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ALABAMA ADVISORY COMMITTEE HELPS SHAPE AFBF POLICY

February 27, 2015

By Debra Davis

Alabama Farmers Federation members who served on the AFBF Advisory Committee met with U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., who serves on the House Agriculture Committee. From left are Dennis Maze of Blount County, Rep. Rogers, Brandon Moore of Madison County and Ricky Wiggins of Covington County. Brian Glenn of Lawrence County also attended the committee meeting.

Five Alabama Farmers Federation members were among nearly 500 American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) members from 43 states who visited policymakers on Capitol Hill this week. Farmers participated in the annual AFBF Issue Advisory Committee Meeting, which helps shape organization policy and strategies.

Brian Glenn of Lawrence County attended technology sessions. Brandon Moore of Madison County attended irrigation discussions. Ricky Wiggins of Covington County attended farm policy meetings, and Dennis Maze of Blount County attended sessions on environmental regulations. Federation member Bill Cook of Montgomery County attended ag labor discussions.

Technology

Glenn said the technology committee focused on big data, drones and biotechnology, including genetically modified organisms. Discussions on the collection of farm data were especially interesting, he said.

“I learned that nearly every piece of farm equipment sold has some information that can be traced,” Glenn said. “The way data collected on farms is used affects us in ways I didn’t realize and has a much bigger impact than most farmers are aware. It’s important for farmers to discuss the collection and use of this data. The more input we have into decisions being made, the more effective we are.”

Irrigation

Moore said most of the irrigation committee members were from Southeastern and Western states. He said hearing Western farmers share information on water availability and water rights issues was an eye-opening experience.

“Many of those farmers have not been able to use their irrigation equipment for as long as four years for either lack of water or the government refusing to make water available,” Moore said. “While we do not face those specific challenges in Alabama, we found common ground in concerns about the federal government and environmental groups using regulatory over-reach to hinder irrigation for agriculture.”

Moore said Alabama is undergoing tremendous irrigation expansion, adding it’s important for the state to have a seat at the table when AFBF policy regarding irrigation is being reviewed or formulated.

Farm Policy

Wiggins’ group, which primarily discussed the farm bill, said it has created uncertainty for farmers throughout the country, particularly those who grow cotton and peanuts.

“Everyone is still unsure exactly how parts of the farm bill will be implemented,” he said. “The biggest thing is how the generic base is going to affect peanuts and peanut marketing — and more than that, is how the payment limits of marketing loan gains are going to affect the marketing of cotton and peanuts. It was interesting to discuss different opinions and interpretations about how the farm bill will affect us individually in different regions. It’s very different from the South and Midwest.”

Ag Labor

Cook said Alabama’s immigration laws appear to be as tough as any other state represented by the 16 members on the Ag Labor Committee. Since the mandatory E-Verify policy went into effect in Alabama, many potential immigrant laborers felt threatened and left for states where the laws were more favorable, Cook said.

“This left many of our high-labor ag producers without enough labor to hire during the critical planting, shipping and growing peak seasons,” he said, adding that the committee favored protecting U.S. borders, but agreed there needs to be a better system in place to provide farmers a reliable, legal workforce willing to do the hard work that agriculture requires.

“Every state has its fair share of labor problems,” Cook said. “Hopefully with the help of our state organizations and the AFBF, we will have enough influence to make things better for farmers. We hope we can help influence members of Congress to work hard to change the current laws.”

In addition to the committees that Alabama farmers served on, committees also met to discuss the budget and economy, energy, federal lands, market structures, trade, animal care, food safety, pests and invasive species and public infrastructure.

Immediately following the Issues Advisory Committee meetings, committee members were invited to attend the AFBF Advocacy Conference. The conference included Farm Bureau presidents, administrators, key staff and grassroots leaders who received updates on AFBF priority issues and participated in advocacy activities on Capitol Hill.

Federation members also met with elected representatives to discuss a wide range of issues including: immigration, tax reform, international trade, the Endangered Species Act, water regulation and biotechnology.

 “It’s important for farmers from around the country to gather to discuss issues affecting their farms with one another,” Federation National Legislative Programs Director Mitt Walker said. “But it’s imperative those issues also be communicated to Congress. The new format of these two meetings allowed for both to be accomplished this week."


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