NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Many of the policy recommendations voted upon by the American Farm Bureau Federation’s regional delegates at the end of annual conventions once seemed unrealistic.
After all, how likely was it that the Obama administration would sharply curtail regulations on labor practices, pesticide usage and biotechnology?
With a regulation-averse Trump administration and Republican-controlled Congress, however, these policy positions may not be so outlandish anymore.
For example, during the Jan. 9 business session held at the organization’s convention here, the delegates recommended repealing the Obama-era “Worker Protection Standards” that imposed stricter conditions on pesticides.
They also decided the U.S. Department of Labor should provide seven days notice before performing a labor audit and that wages under the H-2A farm guestworker program should be lowered to better reflect local conditions and reduce the financial burden on growers.
Such goals are largely “aspirational,” but it’s not unfeasible for such federal rules to be mitigated, said Paul Schlegel, AFBF’s deputy director of public policy.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has announced that it may revise several key provisions of the Worker Protection Standards and release them for public comment by September, he said.
The Farm Bureau is hopeful that EPA will allow states to determine the appropriate age at which workers apply pesticides, down from the Obama-era minimum of 18 years, Schlegel said.
The agency may also change pesticide spray exclusion zones, which currently require buffers that effectively take land out of production, to make the rules more workable for farmers, he said.
It’s particularly important for EPA to revise the “designated representative” rule, which forces farmers to release two years of pesticide records to designated representatives of farmworkers, he said.
As it’s currently worded, the provision could easily be exploited by anti-pesticide groups to sow fear about spraying certain chemicals, Schlegel said.
As for labor regulations, such as the seven day notice before DOL audits, farmers just want to be treated fairly and not have the agency put them in a “gotcha” situation, he said.
Such recommended policies aren’t intended to allow growers to skirt the rule of law, Schlegel said. “I don’t think growers are looking for a get out of jail card.”
Some policy recommendations proved more controversial than others during the Jan. 9 voting session.
A couple delegates objected to the recommended withdrawal of federal funds from “sanctuary” jurisdictions, which refuse to comply with federal officers’ requests to hold illegal immigrants arrested for crimes.
Delegates from California and New York argued this policy would be similar to the sanctions imposed on rogue nations — they won’t much hurt the responsible politicians but they will adversely impact farmers and farm workers.
Despite these arguments, the delegates voted to approve the sanctuary jurisdiction policy.
Changing the Farm Bureau’s policy make mandatory “country of origin labeling,” or COOL, for meat also drew diverging opinions. Under current AFBF policy, the group prefers COOL to be voluntary.
Some farmers said that with President Donald Trump renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, there’s the opportunity to make Canada and Mexico agree to this provision.
Opponents of the proposal said it would violate World Trade Organization rules and potentially disrupt exports, which are critical for beef producers right now.
A proponent of the COOL provision declared, “I don’t mind wearing a Chinese T-shirt but I don’t want to eat a Chinese hamburger.”
While the declaration got a hearty laugh, delegates voted against the mandatory COOL policy.
The Farm Bureau’s existing policy for solar development — which calls for panels to be installed on marginal or underused land — came under attack from property rights-minded farmers.
One delegate said he understood the intention behind the provision but was uncomfortable with dictating what other growers should do with their land.
Another farmer countered that the policy doesn’t bar solar development, but simply suggests it not occur on high-value farmland.
Solar projects can also be used as a strategy by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to cancel grazing leases on its property by declaring the land underused and then approving solar facilities, the grower said.
Ultimately, the delegates opted to keep the policy recommending solar development on marginal land.
Two votes were entirely uncontroversial: After praising AFBF President Zippy Duvall and Vice President Scott VanderWal, the delegates unanimously re-elected the two officers for two more years.