WASHINGTON — A half-dozen major regulatory issues were part of the discussion on the first day of the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation county president’s trip to the Capitol, March 4.
Issues included immigrant labor, water quality, the failed farm bill, the new health care law, as well as food safety reform.
Kristi Boswell, congressional relations director with American Farm Bureau Federation, said farmers need a better way of legalizing immigrants to work on their farms.
She estimated about 70 percent of the ag workforce currently are undocumented workers. She said AFBF is staying out of the discussion about whether such workers should be made citizens, but the organization believes strongly in making them “authorized workers” for a set time period.
“We are focused on keeping a legal workforce,” she said.
The current immigrant labor policy — the H-2A Certification program — is inefficient, overly bureaucratic and costly, she said, and only helps seasonal farmers.
Boswell said bipartisan work is being done in the House and Senate to address agriculture’s connection to immigrant labor, and she’s “cautiously optimistic” a new bill could be approved this year.
Agriculture needs legal immigrant labor, she said, because immigrants do work that Americans are unwilling to do.
“The reality is it’s hard work, it’s seasonal work, it’s transitory work, it’s in rural areas and domestic workers for better or worse just aren’t doing this work,” she said.
Don Parrish, AFBF senior director of regulatory regulations, said water quality standards are coming and farmers need to take a lead role, or be led.
“EPA views nutrients — primarily nitrogen and phosphorus — as being public enemy number one,” he said. “They also view sedimentation as an issue.”
Parrish said farmers need to study how the EPA thinks and acts, and be part of the discussion.
“You have to be proactive,” he said. “You need to find out what they’re saying about streams on your farm and what they’re calling streams on your farm.”
Parrish said the Obama Administration was noticeably quiet on regulations in 2012, in lieu of the elections, but hinted toward a busier schedule now that elections are over.
“They didn’t want EPA to be the political football that cost the Obama Administration the election,” he said.
Parrish also broke the news that earlier in the day, President Obama nominated Gina McCarthy as his choice to be the EPA’s next administrator. She currently is assistant administrator for the EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation.
According to Parrish, McCarthy “is probably one of the most effective administrative officials in the office of air” and will likely continue her efforts to enact new greenhouse gas regulations.
Those efforts, Parrish said, are “probably going to have a ripple effect through our economy.”
Kelli Ludlum, AFBF congressional director, gave a brief update on a host of new food safety regulations being formed for the produce industry.
Ludlum said the new rules deal with risk-based, prevention-based policy and cover such basics as ag water quality, worker hygiene, and domestic and wild animals in the growing area. More details will be discussed later this week, by Food and Drug Administration officials.
But Ludlum said there are some key ways farmers can be exempted from the rules. In general, produce that is sold through direct marketing channels like roadside stands and farmers markets is exempt. So is raw produce that is sent on to be further processed and inspected through food safety hazard protocols.
Additional exemptions include produce farms that make sales of less than $500,000 and that sell their produce within the same state, or within a 275-mile radius.
The Farm Bureau president’s trip continues through March 6, and will feature congressional visits and comments from both Ohio senators. Follow Farm and Dairy online for further coverage.