WAYNE TWP. – Armstrong County Farm Bureau members gathered near Dayton last week for their annual Legislative Day, spending the first portion of the meeting discussing international trade, tariffs and immigrant labor.
The national and even global issues on the minds of local farmers led to a discussion with Congressman Glenn “GT” Thompson (R-Howard), who attended the local luncheon at the Ross Grooms Farm in Wayne Township.
Thompson currently represents the 5th Congressional District, which does not include Armstrong County; however, with the new redistricting that will be in place for November’s elections, Thompson is seeking election for the new 15th District, which will include all of Armstrong County.
The local farm bureau members lobbied for a speedy approval of a new federal farm bill, in order to provide some degree of certainty and stability for the next five years.
“We want to get this done,” Thompson told those at the meeting, noting that the goal is to have it approved on time.
Grooms described farming as a “gamble on the rain,” saying that too little or too much rain can not only impact one small farm, but an entire region or industry. Another member of the farm bureau said the public needs to be better educated about farming so that they see it as a food security issue.
“It becomes a national security issue,” Thompson said, crediting the recent resurgence in 4-H, FFA and school agriculture programs for helping to promote the agriculture industry. He also said cable television food shows have helped as well, along with county fairs. “I get the sense that the winds are at our back.”
Thompson also said that a generation of milk drinkers was lost when federal regulations limited the fat content in milk served in schools. He urged school districts to apply for a waiver that allows 1 percent milk to be served.
“We want these kids to have a good milk experience,” he said, noting that he is working to include in the farm bill stipulations that would provide twice as much fresh fruit, vegetables and dairy products for those who take part in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
Thompson told the local farmers that negotiations are going on now for the farm bill, and he said he hopes for a quick resolution to “insert some certainty into the rural economy.”
Those at last week’s meeting also pressed the congressman to support the NAFTA trade pact with Mexico and Canada, America’s two largest trading partners when it comes to agricultural products.
Thompson said he hopes that NAFTA can be modernized, as some regulations are hurting U.S. industries such as hardwoods.
“The goal is zero tariffs,” Thompson said.
One local farmer said that the recent tariffs will cause a “serious loss” for the upcoming soybean harvest as prices are down 18 percent.
Thompson acknowledged that “in a trade war, agriculture loses first.”
Grooms also lobbied Congress to do something soon with regard to immigrant labor.
“We need immigrant labor,” he said, noting that Congress needs to quickly find a legal way for workers to enter the country for the many agricultural jobs that need them. “They’re good workers, hard workers and do a job no one else wants to do.”
Thompson said that while he believes in a secure border, he said the U.S. definitely needs to address the agricultural workforce. He said that when Congress returns to session in September, he plans to draft a bill that will focus only on the agricultural workforce, separating it from other more contentious immigration issues. He called it the Food Security Agriculture Workforce Bill.
The congressman said that the farm workers who come into the United States are “good family people” and that support for the bill should be bi-partisan.
“We believe in the family unit,” he said. “Why would we ever split up the nuclear family?”
To conclude the federal portion of last week’s meeting, Grooms said farmers want a seat at the table for when the rules related to their industry are created. He said that while some of the proposed regulations may sound good to bureaucrats, they need someone with farming knowledge and background to properly asses the impact that their rules will have on farmers.
The annual meeting was also attended by state Rep. Donna Oberlander (R-Clarion), Armstrong County Commissioners Pat Fabian and Jason Renshaw, and representatives from the offices of state Sen. Don White (R-Indiana) and U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (R-Pa.).