Jan 31, 2024
Growers group sets policy agenda
The American Farm Bureau Federation in late January wrapped up its 105th Annual Convention in Salt Lake City by approving policy changes to guide the organization’s legislative and regulatory priorities for the year.
California Farm Bureau delegates participated in voting on about 200 policy proposals on key issues important to farmers, such as labor, crop insurance and artificial intelligence. In all, 346 voting delegates representing every state and Puerto Rico, and nearly every agricultural commodity, took part in the Jan. 19-24 gathering.
California Farm Bureau President Shannon Douglass praised grassroots efforts by Farm Bureau members and work by staff to “raise the attention of these issues on a national level and with our friends at the American Farm Bureau” to help shape the AFBF policy book.
“Farm Bureau policy development is about a 10-month process that starts with our members recognizing challenges on the horizon and identifying policy areas that need clarity,” said Douglass, a farmer and rancher from Orland in Glenn County. “Then, it is a matter of adapting and refining policies on issues that we believe are important.”
Matthew Viohl, director of federal policy for the California Farm Bureau, said AFBF delegates considered policy proposals related to labor and immigration, which are of great significance to California farmers and ranchers.
“Compared to just two years ago, there has been a significant shift in the number of states focused on pushing the organization to be more proactive on our workforce challenges—an encouraging development for those of us seeking more comprehensive labor reform,” Viohl said. “While many resolutions focused on very specific tweaks to the policy book, it was promising to see more than two dozen of these related to workforce challenges.”
AFBF delegates reversed policy by allowing caps on the annual number of immigration agricultural labor visas as long as they do not restrict farmers and ranchers from using the program and meeting labor needs. Delegates argued that a no-caps stance has left the Farm Bureau out of immigration negotiations.
“Idaho Farm Bureau took the lead and I believe is correct in its position that you cannot go to the negotiating table with a policy that specifically says we will not support caps of any kind,” Viohl said. “Democratic offices have been very insistent that there needs to be a cap on that system, so if you want to get something done, we need to be willing to negotiate on caps.”
Delegates also supported policy encouraging the U.S. Department of Labor to resurvey the average labor wage for agricultural workers to reflect local pay rates and ease the financial strain on agricultural producers due to an inflated Adverse Effect Wage Rate required by H-2A provisions.
Among other changes to AFBF’s policy book, delegates agreed to:
- Address the growth of artificial intelligence in agriculture. AI has the potential to enhance farming practices and conserve resources, but privacy rights must be respected.
- Reaffirm support for increasing reference prices in the farm bill and maintaining a strong crop insurance program, including an expansion of eligibility to ensure more commodities are covered.
- Support more funding to improve data collection on the foreign ownership of agricultural land.
- Promote the expansion of fertilizer production in the U.S. to lower prices and recommend that Congress investigate fertilizer supply-chain outages and tariffs placed on imports.
- Encourage expanded direct-to-consumer market opportunities for specialty crop growers.
Representing California Farm Bureau as voting delegates to the AFBF annual meeting, in addition to Douglass, were First Vice President Shaun Crook of Tuolumne County, Second Vice President Ron Peterson of Stanislaus County and Brandon Fawaz of Siskiyou County.
In his keynote address, AFBF President Zippy Duvall emphasized the need for members of Congress to pass a new, five-year farm bill that includes a safety net for farmers through crop insurance and risk management programs, plus nutrition, conservation and market access programs. (See related commentary on Page 2.)
“It’s crucial that Congress pass a new farm bill in 2024. We look forward to making our members’ unified voice heard as they work to ensure a strong food supply for America’s families,” said Duvall, a farmer from Georgia, who along with AFBF Vice President Scott VanderWal of South Dakota, were unanimously re-elected for two-year terms.
“The road to a new farm bill has become longer than any of us would have liked, but together we can see it through,” Duvall said.
Congress passed a stopgap funding measure in November that extended the farm bill for one year while lawmakers work to craft new legislation.
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who addressed the convention, said he met with state Farm Bureau presidents and told them the U.S. Department of Agriculture is committed to expanding crop insurance and is focused on risk management to provide the help farmers need. He said $207 billion in production is protected through risk management programs.
To help build new revenue streams for farmers, Vilsack said, USDA is investing $207 million in renewable energy and domestic fertilizer programs. Of the total, he said, about $157 million will fund 675 projects through the Rural Energy for America Program. The projects are intended to reduce dependence on fossil fuels and reduce energy costs for farmers, he said.
“Farmers are now going to be paid, encouraged, incented and rewarded for taking those steps to be more sustainable,” Vilsack said. “We’re going to work with the market forces to create a value-added opportunity through carbon markets and other environmental markets that are designed for farmers creating a whole new source of income for farming operations.”
During the AFBF convention, California Farm Bureau received an Award of Excellence for implementing outstanding member programs and membership achievement in 2023. In addition, Jacob Samuel, an almond and walnut farmer from San Joaquin County, was a top 10 finalist for the Young Farmers & Ranchers Achievement Award.