Immigration reform tops list of concerns for farm bill panel

By Sara Wyant

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, April 24, 2013 - The House Agriculture Subcommittee on Horticulture, Research, Biotechnology and Foreign Agriculture, held a public hearing to examine specialty crop priorities for the 2013 farm bill today but heard growers say that immigration reform is one of the most pressing issues they face.

“If Congress not does solve our immigration and farm labor situation you won't have to worry about a specialty crop title in the farm bill in the future,” emphasized William Brim, President and owner of Lewis and Taylor Farms, Inc. in Tifton, Georgia, during his testimony.

He encouraged committee members to “seriously consider” the comprehensive immigration reform bill that will be introduced soon.

“While I have used the H2A program for my labor needs for the past fourteen years, the regulations, red tape, delays and legal services law suits have been horrendous. I hope you will give us a better guest worker program in the near future.

Those concerns were echoed by the other two growers testifying: Sarah Frey-Talley, President and CEO of Frey Farms, Keenes, Ill. and Barry Bushue, Vice President of the American Farm Bureau Federation and President, Oregon Farm Bureau.  However, Bushue also mentioned concerns with the Endangered Species Act and what he described as the Department of Labor's regulatory overreach.

“It's vital that we get something done on immigration to grow and develop our businesses,” Bushue added. “We need to go ahead and get something passed.”

All three of the panelists supported most the specialty crop provisions that were included in the farm bill approved by Committee last year and lamented that the measure was not considered by the full U.S. House of Representatives.

Asked if there are there any changes the committee members should make when they start marking up a new bill on May 15, Brim said market access and research are critical and that “we need more funding to be effective.

“There are a lot of good efforts that go on in research at universities that are not available to growers,” Brim added.

Fry said she would like to see “more timeliness” of funds available for states under the Specialty Crop Block grant program and greater consideration of multi-state research projects.

“All too often, the specialty crop industry faces challenges that affect an entire region, not just one state,” she noted.

Bushue also made a pitch for the committee to consider Farm Bureau's newest farm bill proposal, which would allow program crop producers to choose either a Stacked Income Protection Plan (STAX) or a target price program, on top of participation in crop insurance and marketing loans, as the three legs of a farm safety net.

“The Stacked Income Protection Plan (STAX) is an insurance product designed to provide a fiscally responsible and effective safety net for program crop farmers and growers of tomatoes, potatoes, apples, grapes and sweet corn.

“If we can use STAX to cover these five specialty crops, fruit and vegetable producers in 44 states will benefit,” Bushue added.

 

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