Farmers, ranchers turn heat up on the U.S. Congress

Through phone calls, emails, social media, in-district meetings, farm tours, town hall meetings and other events, farmers and ranchers used Congress’ August recess to “Bring the Heat” to lawmakers on three key issues: The farm bill, ag labor reform and waterways infrastructure.

“Farmers and ranchers feel the heat from working outdoors, and they share heated views of Congress failing to get its work done,” explained Dale Moore, American Farm Bureau Federation executive director of public policy. “They get steamed when Congress delays authorization of waterways upgrades that are critical to U.S. agriculture’s global competitiveness. Farmers get hot under the collar about a Washington that debates to death any reforms that would help us get the farm workers we desperately need, or becomes mired in politics regarding a farm bill that ensures a safe and plentiful food supply.”

With Senate passage of immigration reform legislation, a farm bill and the Water Resources Development Act over the past month, farmers and ranchers have really focused their efforts on House members.

“The biggest hurdle to clear with these bills is House passage,” Moore noted. “While the House and Senate will ultimately have to conference on each of these measures-and there will be some struggles during this part of the process-House action will bring us significantly closer to the goal line.”

Farm bill

Where things stand: The Senate passed a farm bill in June that offers a basic-but-broad risk management platform supported by all types of farmers and ranchers in all regions. The first attempt to pass a farm bill in the House failed because so many lawmakers were unhappy with nutrition title provisions related to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. House leaders brought the bill back to the floor after they stripped it of the nutrition title. While Senate leaders would like to move to conference on the farm bill, leaders in the House have said they want to hold off until they pass a separate nutrition bill. Lawmakers have only a few weeks before the Sept. 30 expiration of the 2008 farm bill extension and the start of the new fiscal year on Oct. 1.

The message: Farmers and ranchers count on having farm programs in place when they’re making planting and other planning decisions for the year ahead. The farm bill helps producers deal with the risks that threaten their ability to produce the food, fiber and fuel everyone needs.

Ag labor reform

Where things stand: The Senate earlier this year approved an immigration reform bill that includes a fair and workable farm labor provision. In the House, the Judiciary and Homeland Security committees have passed a series of immigration reform-related measures.

The message: For too long, farmers and ranchers have had difficulty finding willing and able workers, resulting in agricultural losses of more than $300 million in 2010 alone. Without a system that provides adequate immigrant farm labor, thousands of U.S. citizens who work in sectors related to agriculture would lose their jobs, creating a ripple effect throughout the whole U.S. economy.

Waterways infrastructure

Where things stand: The Senate this spring passed its version of the Water Resources Development Act and House transportation leaders have been working since then to lay the groundwork for passage of a bill in that chamber.

The message: With more than 60 percent of exported U.S. corn shipped via inland waterways and 95 percent of agricultural exports and imports moving through U.S. harbors, passage of the Water Resources Development Act is a must to ensure the reliability of the most affordable, energy-efficient and environmentally sustainable mode of transporting agricultural products.

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