NASDA-FINAL_406x250Policy goals for 2017 are being set this week by one of the nation’s smallest, but most powerful agricultural groups. The National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) is meeting for its Winter Policy Conference, which is expected to bring together about 200 state, federal and private sector ag leaders.

The gathering is occurring during a time of uncertainty for state agriculture. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is waiting on Senate action on the nomination of former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue as Secretary of Agriculture. His answers during confirmation hearings will provide the first policy details for the nation’s farm and ranch community, which has been anxious over weak commodity prices since President Donald J. Trump was elected last November.

As the conference got underway Monday, however, the NASDA Board of Directors went ahead and established its policy for a year.

“As statewide leaders, NASDA members have a unique perspective and deep appreciation of how policies impact our farmers and ranchers, said Michael G. Strain, NASDA president and Louisiana’s commissioner of agriculture and forestry.

“Over the next 12 months we will advocate for cooperative federalism, the importance of international trade for agriculture, appropriate implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) and the next farm bill.”

Here’s how the NASDA policy priorities are filling out:

Cooperative federalism – NASDA wants a “robust partnership” when it comes to the role of the states in the federal policy process involving both the Administration and Congress. With its bipartisan leadership, NASDA can be critical to driving policy.

Food safety – NASDA is also looking for a cooperative spirit with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, an agency also running with an acting commissioner, NASDA says “proper implementation” of the Food Safety Modernization Act is a priority. FSMA gives FDA “new authority to regulate produce growers and many animal food producers for the first time.”

International trade – President Trump has pulled out of one Asia-Pacific trade pact and announced plans to re-work the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, with Canada and Mexico. NASDA says it favors access to export markets with level playing fields for America’s agricultural products. It puts itself down as being for trade agreements, expanded market access and “strong rules of the road” for international trade. How those line up with what the president wants remains to be seen.

Farm bill – In another sign that work on the 2018 farm bill is going to start in 2017, NASDA is looking to hang clothes on its policy. It says agricultural producers, the rural economy, and communities of every size rely on a robust, forward looking and fully funded farm bill. It wants Congress to craft new tools and new opportunities. Specifically, NASDA is calling for the farm bill to addresses invasive species, block grants and specialty crop programs.  The state ag officials also call for funding research and resources for farmers to comply with FSMA in addition to fighting animal disease and working for conservation.

Today and tomorrow, NASDA will be considering amendments to its list of policy topics from members. More detail will likely be drawn up on trade, labeling, marketing claims, and dairy trade with Canada being among hot topics.

Elected or appointed agricultural officials, including directors and commissioners, from all 50 states and four U.S. territories are involved with NASDA.

The NASDA meetings will continue at the Grand Hyatt Washington through Wednesday afternoon.

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