American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall called on farmers and ranchers to redouble their efforts to advocate for agriculture, even as the current administration has begun moving to undo some of the regulations that have burdened them for years.
“We have had a seat at the table with the Trump administration,” Duvall told nearly 7,000 farmers and ranchers gathered for the organization’s annual convention in Nashville, Tennessee. “Folks, I can tell you that it has been a breath of fresh air to be able to advocate for getting things done…instead of having to constantly defend agriculture against a steady stream of challenges from our own government.”
In his address Duvall covered the gamut of major issues that began to move in recent months.
“Probably the biggest challenge we faced in recent years was the Waters of the U.S. rule,” he said. “That over-reaching regulation would have allowed the federal government to dictate not just how you farm — but whether you could farm at all. Thanks to your engagement, and thanks to EPA administrator Scott Pruitt, the old rule is being reconsidered. And we are urging the agency to propose a new rule…one that draws clear lines that protect waters without regulating farm fields.
“It’s thanks to your engagement that Congress passed tax reform last year — giving farmers a new 20% deduction on their business income, doubling the estate tax exemption, preserving tax credits that farmers depend on, and lowering the individual tax rate,” he said.
Duvall underlined the importance of trade to American farmers.
“As I have traveled, I have discovered that even some within agriculture don’t understand what’s at stake if we lose our trade agreements. Trade should not be a dirty word. Because without those global markets our already-depressed farm economy would go down even more. We sell about half of what we produce to foreign markets around the world. If we lose those markets, where is that agricultural production going to go? Ag trade is an American success story.”
Immigration remains a key issue with American farmers.
“We also have some work to do on immigration and ag labor,” he said. “This is yet another issue that has been overtaken by politics. But I have met many farmers and ranchers across the country who deal with the reality of farm labor shortages on their farms. Everywhere I go, no matter which region or state, farmers tell me this is the number one problem they face—not enough ag workers to get their crops out of the field.
“Last year, Congressman Bob Goodlatte of Virginia introduced a bill that would let existing workers apply for visas to stay in the U.S. and keep working on our farms and ranches. We need Congress to pass that bill so we can keep from losing ag production to other countries that have better access to labor.”
The farm bill, meanwhile, is expected to pass Congress sometime this year. Duvall reminded Farm Bureau members it remains a top priority at a time when farmers and ranchers are facing the worst outlook since the collapse of the farm economy in the 1980s.
“The fact is — the farm bill is a food security bill for everyone,” he said. “It’s for consumers. And it’s for conservation. It’s for rural development. It’s for energy security. It’s for research so we can continue to increase production and meet future demand. And, yes, it is and should continue to be for those low-income Americans who need extra help to put food on their table.”