By Jim Krencik
Medina Journal-Register — The New York Farm Bureau’s national legislative priorities are largely holdovers from last year, which farm bureau leaders said is no surprise after congress failed to pass a lengthy extension of the nation’s Farm Bill.
New York Farm Bureau President Dean Norton and the state farm bureau’s public policy leaders described Tuesday the need for strong immigration reform and full funding of disaster relief programs for food growers.
But the farm bureau’s top priority is a five-year extension of the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008. The bill was passed by Senate last year and approved by the House Committee on Agriculture, but was not taken up by the full House of Representatives.
“We had hoped and heard and made plans for the 2012 Farm Bill, but we still don’t have one,” Norton said in a conference call with reporters. “We’re working with both sides of the Hill to get this done because our food supply is national security issue.”
The bill was extended through September as part of the Fiscal Cliff deal. As a new round of talks begin over a full, five-year extension begin, the farm bureau is pushing for new dairy policies that would replace existing safety net programs.
Farm Bureau officials said the Dairy Security Act would provide a new margin insurance program that protects farmers for the cost difference of feed and milk.
“This is really replacing a safety net that has been around for decades with a new concept,” NYFB Senior Associate Director of National Affairs Kelly Young explained. “Now (dairy farmers) can cover the ability to operate their farms ... it’s a new era for dairy and crop insurance.”
But those farms need a “proper transition” from the old safety net and the new one. Norton said those protections are not in place, a sentiment repeated by Young on the issue of disaster assistance.
“The Farm Bill extension allows for a disaster program for feed, livestock and crop assistance, but there’s no funding,” Young said. “We’d like to see a reliable stream of protection for farms who rely on it after a natural disaster.”
The farm bureau is also pushing for major legislation that would ensure a reliable stream of labor for the state’s farms. NYFB Public Policy Director Julie Suarez said the passage of “real immigration” for the first time in more than 25 years is absolutely critical.
“New York has a relatively short growing season, so we need flexibility to tailor programs to our needs,” said Suarez, who called for visa programs to be expanded. “We need access to a consistent workforce .... and labor protection for the fruit and vegetable sections.”
Accomplishing those tasks in Washington will be no easier this year, but the advocacy group for the state’s agriculture interests
”We’re working with both sides of the Hill,” Norton said. “Our food supply is a national security issue.”