Dairy, and all of agriculture, relies heavily on immigrant labor. What action might be taken on immigration reform to ensure that farms and manufacturers have essential employees?
Cooperative Network: President Trump repeatedly said, “We will build a wall.” One could assume that securing our borders will be part of any immigration reform legislation. Once that is accomplished, dealing with the millions of illegal immigrants is next. Several years ago, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and others laid out a four-point plan which would:
- Secure the border.
- Enforce our laws.
- Develop a guest-worker program that meets our needs.
- Give people here illegally a chance to get right with the law.
From our perspective, any guest worker program will need to meet the year-round labor needs of the dairy industry.
NMPF: This is a critical issue for dairy farmers across the country. We will continue our strong advocacy on immigration reform because the rural economy depends on access to its current workforce, and it needs the certainty provided by a guest worker program to help bring in future workers. Certainly this is going to be an issue that gets a lot of attention from the new administration.
We will be working with Congress and the White House to ensure that our elected officials understand that farm employers can’t grow and create jobs unless they know they will have workers, today and tomorrow, to help with the harvest, to help care for livestock, and to help feed the world.
What impact might President Trump and the Republican House and Senate have on environmental regulations such as Waters of the U.S. Rule (WOTUS) and the Resource Conservation Recovery Act (RCRA)?
Cooperative Network: Cooperative Network hopes that President Trump and the Republican House and Senate will make sure environmental regulations are practicable, workable, cost-effective, and science based.
In a memo to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Cooperative Network expressed concerns that a vast expansion of the Clean Water Act would result in the additional regulation of countless acres of farmland and surely mean greater compliance obligations. Cooperative Network stressed the unnecessary burden this significant change would have on cooperatives and their farmer-owners.
NMPF: We hope that the WOTUS rule will be withdrawn once a new administrator of the EPA is approved in 2017. Based on signals to date, that seems a likely outcome. It is our hope and expectation that the agriculture community can have a more productive working relationship with EPA officials in the Trump administration.
Overall, President Trump talked a great deal about investment in infrastructure. From a rural standpoint, what could that investment look like in terms of roads, electronic communication, and related matters?
Cooperative Network: Many of Cooperative Network’s members need an updated transportation system to get products to the country and to get their members’ commodities to market. Cooperatives utilize roads, rail, air, and barges to accomplish this task. We hope that investment takes place in many of the rural areas our members serve that have gone overlooked.
Deployment of broadband is as important today to rural areas as rural electrification was in the 1930s. In Wisconsin, telecommunications cooperatives provide a high level of connectivity because of their responsiveness to meeting their members’ needs. Continuing to connect rural America with high-speed broadband will be critical to enhance productivity and economic opportunity.
NMPF: New and increased investment in infrastructure that benefits rural America is vitally needed. Such investment would improve the roads, bridges, river systems, and ports that are necessary to move farm goods to markets here and abroad.
In addition, improving broadband access and bandwidth would help small towns and rural areas better compete for jobs and improve distance learning opportunities, providing a much needed economic stimulus for rural Americans, akin to what rural electrification did in the 1930s and ‘40s.
Embedded in the farm bill are food assistance programs such as food stamps. Both could be reformed as part of the farm bill. Talk specifically about the dairy portion of this legislation.
Cooperative Network: Cooperative Network wants to see food assistance programs remain in the farm bill. We support efforts to expand the choices of dairy products, as recent studies have shown that the fat contained in dairy products is healthy. Cooperative Network has opposed efforts by the USDA Food and Nutrition Service to reduce the fluid milk allocation for the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) Program.
NMPF: We don’t support splitting apart the farm bill so that farm safety net programs such as MPP-Dairy (Margin Protection Program for Dairy) are considered separately from the food assistance and nutrition programs. Frankly, it would be extremely difficult — if not impossible — to pass a farm-only bill. We simply don’t have enough members of Congress from rural areas to get the votes needed to pass such a bill.
That’s why farm groups across the spectrum continue to support a unified approach to this legislation. SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and WIC are important programs that provide needy consumers with access to nutrient-rich dairy foods, and farmers benefit from the prominent role of dairy products in those programs. This is certainly a message we will continue to deliver to Congress as the next farm bill is developed.