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August 01
Legislative Update: Our Mission, Farm Bill, Immigration, Crop Insurance

By: Becky Whaley, legal and legislative officer

With a new national administration and Legislature taking office earlier this year, a number of important issues are being discussed with increasing fervor, and changes are being enacted to meet a new vision. GreenStone Farm Credit Services, along with the entire national Farm Credit System, continues tracking these issues and working to inform policymakers of the needs of agriculture and rural communities, and how Farm Credit best serves our customer-owners.

One major policy initiative getting underway is the 2018 Farm Bill, which will replace the 2014 Farm Bill set to expire in September 2018. If history repeats the development and passing of the previous Farm Bill, the process is likely to be highly contentious. Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow, as Ranking Member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, held a field hearing in May at Michigan State University’s Saginaw Valley Research and Extension Center in Frankenmuth to provide Michigan farmers and other stakeholders with the opportunity to voice concerns and opinions relating to “Growing Jobs and Opportunities.” Two panels with 16 witnesses, including several GreenStone customers and one of our directors, delivered their perspectives on a variety of topics, from the importance of crop insurance to beginning farmers, to public/private partnerships to develop innovation in the food industry, to the need for infrastructure improvements in rural areas. Farm Bill discussions will continue in the coming months, with crop insurance and market development grants expected to be major areas of dissention.

In late April, Sonny Perdue was confirmed as President Donald Trump’s Secretary of Agriculture. Purdue has already instituted changes in response to the president’s demand for efficiencies, including replacing the undersecretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services with an undersecretary for Farm Production and Conservation, and elevating the Rural Development agencies to report directly to him. Until the specific job descriptions are released and individuals posted into the positions, it is too soon to tell how these organizational changes may impact Michigan or Wisconsin agricultural producers and rural communities.

Purdue has also stated publicly his commitment to encouraging agricultural exports, including creating a new undersecretary position for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs. Meanwhile, the president withdrew the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) in January, and in May launched a renegotiation of NAFTA after initially threatening to withdraw from it as well. Recognizing these and other trade agreements may benefit one agricultural sector over another, and because GreenStone and Farm Credit nationally is committed to supporting all of agriculture, we have not taken positions on specific policies. Our overall position remains to support export markets for all of our customers’ products.

Another policy raising concerns in some arenas more than others is immigration. The president has announced intended changes to immigration policy that could restrict access to seasonal workers. This is an important topic for Michigan producers, our fruit and vegetables require hand-harvesting and processing, and our growers rely on seasonal labor. One specific problem being investigated is the lag time between requests for workers and their arrival: too often, workers are reaching the fields after harvest is over because the exact date of any produce harvest cannot be accurately predicted. For dairy producers, Purdue said at his confirmation hearing, he supports adding an exemption to the H2-A program that would allow producers to hire year-round immigrant labor.

Crop insurance is also under discussion, with the administration’s proposed budget including more than $46 billion in cuts to agricultural spending over the next 10 years. Among the recommendations are caps to crop insurance claims, which would limit the benefits for larger producers. If such caps are enacted, it will encourage these larger producers to pull out of the insurance programs, which will make providing crop insurance to the smaller, often beginning and less experienced producers, riskier for the providers, which in turn could drive up costs. The administration’s budget is only a recommendation, and Congress is responsible for establishing the final federal budget. The hope is that more moderate heads will prevail for the benefit of agriculture.

As these critical issues are being addressed in our nation’s capital, GreenStone is continuing our support for strong crop insurance options and the strengthening of rural infrastructure, including access to broadband to connect our rural residents to the world. As part of our efforts, last week our legislative team joined forces with more than 600 other Farm Credit leaders from across the country visiting with congressional delegations during Farm Credit Week in Washington, D.C. Several of our directors, as well as legislative staff, were on Capitol Hill, delivering our message about the importance of agriculture to the nation’s economy, and the importance of Farm Credit to support producers who we all recognize will need to grow an increasing amount of food to feed a growing population. To view more photos from the event, visit http://bit.ly/2veTmh6​​

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Rep. Fred Upton with GreenStone staff and board members

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Sen. Tammy Baldwin with Ag Country, Compeer Finance and GreenStone

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