By Allie Doise, Louisiana Farm Bureau Federation
WASHINGTON D.C. – After three days of meeting with their senators, representatives and other government officials, 40 members of a Louisiana delegation of farmers and ranchers who visited Washington D.C. last week headed home.
Members of the Louisiana Farm Bureau Federation visited the nation’s capitol to remind their elected officials about the importance of Louisiana agriculture. As they did, they also gained some insight as to what the future of agriculture may hold under the new administration. The Louisiana delegation discussed everything from the upcoming Farm Bill to the importance of the “green line” with lawmakers.
John Newton, American Farm Bureau director of market intelligence, briefed the group on the expectations for the new Farm Bill, which is expected to be crafted in December of 2018.
The bill represents a $1 trillion investment over ten years. Of that $1 trillion, 80 percent is used for nutrition programs. In the previous Farm Bill, the House attempted to split the nutrition programs and the portion dealing directly with agriculture, while the Senate kept it as one. Splitting the Farm Bill in two would be detrimental to farmers and consumers according to Newton.
“Since 1973, we’ve had those two programs aligned and joined together to stress the importance of farm programs and nutrition programs,” Newton said. “It’s really important to get the support in the House of Representatives to keep these programs together so that members in metropolitan districts, as well as members in our rural districts, see the importance of the programs and how they bring benefits back to their constituents.”
One of the big issues farmers brought to Capitol Hill was trade. Ted Verrill handles agricultural issues for Ralph Abraham, Louisiana 5th District congressman. Verrill said NAFTA is a very important trade agreement for agriculture in general, but especially for Louisiana rice.
“NAFTA was signed years ago and a lot of issues have come up since then,” Verrill said. “So it is time to fine tune it a bit, but I don't think we're going to see a whole-sale canceling of it.”
With the Trump administration cracking down on illegal immigration, Louisiana farmers wanted to make sure lawmakers understood the importance of protecting and expanding legal immigration programs for season farm workers.
“It is so vital to us to get timely labor,” said Kenny Self, Pointe Coupee sugarcane farmer. “With the seasonal nature of the crops we grow, we need seasonal labor to get our crops out.”
Self also admitted his anxiousness about getting the seasonal labor he needs for this year's sugarcane crop.
“It has us all nervous,” he said. “We need to make sure we stay on top of it.”
While in DC, Louisiana farmers and ranchers learned that many on Capitol Hill consider them to be on the front lines of national security. Rep. Ralph Abraham called farming the ‘thin, green line’ and Louisiana’s senior senator, Bill Cassidy, said agriculture is a national security issue.
“Farmers are what give us food security, and there cannot be a more important security than that,” Cassidy said.
Abraham, Louisiana 5th District congressman, took it a step further calling farmers and ranchers "The Green Line" in the fight against terrorism.
"I worry about a food-borne toxin entering our country through a terrorist organization," said Abraham. “Farmers, ranchers, foresters...they are in the field, they are on the ground and they know what's happening."
Ronnie Anderson, Louisiana Farm Bureau president, said he considered the trip a successful one.
“Our congressional delegation was very positive about the issues we've been talking about and they are very supportive of Louisiana agriculture."