By MITCH LIES
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- A group of farm organizations has prepared a farm labor proposal that American Farm Bureau President Bob Stallman said could serve the needs of all of agriculture.
And, Stallman said in a press conference here Jan. 13, lawmakers are poised to act on immigration and farm labor reform.
"I think the environment is riper during this nine month period than it has been for several years, maybe ever," Stallman said.
"Having said that, are we going to be able to do it? I don't know. But I think there is more interest now in addressing this than there has been at least since I've been actively involved in this issue," Stallman said.
The farm industry has united behind a proposal for the first time, Stallman said.
"This is the first time we have had a coalition of agricultural groups across the board to pursue this issue," Stallman said. "In the past, it has sort of been ad hoc with different groups taking different positions.
"So I am encouraged. It is going to take a lot of work, but I hope we can get there," he said.
The agricultural workforce coalition proposal includes what in essence is a visa program that allows two forms of employment, Stallman said: One by contract and one an at-will employment.
"Those two components ... would meet the needs for all of agriculture," Stallman said.
"Plus it would bring out of the shadows all of those individuals who have been doing very constructive hard work on farms ... that aren't here legally. And hopefully it would allow them to come out and apply for these visas and in the end work legally," Stallman said.
Stallman said issues surrounding farm labor have festered "for far too long.
"We have to do something, and I think there is a growing awareness of that and I think the political climate has moved to the point where there may be an opportunity from a political standpoint to have that discussion and move forward," Stallman said.
Stallman also said the Bureau was "disappointed that Congress failed to pass a new five-year farm bill last year.
"We were hoping that in the 'fiscal cliff' deal there would be a way ... to go ahead and craft a compromise between the House and the Senate and put it in a 'fiscal cliff' package," Stallman said.
"That didn't happen," he said, and the Bureau recognized it was at least important for Congress to pass an extension, which did occur.
"The solution was not perfect for 2013, but at least farmers have some certainty about what they are dealing with," Stallman said. "They still have uncertainty about what they are dealing with for the longer term, and that is why it is critical for us to move forward as quickly as possible and get the full five-year farm bill."