American Farm Bureau president says now is the time for progress

American farmers and ranchers remain united and persistent, there’s a good chance to make real progress on several national issues, said Vincent “Zippy” Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation.

Duvall spoke to several hundred farmers and guests Nov. 29 at the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation’s 2017 Annual Convention in Williamsburg. Elected in 2016, Duvall is the AFBF’s 12th president. He told convention participants that reforming the nation’s immigration laws and providing a steady supply of legal foreign farm workers tops the list of challenging national issues Farm Bureau members face.

“As I travel the country, the No. 1 issue in agriculture across the country today is farm labor. No doubt about it,” Duvall said. “(Farmers have) got the land, most of them have the water, they have the ability … they just don’t have the labor to continue to expand and grow.”

Virginia Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-6th, introduced a bill this year attempting to solve some of farmers’ immigration and labor challenges. Duvall said that, while that bill is not moving in Congress, Farm Bureau is grateful for Goodlatte’s leadership and called him a hero for farmers. “We haven’t given up, but we so much appreciate his hard work in that area. If you see him, tell him I mentioned that.”

Trade is another vital national farm issue, and Duvall said American agriculture lost billions when the new administration cancelled the proposed Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement early this year.

“We lost $4.4 billion that would have gone to the farm because we didn’t go into TPP. We’re still dealing with rules and regulations from older trade agreements that are 25 years old. TPP would have brought us a modern system of having rules and regulations in our trade treaties,” Duvall said.

“One out of 3 acres, 30 percent of our income, is coming from trade. We’ve got to make sure that we continue to tell everyone in this administration and on the Hill how important it is. We know there are problems in the North American Free Trade Agreement, but it’s not in agriculture. We know there are a few small issues, and we’d like to fix those. But the big problems with NAFTA are not agriculture. Farm exports have grown from $8 billion all the way up to $38 billion during the life of the NAFTA treaty. Don’t tell me it’s not valuable to us.”

Duvall also told Farm Bureau members that tax reform bills currently working through Congress should preserve most of the advantages that farmers currently have under the current tax code, and that most farmers should pay fewer taxes.

The final national hot-button issue he named is the 2018 Farm Bill, which farmers had hoped would be well under way by now. Duvall said the AFBF is hoping Congress will start debate on the national farm policy legislation early next year. He said the representatives with whom he’s spoken have asked that farmers present them with one plan for the bill, and not ask Congress to choose winners and losers. Farm Bureau members, Duvall said, must press hard to keep adequate funding for important farm bill programs.

“We’ve got to make sure we keep support for crop insurance strong in the next farm bill,” he added. “We’ve got other groups, the Heritage Foundation, the Freedom Caucus, they’ve got a big old ‘X’ on the farm bill, and the center of that ‘X’ is crop insurance. We can’t go to sleep on this one.”

Only by presenting a united front will farmers solve these long-standing national issues, but that’s the strength of Farm Bureau, Duvall said.

“We’ve got an opportunity to change our future and set the pathway for our children and grandchildren to be prosperous in agriculture. And if we sit at home and don’t reach out to our Congressmen and don’t tell our story and don’t pester them, then we’re going to miss the opportunity to have made a difference.”

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