AFBF's Stallman calls for Congress to act on farm bill, WRDA, immigration
By Sara Wyant
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SAN ANTONIO, January 12, 2014 - American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) President Bob Stallman called on the over 5,500 members and guests attending the organization's 95th annual convention to hold their members of Congress accountable as they address three crucial issues: the farm bill, reliable water transportation, and immigration reform.
“These are all crucial issues on which Congress has started the job, but still has to finish it,” Stallman noted as he described it as the “least productive” Congress in history.
“You must hold all of them accountable,” he added. “I have confidence in your ability to spur your senators and representatives to act and thank them when they do…and replace them if they don't.”
In addition, he highlighted the need for members to come together on a wide range of legal and regulatory issues, including biotech labeling, the Clean Water Act and pending environmental lawsuits.
While Stallman said he has never been more excited about the future of Farm Bureau, he expressed frustration with the inability of Congress to get things done.
“Extreme partisanship and rhetoric have created a gotcha atmosphere, where political courage is in short supply,” Stallman said.
Still, Stallman said “We are close to the finish line on the farm bill.
“The debate of the last three years, against a backdrop of relatively high commodity prices, has shown that much of the public has no idea what it takes to profitably farm and ranch. They don't understand how the cost of production - feed, seed, fertilizer, equipment and other inputs - add up to nearly as much as what a crop will bring in. And they don't seem to realize that, in the farm economy, downturns follow boom times as surely as night follows day.”
With commodity prices in 2014 substantially lower than when the farm bill debate started, Stallman said it is “vital that Congress finish the current farm bill as soon as possible this month.”
During a press conference after his speech, Stallman expressed optimism that some type of compromise could be reached on dairy provisions - removing one of the last major stumbling blocks for farm bill passage this month. Asked for specifics, he said AFBF would likely support any dairy compromise that would ensure passage of the final bill.
Stallman also expressed optimism that Congress could pass a Water Resources Development bill to make long-overdue upgrades to our waterways transportation system - noting that both the House and Senate have passed the waterways bill.
Stallman said that farmers and ranchers across the U.S. also need effective, long-term solutions to agricultural labor shortages. He cited a Californian Farm Bureau study that found 71 percent of tree fruit growers and nearly 80 percent of raisin and berry growers were unable to find enough employees to prune trees and vines of pick crops.
“When you have that many farmers unable to get the workers they need, you have a crisis in farm country, and you have a crisis for Americans who want their food grown in the United States…and want it to meet their definition of affordable to boot,” Stallman said. “We need to tell Congress to get this job done now.”
In addition to federal policies, Stallman highlighted other legal and regulatory concerns, including the right to privacy, biotech labeling and legal challenges with the Environmental Protection Agency.
“Privacy is an issue that has grown in relevance and concern for many farmers and ranchers,” Stallman noted, whether it involves data collected on the farm or by federal agencies. Last year, AFBF sued the EPA to stop release of information about farmers and ranchers and continues to seek a court ruling making it permanent.
Farm Bureau has also been working through the courts to stop EPA's attempts to broaden its regulatory reach. Disappointed with a loss in its case against the EPA's Chesapeake Bay pollution limit rules, AFBF, along with Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, has appealed the ruling.
“Once again, we are saddled-up for the long ride in our fight for rational regulations that allow farmers to continue feeding America,” Stallman said.
Stallman highlighted West Virginia poultry grower Lois Alt's court battle against EPA's unlawful water regulations as a testament to the powerful results that can be achieved when people work for the good of the whole. The audience gave Alt and her husband a standing ovation in recognition of their efforts.
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