No Rest for the Weary

With farm bill passed, growers turn to next challenges

Published in the April 2014 Issue Published online: Apr 20, 2014 John Keeling
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Potato growers are not known to bask in their accomplishments: as soon as the fall crop is in storage, growers begin planning for next spring’s planting. The same is true for their philosophy on public policy: as soon as one issue is resolved, they are on to the next.

While growers took time to celebrate the recent passage of the 2014 Farm Bill at this year’s Potato D.C. Fly-In, held Feb. 24-27 in Washington, D.C., the majority of the time was spent on policy issues yet to be resolved.

For those unfamiliar with the event, the Potato D.C. Fly-In is an annual gathering of potato growers and industry leaders who travel from around the country to educate policymakers on Capitol Hill and in the federal agencies on the issues that could impact their farms and operations for generations to come.

Adding Potatoes to WIC Program

Building off NPC’s successful campaign to bring common sense to USDA’s school meal rules, growers have turned their focus to the inclusion of nutritious potatoes in all federal feeding programs, including the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program.

Designed to help low income mothers and their young children through supplemental nutritional dollars, WIC currently prohibits its participants from buying fresh white potatoes with program vouchers. While including potatoes in the program will not result in a financial windfall for the industry, growers reminded their members of Congress that revising the WIC food package will send a strong message that potatoes are an important and efficient nutrient delivery vehicle that should be included in all federal nutrition programs.

Immigration Reform

Although the issue is politically charged and highly emotional, potato growers and others in the agriculture community are working to build support for passage of immigration reform that assures continued access to a reliable supply of farm labor.

In recent years, the number of workers available for agricultural employment has diminished for reasons including an aging immigrant workforce, increased enforcement of our nation’s immigration laws, and the ineffectiveness of the current H-2A guest worker program. During the Fly-In, growers called on members of the House—where immigration reform has stalled—to pass a new immigration policy that retains the current agriculture workforce and provides a guest worker program to supply agricultural labor needs in the future.

Trade Promotion Authority

With one out of every six rows of potatoes now destined for consumers outside the United States, trade issues are more important than ever to the industry. However, as the Obama administration works to finalize important trade agreements that will benefit growers—such as the 12-country Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) trade pact—the president lacks trade promotion authority, or fast-track authority, that allows the executive branch to better negotiate with its international partners.

Since 1974, U.S. presidents have generally been granted the power to negotiate trade agreements that could not be altered at the last minute by Congress. Instead, once the agreement was presented to Congress, it would need to be voted on within 90 days without amendment. During their Hill visits, growers reminded their elected officials that the continued growth and strength of the U.S. potato industry depends on the expansion of trade opportunities, and that Congress should support trade promotion authority for the president.

Truck Weight Reform

Legislation has been introduced in Congress that would give states the option to increase federal interstate weight limits to 97,000 pounds for trucks equipped with six axles, up from 80,000 pounds on trucks with five axles. Increasing the truck weight limit is not just good for business; it would result in fewer trucks on the roads, less wear and tear on our infrastructure, and fewer emissions. With many of our global competitors, including Mexico and Canada, enjoying the benefits of higher truck weight limits, growers took to Capitol Hill to lobby for the Safe and Efficient Transportation Act, which would put domestic industries back on a level playing field.

The annual Potato D.C. Fly-In provides growers the opportunity to demonstrate to policymakers—most of whom have never worked on a farm—that their decisions have real-world consequences on family farms. Even if you were unable to attend this year’s Fly-In, you can always visit or contact your state organizations to find ways to get involved in advocating for federal farm legislation. Together, we can make a difference.