By Ben Rowe, National Affairs Coordinator
In my first few weeks with Virginia Farm Bureau, I have enjoyed the opportunity to meet with our members from across the Commonwealth, and represent your interests in our nation’s capital and our statehouse in Richmond. We have enjoyed a busy July at VAFB where we have been focused on several national policy issues ahead of Congress’ August recess.
Earlier this month, I traveled with a group of Southwest Virginia Young Farmers to DC to meet with their representatives and discuss four policy areas important to these young farmers: farm bill, trade tariffs, broadband connectivity and expansion, and electronic logging devices and trucking hours of service. This trip was a valuable opportunity for our members to sit across the table from their legislators and discuss the impact of these policies on their operations, and districts.
Speaking of broadband, since our meetings in DC, the House passed H.R. 4881, the Precision Agriculture Connectivity Act of 2018, which enjoyed support from Virginia’s entire House delegation. This bill would create a task force to focus on the connectivity and technology needs of precision agriculture. The task force would bring together USDA, FCC, and public and private stakeholders to focus on the needs of broadband connectivity on farmland. Currently, there is no data available to know how much farmland has broadband connectivity. In addition to focusing on these gaps, the taskforce will propose policy recommendations to promote the deployment of fixed and mobile broadband across 95% of the farmland in the United States by 2025.
Since our recent meetings on trade, we have also seen The U.S. Department of Agriculture announce that there will be up to $12 billion available to assist farmers hurt by retaliatory tariffs. The three-part plan includes a Market Facilitation Program to assist producers through payments to address the impact of tariffs, a Food Purchase and Distribution Program to buy and distribute perishable commodities and a Trade Promotion Program to aid producers in finding new markets for U.S. agricultural exports.
The Market Facilitation Program will include payments to soybean, corn, sorghum, wheat, cotton, dairy, and hog producers. The Food Purchase and Distribution Program will purchase fruits, nuts, rice, legumes, milk, beef and pork products for distribution to nutrition programs and food banks. Funding for these programs will come from the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC). Program details are expected in late August and sign-up for the Market Facilitation Program will be after September 4, 2018.
The $12 billion package of agricultural assistance will provide temporary relief to our farmers experiencing the financial effects of the trade war. This should help farmers weather the rough road ahead and assist in their dealings with their financial institutions. This announcement is substantial, but our emphasis continues to be on ensuring free trade and restoring access to markets. We will continue to work with AFBF and our representatives in Washington to push for a swift and sure end to the trade war and the tariffs impacting agriculture.
In addition to the above policy areas, we have been working to advocate on issues as diverse as WOTUS, immigration & labor, the Endangered Species Act, Senate Agriculture appropriations, and other legislative and regulatory reform issues important to your operation. This has been one of the most active years of working on national issues with the changes and twists and turns on a weekly basis.
As always, please do not hesitate to be in touch with any questions you may have related to national policy. It is always helpful to hear from our farmer members to better understand how these policies are impacting your operations, for better or worse.