September 26, 2023

Large-scale farmers and ranchers are slightly more optimistic than they were last month that Congress will pass a farm bill this year, but they doubt it will be a vehicle for overturning California’s Proposition 12 animal welfare law, said the Ag Economy Barometer on Wednesday. The pork industry is seeking a legislative override of Prop 12 after losing a Supreme Court challenge to the voter-approved law in May.

Some 36 percent of farmers surveyed by Purdue for the barometer, a monthly gauge of the health of the agricultural economy, said it was unlikely that Congress would overturn Prop 12 in the new farm bill. Forty percent said they were uncertain.

“One-fourth (25 percent) of farmers in the June survey said it’s at least somewhat likely Congress will take on Proposition 12 in new farm bill legislation,” wrote Purdue agricultural economists James Mintert and Michael Langemeier, who oversee the report.

By contrast, 37 percent of farmers said it was likely that a farm bill will be enacted this year, an increase of 4 points from the previous month. The portion of producers who thought a farm bill was unlikely this year fell 5 points in the latest survey, to 27 percent. As with Prop 12, a plurality of farmers — 36 percent — said they were uncertain of the outcome.

The telephone survey was conducted from June 12-16, about the same time Farm Belt lawmakers unveiled legislation to prohibit states from regulating agricultural production in other states. “This is a matter of states’ rights,” said Kansas Sen. Roger Marshall, lead sponsor of the bill.

California successfully defended Prop 12 by arguing that because the law applies only to meat sold in the state, it is not an unconstitutional barrier to interstate commerce. Prop 12 requires California farmers to give egg-laying hens, veal calves, and breeding sows more floor space, and it bars the sale of pork, veal, and eggs produced on farms outside the state that do not meet California’s standards.

The Organization for Competitive Markets, a fair-trade group, said Marshall’s bill and a House companion were “just a revamped version of the controversial ‘King amendment,’ ” offered by former Iowa Rep. Steve King for the 2014 and 2018 farm bills. Opponents said the King amendment would wipe out hundreds of state laws protecting consumers and farmers. “We’d rather have no farm bill than a farm bill with the [Marshall bill] included,” said Marty Irby, an OCM official.

“Producer sentiment rebounded in June” with the expectation of better financial times in the year ahead, said Purdue. The barometer rose by 17 points for a June reading of 121, the same as the average reading for the previous six months.

For the barometer, Purdue interviews operators with production worth at least $500,000 a year. According to USDA data, the largest 7.4 percent of U.S. farms top $500,000 in annual sales. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percent.

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