S.D. Farm Bureau delegates help set policy positions for 2015

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Farm Forum

Huron, S.D. – Immigration and labor laws, ownership of farm data, water rights and endangered species legislation are topics on the minds of farmers and ranchers across the country. At the American Farm Bureau Federation’s 96th Annual Convention, held Jan. 9-14 in San Diego, 355 voting delegates representing every crop and livestock sector in the U.S. had the opportunity to discuss ag issues and set policy that will guide the nation’s largest general farm organization for the coming year.

South Dakota Farm Bureau president Scott VanderWal from Volga and vice-president Wanda Blair from Vale were the state’s two delegates at the AFBF policy session on Jan. 13. Blair says, “I look forward to the session, because that is where the grassroots building of policy begins.”

One of the resolutions passed by the national organization was introduced by South Dakota Farm Bureau and relates to immigration. The resolution states: Unaccompanied minors who enter the U.S. illegally should be treated under the same laws as adults who enter the country illegally.

VanderWal added, “The border needs to be controlled.”

Additionally, VanderWal said AFBF would like to see agricultural labor reform. “Agriculture needs a legal, stable workforce,” he says. A current challenge is that the current H-2A program only allows for seasonal immigrant workers. VanderWal explains, “As an example in South Dakota, this means they cannot work at a dairy milking cows because that is not considered seasonal work.”

Another policy topic discussed by AFBF delegates was “data,” and the delegates reaffirmed that farmers’ proprietary data should remain strictly the property of the farmer or rancher when submitted to third parties for analysis and processing. AFBF delegates also agreed that farmers and ranchers must have the right to remove their data permanently from the systems of agricultural technology providers.

Of this policy, Blair noted data is becoming an increasingly important issue that farm organizations need to work with private industry in developing agreed upon guidelines.

VanderWal adds that Farm Bureau prefers that Congress not become involved in this issue. “Farm Bureau has been one of the lead organizations working with ag tech companies to establish a protocol for this issue. The bottom line is that we ensure farmers’ and ranchers’ data is private, and the individuals have total control and the right to remove their data at will,” VanderWal says.

Among the other policy issues discussed, Blair shares that she was pleased that AFBF delegates reaffirmed support for country-of origin labeling provisions consistent with World Trade Organization rules.

Additionally, in light of the second beef checkoff that USDA was proposing and has since withdrawn, Farm Bureau delegates set policy to oppose any additional beef checkoff program being created under the Commodity Promotion, Research and Information Act of 1996 in the future, and reaffirmed support for producer-led and -approved checkoff programs.

Farm Bureau delegates also set priorities to continue to:

• Oppose the waters of the U.S. rule to ensure federal jurisdiction is not expanded inappropriately;

• Support ag biotechnology to ensure farmers have access to appropriate tools;

• Call for common-sense reform in endangered species protection legislation; and

• Pursue tax reform.

Regarding tax reform, VanderWal says, “We see a one-year window to get things done before Congress moves into campaign mode.” As one example of reform to the U.S. tax code, VanderWal says the Section 179 depreciation renewal was only for 2014. “We’d like to see tax exemptions made permanent,” he says.

Looking ahead, Blair and VanderWal are taking a “wait and see” approach to implementation of 2014 Farm Bill programs over the next several months.

As the South Dakota legislative session gets underway, they note that repairing county and township roads in the state continues to be a pressing concern, and Farm Bureau recognizes the importance of finding solutions – especially equitable funding to address the issue.