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Ag expert discusses industry issues in Washington

Agriculture was in the news in Washington D.C. during National Agriculture Week. Thank you to the Monroe County Farm Bureau for allowing me to go and help articulate agricultural issues important to farmers in Monroe County and Michigan. Michigan is the second most diverse agricultural state in the nation, exceeded only by California.

Farm labor, a federal food labeling law and trade were the three primary issues that were discussed with Congressman Walberg, Congresswoman Dingell and Senator Stabenow. And while all these discussions were going on, Michigan Governor Snyder was testifying before the House Government and Oversight Committee about the Flint water issue.

Chris Heck of Monroe was the other Monroe County Farm Bureau member participating. Other local participants included Rachael McCleery of Ida who works for Senator Stabenow and Michael Klotz of Lincoln Park who works for Congresswoman Dingell.

Ag labor is a very difficult issue simply because it has become embroiled in the entire immigration discussion. Monroe County vegetable, greenhouse, nursery, dairy and fruit farms depend upon obtaining enough workers who are willing and able to work on farms and in fields. If enough local people aren’t available, then some farms rely on foreign workers, who are admitted under a government sponsored temporary worker program. In an era of food quality and food safety, America will need to import our food if farmers cannot secure enough labor.

The Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement negotiations were concluded on October 15, 2015. The U.S. Congress now has a two year window in which to ratify the agreement. From an agriculture perspective only, this agreement either eliminates most tariffs or increases the quotas to the twelve countries. These include; Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam, Japan and the U.S. Exports help our balance of trade and this agreement is projected to increase cash receipts to Michigan farmers by $195 million and net exports from Michigan by $109 million.

Biotechnology may be the most important issue discussed this week because, if nothing is done on a federal level, a new mandatory food labeling law goes into effect in Vermont on July 1. Amazingly, this new state law will not affect two of their most important agricultural industries, dairy and maple syrup. And if this happens, other states are already poised to pass laws with various exemptions for their particular important ag industries. This will result in a hodge podge of local and state laws that are projected to increase the amount of money people spend on food by $1,000 per year. While the US House of Representatives passed a national food labeling bill last year, the Senate on Wednesday voted down a somewhat similar measure.

On a positive note, one of the best guidebooks to Washington was available free of charge at Senator Stabenow’s office. Anyone planning a trip should call to request this resource.