In an exclusive one on one conversation with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Ohio Ag Net’s Ty Higgins got the nitty gritty on two major topics waiting on Congress to return from their August recess — Immigration reform and the Farm Bill.
With the August recess almost over, many in agriculture are keenly focused on getting things done in Congress after September’s arrival. That group includes Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. At the top of that list for Vilsack, is the farm bill. The current farm bill extension expires at the end of September.
There are a number of implications with continued inaction on the farm bill, Vilsack said. One of those looming challenges is an ongoing trade dispute with Brazil.
“Brazil won a case with the WTO which means that they can retaliate, if they so desire, against American goods and services to the tune of perhaps $850 million a year. That will impact and affect American agriculture and American jobs. The passage of a farm bill that changes the way we support cotton farmers will go a long way to ending Brazil’s ability to retaliate. That is one impact of inaction from Congress in getting the farm bill done,” Vilsack said. “A second impact would be a longer term problem of permanent law, 1940s law, coming back into play that would create serious distortion in the market. That will really stall the momentum we’ve seen in agriculture in the last few years.”
Vilsack also points to the program improvements, tremendous cost savings and more streamlined approach a new farm bill would offer as reasons to get it passed.
“There is not going to be another extension. You can’t reward continued failure by taking folks off the hook,” he said. “There are differences and those differences can be worked out. There are many benefits to this new farm bill. There is no reason not to get this done.”
Another key federal issue for agriculture is immigration reform.
“Everyone knows the system is broken and everyone knows we need to make a commitment to a stronger border. We know from history that when we have an immigration system that works, the economy grows. Comprehensive immigration reform by itself, without raising anyone’s taxes or cutting anyone’s services, will reduce the deficit,” Vilsack said. “And, of course there is a significant benefit to agriculture because we’re going to have a secure workforce and it will allow people to plan.”
The current immigration system limits potential for agriculture, Vilsack said.
“The sad reality today in agriculture is that producers are not able to expand in the way they would like because they don’t know if they will have the workforce,” Vilsack said. “The House has two choices. They could pass a comprehensive immigration bill similar to what the Senate did or break it up into smaller sized bills. It just needs to get done so we can get a bill that allows agriculture to continue to expand.”