Immigration and trade—top stories in mainstream news—are major issues for farmers and ranchers. During the 2017 Farm Bureau National Commodity Conference July 16-18 in Rogers, Ark., state Farm Bureau commodity leaders shared issues and policy development ideas for their states to submit for national resolutions. They shared ways they have dealt with their commodity problems other than public policy. The commodities represented were beef, feed grains (corn and soybeans), cotton, forestry, poultry, specialty crops and wheat.
Jill Streit, a pulse crop producer from Chester, serves on the Specialty Crops Committee which includes anything that isn’t a “major” crop including cucumbers, tomatoes, beans, peaches, apples, pears and peas. “It was great hearing about the other crops and stories about growing them,” Streit said. “The main thing we discussed were changes in the H2A program. Most of the specialty crop farmers depend on that program to help with producing very labor-intensive crops. I talked to man who farms tomatoes in Arkansas who brings in 160 H2A workers every year, so that program is vital to him. If he can’t get those workers, his crop will sit in the field and rot.”
The specialty crops group discussed the new proposal to eliminate the H2A program and adopt a H2C program which encompasses not only H2A workers but will try to involve illegal workers to receive worker status. “Instead of them having to be deported and not come back, they could get worker status. As the bill states now they’d have to go home before coming back, but we thought that might not be economically sound to go back and forth. The H2C has a cap of 500,000 workers. Well, one of the big challenges is nobody really knows how many illegal workers are in the U.S, so a cap could be a problem.”
She explains that although her pulse crop business only uses three H2A workers annually, the H2A program is one they have used and she believes in the benefits of the program.
“Another topic near and dear to my heart is pushing for health and nutrition in the farm bill,” Streit said. “We’d like to get healthier and fresher food into the school lunch program. I believe in the importance of what we’re doing and that we’re feeding the world. However, we need to get more education to consumers based on actual science not just market driven beliefs.”
Streit said American Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall’s speech was positive. “He said it’s our time; we have people in the government now who will stand behind us. He said it’s great that the head of the American Farm Bureau has a good relationship with the head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and that’s how it should be. He noted that farmers and ranchers care about the land and want to do what’s best. He stated the EPA should be our ally, not an agency that makes people afraid.”
Gail Vennes who serves on the national Beef Committee said much of their conversation centered around meeting the demand for beef globally and the requirements for trade with other countries. “There was a long discussion among committee members about whether or not producers should comply with a mandatory animal identification system. It’s important in many trade agreements that there is a way to provide traceability for disease as well as source verification.”
The Broadwater County rancher said they discussed animal health, including Texas seeing tick fever. “It’s similar to our brucellosis disease program in Yellowstone National Park. The wildlife spreading tick fever are in a refuge, so the ranchers have a hard time doing anything about it.”
In addition, the group discussed the recent injunction regarding the R-CALF vs. USDA lawsuit in Montana, as well as some of the benefits of the Beef Check-off including beef promotion and consumer education.
As part of the program, the group visited Tyson Food Research and Development Center. “It was interesting to see how the developed projects and take consumers suggestions into consideration,” said Vennes.
Streit found the Tyson tour enlightening, adding the group had pointed question about some of Tyson’s practices, such as ‘no antibiotics ever’ chicken. “We put their representatives in the hot seat about that, and that’s something farmers need to do. These large food companies have so much power. When they endorse an idea, it can have some real backlash for the producer. The burden to comply is put on the American farmer. However, Tyson was very receptive to our input at this meeting. I think in the end they want to work with us and appreciate what we do.”