The National Association of State Departments of Agriculture set policy for the coming year at a recent gathering, where the organization put a priority on the flow of ag goods in the U.S. and overseas. 

Advocating for the free flow of interstate commerce, alleviation of ocean port backlogs, ag labor reform, and designating hemp as a specialty crop were among key issues NASDA addressed at last week's meeting in Louisville, Kentucky.

The focus on interstate commerce concerns comes as pork producers across the country are bracing for implementation of California’s Proposition 12, which takes effect Jan. 1. The law requires hog farms to require 24 square feet of “usable floor space for breeding pigs.” Many sow barns currently provide about 16 to 20 square feet per animal.

NASDA adopted a policy that supports allowing states to regulate the production of animal products within their boundaries using the definition of the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946.

“These statutes, regulations or policies must be constructed in such a way as to allow for the free flow of interstate trade that is afforded by the Commerce Clause of the Constitution of the United States of America,” the policy reads.

Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig, vice chair of NASDA's marketing and international trade committee, said Prop 12 was the reason behind the policy change. 

Mike Naig

Iowa Ag Secretary Mike Naig

“A lot of times we think about trade barriers, and we think of international trade barriers and in a situation like a Proposition 12, you’re essentially starting to talk about trade barriers domestically,” Naig told Agri-Pulse

Naig doesn't question whether a state can make rules for ag production within its borders, but he said it's inappropriate for states to impose regulations and policies on other states.

California Food and Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross told Agri-Pulse California has tried to make it "as practical as possible" for states and others to offer certification programs in order to comply with the regulations.

“Our regulations are about showing compliance, how to demonstrate compliance, and we've tried to make it as practical as possible for states and others to be able to offer ... certification programs,” Ross said. The regulations are about the traceback and having the documentation necessary, she said.

Iowa is the top hog-producing state in the country as well as the top exporter, with about 5,400 farms raising a total of 24 million pigs each year, according to the Iowa Pork Producers Association. Only about 4% of the nation’s pork producers are currently in compliance with California’s Prop 12. 

Ag directors also adopted a policy asking for immediate intervention and discussions with the Federal Maritime Commission to address the “unreasonable declining of U.S. exports,” said RJ Karney, public policy director for NASDA.

U.S. ag companies, specifically at California ports, have had a tough time exporting ag goods as exporters from China are paying premiums for empty containers to be returned rather than reloaded.

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“In the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles, where an estimated 40% of U.S. exports depart, there has been an exorbitant amount of congestion,” Karney said.

On Sept. 13, ag and other groups sent a letter to Biden administration officials, including Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, urging officials to fix the ocean container shortage on the West Coast.

Ross said the Port of Long Beach and the Port of Los Angeles announced pilot programs last week to extend gate hours to address the “unfortunate new record of 70 ships waiting to offload.”

“Doing that at the ports will not work unless warehousing and trucking and all the other elements of that supply chain align their hours (and) their shifts to be able to help address this backlog at the ports,” Ross added, arguing the only way to expand capacity at the ports is by extending hours.

NASDA members also adopted policy supporting changes to the H-2A and H-2B temporary guestworker programs to include year-round workers in ag and forestry. The two programs currently allow migrant employees to come to the U.S. for seasonal agricultural work such as harvesting vegetables and fruit.

Karen Ross

California Ag Secretary Karen Ross

On Sept. 19, the Senate parliamentarian announced it would not permit immigration reform to be included in the Democrats' $3.5 trillion reconciliation package, forcing congressional leaders to find another avenue. 

“We’re going to have to get back to that bipartisan effort, and NASDA has already reached out to the lead sponsors for the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, which we support in the House, and we continue to support and look for those consensuses in the Senate,” Karney told reporters.

The bill passed the House in March but has not been considered in the Senate.

The group also adopted policy supporting the development of “emergency food supply networks” and “ensuring state agriculture departments can utilize new USDA funds as they become available to support their states’ communities,” NASDA said.

NASDA members are pushing USDA to expand its specialty crop block grant program to allow a dual designation of hemp as “both a specialty crop and an agronomic commodity depending on its intended use."  Barb Glenn, who retired as the organization's CEO at the convention, said the designation would provide more certainty to new farmers who want to grow hemp for “food, fiber, or horticulture use.” Hemp is currently ineligible for the specialty crop program, according to USDA.

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