Ag groups see trade, Farm Bill among top challenges in 2018

January 11, 2018

International trade, a new farm bill, infrastructure and immigration are shaping up to be the big challenges facing U.S. agriculture in 2018. That’s according to an informal survey of the major farm organizations and several commodity groups that have been busy lobbying on these issues for months. Here’s how the different organizations are looking at the big issues in the new year.

American Farm Bureau

Federation: AFBF, the biggest U.S. farm group, plans a “major push” to make sure the new farm bill includes “a viable safety net and workable risk management tools”to help its members cope with declines in farm prices and farm income.

“Net farm income has dropped 50 percent in the last four years –the largest four-year percentage decrease since the Great Depression,” noted Dale Moore, AFBF’s executive director of public policy. “We know that about one in 10 farmers is highly or extremely leveraged with loans that must be repaid. Farmers and ranchers are tightening their belts and will be in greater need of a safety net than has been the case for some time.”

Trade also ranks high among the Farm Bureau’s concerns, especially amid worries that the U.S. will pull out of the North American Free Trade Agreement, leaving ag commodities vulnerable to tariffs from Canada and Mexico, where U.S. farm exports are now virtually duty free.

Therehas also been talk about ending the free trade agreement with South Korea, known as KORUS.

“We are working to advance international market opportunities for our members through whatever vehicle is available, including NAFTA, KORUS and WTO,” Moore said. “Our farmers and ranchers sell about a third of everything they produce to foreign markets. In fact, agriculture is one of the few economic sectors in our nation to claim a positive trade balance.

NAFTA has helped prime the pump. Since implemented in 1994, our ag exports to Canada and Mexico have grown from $8.9 billion to $38 billion in 2016. Trade with South Korea through KORUS is another story of success, with an anticipated $7 billion in U.S. ag exports this year.”

Farm labor is another major issue for AFBF, which is vowing to “continue to be a leader in the  fight for an agricultural labor plan that works for all sectors of agriculture and all regions of our country.” Moore said the plan should include “a new, flexible visa program that ensures long-term access to an expanding workforce by allowing foreign-born workers to enter the U.S.”

AFBF will also continue to point out the need for a provision that allows skilled laborers currently working in agriculture to earn an adjustment in status and remain working in the U.S., he said.

Moore said a bill being pushed by House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., addresses some reforms in the immigration system. But he said the legislation “must be improved upon” to make sure it works for all sectors of agriculture.

National Farmers Union: NFU, America’s second-biggest general farm group, also points to the farm bill and tradeas among the biggest challenges racing the agriculture community. NFU President Roger Johnson says the farm bill should include more funding for a safety net that will protect farmers and ranchers who are “enduring a severe downtown in the farm economy.”

He also warns against renewed efforts to separate farm and nutrition programs.

“The newly passed tax reform bill leaves a gaping hole in the federal budget –a hole that some members of Congress will want to fill with farm program and entitlement spending cuts,”Johnson said.

Johnson said NFU stands behind President Trump in his efforts to fix the nation’s trade imbalance. Still, he said, “to this point, the rhetoric out of the White House has made this goal very difficult. Insults and impulsive  threats of withdrawal are not successful  negotiating tactics. The administration must find a way to mitigate these actions, and they need to find it quickly.”

“The new agenda needs to reduce our trade deficit, deal with currency manipulation, fix the dispute resolution process, and harmonize labor and environmental requirements with those in the U.S.,” Johnson said.

From Agri-Pulse

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Category: Agriculture