Local farmers talk issues with members of congress during Washington visit.
By Rob Alway, Editor-in-Chief.
I had the honor of being one of over 130 farmers to represent the state of Michigan during the Michigan Farm Bureau Washington Legislative Seminar this week in the District of Columbia. We were charged with discussing farm policies with our legislators. Brad Brown of Riverton and myself represented Mason County while Tara Oomen and Justine Fisher represented Oceana County.
In case you were wondering why the editor would be going to Washington, D.C. to represent farmers, while my “day job” is editor-in-chief of Mason County Press and Oceana County Press, I am also a hop farmer and I serve on the Mason County Farm Bureau board of directors.
The American Farm Bureau Federation is the largest farm advocacy group in the United States and the Michigan Farm Bureau is the largest farm advocacy group in Michigan. Our purpose of traveling to Washington was to discuss three main topics with our legislators: The 2018 Farm Bill, immigration, and regulatory reform.
The Farm Bill is a combination of agricultural protections and nutrition programs. It includes topics such as farm safety net, rural development, trade and foreign agriculture, research, conservation, renewable energy and energy efficiency, forestry, nutrition, next generation farmers and ranchers, local and regional food systems, speciality cops and organics.
The 2014 Farm Bill is set to expire in 2018. The 2014 bill, compared to the previous 2008 bill, took voluntary cuts saving the federal government millions of dollars. However, the Farm Bureau is concerned that further cuts may be requested in 2018, which the Farm Bureau is against. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Clare) spoke to our group Wednesday morning. Stabenow is the ranking member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry. She stated that it was a priority of the committee to at least maintain the level of funding the bill is currently receiving.
One of the controversial parts of the Farm Bill is the inclusion of “nutrition”, which includes the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP). Many conservatives, including Congressman Bill Huizenga (R-Holland) of Michigan’s 2nd Congressional (which represents Mason and Oceana counties), believe nutrition should be separate legislation.
Stabenow said she believes the bill would have a more difficult time passing if it weren’t for the inclusion of nutrition. This is mostly because many members of congress representing urban districts do not fully understand the necessity of the federal government providing assistance to agriculture. Huizenga said he disagrees with that stance and that agriculture should be able to stand on its own.
However, Farm Bureau’s stance is that the federal government’s purchase of food benefits farmers and therefore it makes sense to be included, according to John Kran (a native of Free Soil and Mason County Central graduate) who serves as Michigan Farm Bureau’s associate national legislative counsel.
Immigration is also a hot topic of concern by American farmers. On Wednesday a group of us representing Mason, Oceana, Newaygo, Muskegon, Ottawa, and Kent counties, met with Huizenga and his staff to discuss topics. Immigration dominated the conversation.
Brad Brown of Mason County spoke on behalf of our group and told Huizenga that limiting special guest worker programs and deporting illegal immigrants will hurt farmers across the country.
“We either import workers or we import food,” Brown told Huizenga.
The congressman agreed that migrant workers are an important part of the agricultural work force and assured the delegation that the federal government is not going to conduct mass deportations of migrants who have not broken laws. He said that he has been contacted by several groups representing migrants and they too have expressed their concerns. He said many in the migrant community are living in fear based on unfounded rumors and that the migrant community itself must take some responsibility to communicate accurate information to those it represents.
Regulatory reform is also a topic of concern with farmers. Many of these issues, especially over-reach by the Environmental Protection Agency, are being worked out through President Trump’s administration.
President Trump recently over-turned the EPA’s Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) regulation.
WOTUS has been criticized for ambiguities that could allow for federal overreach concerning “any water that is in a 100- year floodplain and within 1,500 feet of another regulated water,” according to a report from September 2016 by the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.
“It’s a horrible, horrible rule,” Trump said during a White House signing ceremony.Trump also called WOTUS a “massive power grab” during the signing ceremony and claimed without offering further details that EPA regulators have been responsible for putting “hundreds of thousands” of Americans out of jobs.
The Farm Bureau’s stance is that the EPA has overstepped its authority and that elected officials should establish regulations not bureaucrats.
On a personal note, this was my first trip to Washington, D.C. I would recommend that any citizen of this country should try to make it the nation’s Capitol at least once in their lifetime. It is humbling to see this beautiful city that was created by our Founding Fathers. We learn about these buildings and monuments in school and have seen pictures of them all our lives. Seeing them in person is just humbling. One of the great things about D.C. is that all 21 of the museums of the Smithsonian Institute in the Washington area are free, as is entry into the Capitol and the monuments. It’s an incredible city.
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