously, we’re talking about the farm bill. There are all sorts of things in that – everything from crop insurance, interactions with the FSA and what will happen with direct payments and so forth.

“The Food Safety Modernization Safety Act is another example. So is environmental law under EPA, the Clean Water Act and the like. Now there are headlines about flyovers of farms by the EPA and people are questioning that.

“A particular focus for the center has been laws coming up regarding animal welfare and confinement.

“Another: the ballot initiative in California that, if passed, is designed to require labels on most genetically modified foods. That would run against the grain of longstanding policy from the Food and Drug Administration in the country regarding food labeling. That would impact throughout the food system.

“There’s also litigation on water quality in the Gulf of Mexico. That could have reverberations all the way up the Mississippi River Basin – and agriculture is squarely in the mix on all of that.

“Think about the WTO cotton decision and what that means in the current farm bill debate. Could ARC (Agriculture Risk Coverage) and other farm bill amendments potentially violate the same WTO rules that caught cotton off-guard a few years back?”

On NALC being unique…

“One of the key points about the law center is that it is the only institution of its kind in the United States. There’s nobody in the country – in the world, I think – that does what we do. The center is something that farmers, people in the university system, Extension personnel, agri-business, and the people of Arkansas can take a great deal of pride in that.  

“We reach out into every state, arguably every county, in the country. We work with (state) Farm Bureaus, all sorts of organizations, with the USDA – particularly with the USDA National Agricultural Library. We work with state and federal policymakers on a constant basis. We work with attorneys and, increasingly, consumers who have a growing curiosity about the food system.

“Consider the role of agriculture in the nation’s economy. It’s one of the bright spots despite the number of laws that impact it. We’re in a constant education mode. There’s never an end to the research we do and the information we can provide the public.”

California GMO labeling

More on the California GMO labeling…

“In the coming weeks, we’ll host a webinar and other outreach addressing the labeling specifically.

“It’s safe to say that’s something we’ll cover head on. We’ll bring together legal and policy experts – folks who have long-standing reputations and involvement in such issues – and have a public forum for discussion and insight into what this would mean.”

When the center looks into something … do you actually take a policy position?

“This is a really important point to make. There is never a time when we take a policy position or make a policy proposal on anything. No bias. We educate, we help people navigate and understand laws and regulations they’re impacted by.

“Our role is to be a reliable, effective, objective research and information source. People around the country see value in our lack of spin and want to partner up.”

On the farm bill webinar…

“Webinars aren’t new to us but it’s something we’ll be investing even more in. They’re a freeway to deliver important information to the public and allows interaction, allows people to ask questions. We had more than 250 who participated in a webinar on new GIPSA rules.

“The NALC will lead the June 21 webinar focusing on the current farm bill debate and crop insurance. Grant Ballard, who is very sharp on crop insurance, will also be presenting. He’s a research consultant to the center and is an associate with the Banks Law Firm.

“The webinar is actually part of a legal education series that has been made possible by a gift from the Banks Law Firm. A lot of people know Chuck Banks from his involvement in the recent Bayer (GM-tainted) rice litigation.

“That gift was also given to help publicize the center’s 25 year anniversary.

“I really love my job, it’s exciting. Being able to help the agricultural community in Arkansas and around the country is very rewarding.”

Among things the webinar will cover…

“We’ll lay out, in a producer-friendly way, the structure of crop insurance program. That’s important for people to understand because of the different legal relationship between each link the crop insurance chain.

“Most understand that crop insurance doesn’t work like home or car insurance. It’s a different critter. It’s easier to appreciate the legal nuances if you can understand the difference between the standard reinsurance agreement, the relationship between the RMA (Risk Management Agency) and private insurers, and the private insurers and the producer. The difference between the loss adjuster and crop insurance agent is another example.

“To set it up, we’ll do a brief update on where we are with the farm bill and put crop insurance in that context. Crop insurance is not new. However, in all likelihood we’ll be eliminating direct payments and that will have an impact between lenders and producers. From what I’ve been told there will be more instances where lenders will say ‘if you want a crop loan, we’ll have to be more engaged in your production decisions.’ In some instances, they’ll require that crop insurance be purchased.

“We’ll walk through the items a producer should be aware of under the crop insurance program in terms of being prepared to file a loss claim. We’ll talk about key case law. For example, in general, the government and courts will assume that a producer understands and has knowledge of all the terms in their crop insurance contract.

“We’ll also be doing a survey with the webinar. At the end there will be a link that will allow participants to let us know what they’d like additional programming on.”