If ever there was a time for farmers and ranchers across America to get outside our fence rows, 2017 is it. Many of agriculture’s major policy issues are in the headlines every day. It’s time to engage.
We are encouraged by the quick attention Congress and the administration are giving to issues like regulatory reform and federal land management. Farmers breathed a collective sigh of relief with President Donald Trump’s executive order to withdraw the Waters of the U.S. rule and with congressional action to roll back the Obama administration’s Planning 2.0 rule for federal lands. But we know the work is far from over on these and other issues facing America’s farmland. Lawmakers need to hear from each of us, the very people impacted every day by the regulations and policies they create.
It’s not enough to simply list what we do and don’t want. We need to talk about how these issues affect our businesses and everyday life. And while we’re excited to see movement on regulatory reform, that’s not the only issue on the front burner for Farm Bureau.
Access to new markets and a stable workforce are also top priorities. If we’re going to see our rural economies prosper, farm and ranch businesses must be given room to succeed and grow. We need to be able to hire the workers required to grow America’s food. Farm Bureau supports keeping our borders secure, but we know what’s at stake for agriculture if reasonable visa reform is left off the table. Already this year, demand for H-2A workers is up nearly 20 percent. Lawmakers need to hear from farmers like you who have seen crops go to waste because you couldn’t find the workers you needed to keep your farm running. Farmers and ranchers are ready for a balanced solution that allows us to keep up with the demand for American-grown food.
Domestic and international markets alike are important for keeping U.S. farmers in business. American-grown products have a reputation for being the best in the world. But being the best won’t protect us from high tariffs or nonscientific trade barriers abroad. We need new markets that give American farmers and ranchers a level playing field worldwide.
And no matter what you may hear about manufacturing, that’s exactly what trade agreements have done for American agriculture. Take NAFTA, for example: Our agricultural exports to Canada and Mexico have more than quadrupled since that agreement was passed. With dropping commodity prices and farm incomes down, expanding trade is critical to the health of the rural economy. We already export nearly one-quarter of our output. We simply cannot walk away from the rest of the world and continue to prosper.
There are numerous verses in the Bible about the importance of witnessing and personal testimony. In Matthew 9:37-38, Jesus said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”
American agriculture has a plentiful harvest of policy issues and elected leaders who are ready to listen. The workers are few, but we can accomplish a lot if we share our stories, our struggles and our desire to provide this nation with food and strength. Will you join us in reaping the harvest?
Zippy Duvall is a poultry, cattle and hay farmer from Greensboro, Ga., and president of the American Farm Bureau Federation.