Stallman also calls on Congress to reform labor laws
By MITCH LIES
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman is calling on Congress to "enact the kind of (farm bill) reforms that the Senate and House Agriculture Committee have approved."
Those reforms, which failed to receive a vote on the House floor, cut direct payments in favor of increases in crop insurance.
"We need the new Congress to show the leadership needed to pass long-term farm policy," Stallman said in the president's annual address Sunday at the American Farm Bureau's annual meeting.
In the absence of that, Stallman said the temporary extension of the 2008 Farm Bill that Congress adopted Jan. 1 "is not perfect, but at least it gives us certainty for 2013."
"Lest anyone wonder why we need a farm bill, we should remember the drought of 2012," Stallman said. "More than half of the country was in a severe drought last summer. Crops withered, hay supplies disappeared, feed costs soared and wildfires blazed.
"Thankfully, our crop insurance program worked as intended and we live to fight another day," he said.
Stallman also called on Congress to adopt farm-labor reforms.
"For too long, we have dealt with the shortcomings of a broken farm-labor system," Stallman said. "The results have been labor shortages, lost crops and bureaucratic nightmares.
"Our nation's leaders can't continue to avoid this issue," he said. "We need solutions."
Stallman said AFBF is offering what he characterized as "a reasonable, practical and common-sense farm-labor option that works for growers and workers alike.
"This plan can work for all farmers and ranchers in all production sectors and all regions -- from Washington apple orchards to New York dairies," he said.
"The plan establishes a new visa program that would give both employers and employees' stability and flexibility into the future, while recognizing the current workforce that has contributed to our farms and communities," Stallman said.
Farmers could offer workers either a contract or at-will work, under the plan, Stallman said.
AFBF advocacy in 2012 included a continuing role in a suit in Pennsylvania against the Environment Protection Agency challenging its right to set federal limits on nutrients in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.
"In October, we argued that only the states in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, not the federal government, can dictate how states change their regulations, land-use restrictions and economies to meet water quality standards," Stallman said.
That case has yet to be decided.
Another case involved what Stallman characterized as "the government's roughshod attempt to bully a poultry farmer through illegal enforcement actions and threats of steep, daily fines unless she applied for a Clean Water Act discharge permit."
AFBF and the West Virginia Farm Bureau joined the West Virginia poultry farmer, Lois Alt, in the case and, shortly after, the EPA "did an abrupt about-face and withdrew its regulatory action against the farmer."
"She knew her farm was not discharging anything more than ordinary rain water off her farmyard, so she took on the EPA," Stallman said.
Stallman said the advocacy efforts, while localized, are important for farmers nationwide.
"If the EPA can do it there, they can do it anywhere, and they will," he said.
Stallman also called on farmers to be more transparent about what they do and reach out to the general public.
"Consumers want to hear from you," he said. "We must open our doors."