This week, all members of the House and Senate returned to Washington from their August recess. Members of Congress took time to conduct town halls and meetings in their districts, and better get to know the people, industries, and communities that they represent. Virginia Farm Bureau took full advantage of this month-long opportunity to meet with legislators and their staff, and host roundtables and farm tours. We met with members of the House, the Senate, Democrats, Republicans, and representatives from rural and urban districts. We found common ground on issues like broadband expansion, free trade, rural health, nutrition, and transportation issues.
We hope that Virginia’s delegation has returned to Washington with firsthand knowledge and experience of the issues facing agriculture and the rural economy, and will use this to better represent our industry. It is also our job, as Farm Bureau members, to ensure that our voice continues to be heard in Washington and the issues most important to us stay at the forefront of political dialogue.
Below you will find a rundown of top issues facing agriculture, with ways that you can directly engage and advocate. Regardless of your commodity, the size of your farm, or where in the Commonwealth you live, at least one of the following issues will impact your operation.
Ratification of the US-Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement (USMCA)
Virginia Farm Bureau strongly supports the ratification of the USMCA Agreement. When it was implemented in 1994, NAFTA removed barriers to intraregional trade, particularly agricultural products. Agricultural exports from the U.S. to Canada and Mexico increased from $8.9 billion in 1993 to $39 billion in 2017. The USMCA not only locks in market opportunities previously developed with our North American neighbors but also builds on those trade relationships in several key areas. Estimates indicate we will gain more than $2 billion in additional farm exports and $65 billion in gross domestic product once the agreement is in place.
With so much trade uncertainty overseas, we need Congress to ratify the USMCA trade agreement to bring certainty to our already-positive trade relationship with our closest neighbors and build on that relationship with new opportunities and commitments.
Use this link to find contact information for your member of Congress, and encourage them to pass USMCA today.
Waters of the United States
Farmers need clean water. Whether it is the water in their well that nourishes their family and their livestock, the water in their ponds that irrigates their crops, or the water in rivers in streams that provide fish and recreational opportunities, farmers need clean water. However, the 2015 Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule was unreasonable and unworkable. It made conservation more difficult and created huge liabilities for farmers.
Farm Bureau’s multi-year effort to raise awareness of overreaching provisions was powered by thousands of our members who joined with an array of allies to achieve this victory for clear rules to ensure clean water
On September 12, the EPA and Department of the Army came together to sign the repeal of the WOTUS rule and now begin the process of introducing a new rule that will provide states and landowners with greater clarity and “certainty” about protected bodies of water, while protecting our water and the ability to work and care for the land.
As the process continues to move forward, please stay engaged with VAFB action alerts related to WOTUS comments and feedback on the new plan.
Hemp Crop Protection Registration
Following passage of the 2018 Farm Bill and conforming state legislation, we have seen a surge in registered hemp growers, processors, and in hemp planting. However, given the short timeline under which hemp was legalized, there are limited crop protection tools labeled for hemp. EPA is currently seeking comments on the ten pesticide applications it has received for use on hemp. Comments are due on September 23, 2019.
Once the comment period closes, EPA plans to make its decision about the possible use for specified products on hemp before the end of 2019 to help growers plan for the upcoming growing season. In the future, EPA will review and approve or deny application for use on hemp as the agency would for any other use. The Federal Register posting is linked here. More information from EPA can be found here.
Virginia Farm Bureau will submit comments related to the proposed crop protectants, and we encourage you to use the link above to do the same. The more information you can include about your personal experience, the stronger your comments will be.
Agricultural Labor and H-2A Reform
Many farmers rely on H-2A non-immigrant visas to fulfill their workforce needs, and even more farmers would use the program if it were streamlined and improved. The Department of Labor recently released a proposed rule to amend its regulations regarding temporary employment of non-immigrant agricultural workers.
Key Provisions include:
- Allow for staggered entry
- Shift from the 50% rule to 30 days
- Revise the transportation reimbursement provision
- Streamline the application process
This is a step in the right direction, but as farmers continue to struggle to fill open positions on their farms, we must ensure that the Department of Labor does not force additional burdens on farmers that would hinder their success, and their ability to produce and harvest a crop.
Write the Department of Labor now to let them know more must be done! Comments are due by September 24.