Like many of the dairy farmers filling the basement of the Wyoming County Agriculture and Business Center Saturday, Jeff True of True Farms in Perry took the opportunity to speak honestly about their industry.
Given an audience with Rep. Chris Collins, USDA Undersecretary Greg Ibach; Dana Cole, the agency’s administrator for dairy programs; and Peter Fredericks, of the Northeast Federal Milk Marketing Administration, farmers like True shared anxiety, frustration and appreciation.
True struck at an issue that Collins handled — immigration. With ICE raids becoming more frequent and aggressive, True said undocumented and non-citizen workers are going underground. It’s impacting not only farms but the whole community, he said, pointing to stores that have revamped their offerings to Hispanic customers now avoiding public places.
“It will be just as devastating as trade (issues) if we don’t get a solution,” Dave Chamberlain of D&G Chamberlain Farms in Wyoming said, holding up a proposed immigration bill as a last chance. “We’re dead in the water without it.”
So is the Congress, Collins said.
“We want to show in the House that we do deserve to be in the majority, and that we can get things done,” Collins said, noting the calculus is the same for the Senate’s majority and minority caucuses.
He supports the Goodlatte Bill — a wide-ranging proposal that includes a touch-back guest worker provision. It’s not prefect, Collins said, but by permitting farmworkers to regain multi-year visas by returning to their home country for short periods every few years, a system could be enacted to assist with labor issues at dairy farms.
“They have a way to make a legal work status for undocumented workers,” Collins said. “I’m not happy that it doesn’t deal with the spouses. If we get Goodlatte done, we can take another step — after we’ve taken care of DACA, and the workers, (I hope) that we can deal with the spouse issue at some point.”
Collins, R-Clarence, said he is also part of a bipartisan effort to force floor votes on multiple immigration proposals. The “Queen of the Hill” concept would put Goodlatte, another bill covering individuals brought into the country unlawfully as children, a Democratic bill and a bill offered by Speaker Paul Ryan up for immediate votes – with the one getting the most votes passing.
Collins has signed onto a discharge petition for the push, which would make the “Queen of the Hill” live even without the support of Congressional leadership. With 216 signatures — half of the Congress — it will go into effect.
“Right now, I think we have close to 100 Republicans, and with the Democrats, we’re almost (to 216),” Collins said.
Ibach told farmers that his agency has even offered to take over the H-2A program from the Department of Labor to secure an extension of the visa system for year-roud labor in the dairy and livestock industries. Collins added that a H-2C “dairy visa” could do the same; or that the Department of Labor could rule to make H-2A eligibility extend to year-round operations.
“People working on our farms and ranches across us are hardworking people, many with families with them, who are contributing to their communities … they are not the criminals we’re concerned about,” Ibach said. “(The USDA) is very interested in finding way to help them find a legal status to stay and contribute our communities, farms and ranches.”
• Low milk prices
Farmers in Saturday’s meeting have been operating at punishing deficits from a challenging milk market. Cole said the supply-demand imbalance is being fought through attempts to open new markets for milk and dairy products on the international market, while Ibach noted the roll-back of Obama-era policies limiting school lunch choices to skim milk will help to secure future milk drinkers.
“You all are great at what you do — we’re the most efficient in milk production of anywhere in the world,” Cole said. “Going out on farms, seeing the technologies and nutrition science — it’s great, but it’s also producing a lot more milk. The deficit areas (in the south and mid-south where northeast and mid-west milk is sold) are now at full capacity. We need to be thinking about other avenues — what kinds of investments need to be made into higher quality value-added products at the end of the gate?”
She said the upcoming farm bill takes step to changing price supports for producers.
Retired dairy farmer Nate Wilson said efforts to find new markets for American milk cannot help if the cost of exporting their products stays well below the cost to produce it.
“This crisis is basically a price crisis brought on by overproduction — there’s no way it will go up until supply goes down,” said Wilson.
How much the dairy deficit can be blamed on Canadian policies that have restricted the imports of locally-supplied products, or dumping dry milk on the international market, could be debated. And was.
Ibach said there’s “a lot of optimism around Washington for a successful NAFTA conclusion” based on the President’s appeal for bilateral trade deals with Canada and Mexico to reform the existing agreement, which would include provisions striking against Canadian protectionism in the dairy products industry.
Collins noted that he couldn’t make specific promises over the Class 7 Products issues, “but it’s front and center.” He pointed to the threat of steel tariffs gives Canada a reason to deal on other issues.
“We appreciate, as dairy farmers, that it started two years ago, and that you haven’t forgotten it and are still fighting for it,” said Ron McCormick of Robiehill Farms in Java Center.
Ibach told farmers that the USDA is committed to reforms, noting that his boss, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue has made restructuring agriculture programs an early focus.
With the new of programs administered out of Washington, Ibach said the idea was to simplify the steps farms had to take to meet regulations and secure assistance. That includes merging conservation stewardship programs.
“It didn’t make sense to all these different offices … we’re one USDA and we should be able to work as one USDA,” Ibach said.
His audience hoped to remind the USDA that New York plays a major role in impacting the delivery of those services.
Dale Stein of Stein Farms in Le Roy, asked what the USDA could do to help with a shortage of engineers at NRCS offices. He said increasing regulations at the state level are helping to create serious bottlenecks in getting conservation projects approved.
“Our construction season is already so short, (the delays) put projects into the next year,” Stein said.
Tonya Van Slyke, the executive director of the Geneseo-based Northeast Dairy Producers Association, noted that more than 100 new manure storage structures are required by the state’s CAFO requirements.
“And that doesn’t even take into account the new ones that need to be built for CAFOs that are compliant,” Van Slyke said. “The hold up is huge.”
By: JIM KRENCIK
Source: The LCN