America’s farmers and ranchers are counting on Congress to finish strong this year. Just because we call these final weeks a “lame-duck” session, that’s no excuse for members not to finish the job they started.
First and foremost, farmers and ranchers need a 2018 farm bill before the year is over. The leadership of both the House and Senate Agriculture Committees have worked overtime this year to deliver a new farm bill, and now it’s time to get it across the finish line before the clocks runs out. Farmers and ranchers cannot afford that kind of delay, especially with so many struggling to hang on and unable to make plans for the next season with a massive cloud of uncertainty hovering overhead.
A key component of the farm bill is providing producers the risk management tools they need for their operations. We have seen too many heartbreaking reminders this year of the importance of those tools, as farmers and ranchers across the country have faced devastating storms and wildfires. Thousands of farmers across the South have lost entire crops overnight due to devastating storms like Hurricanes Michael and Florence. Farm Bureau members across the country have come together to help our neighbors as they pick up the pieces, and it’s time for Congress to take action to help these communities recover.
The uncertainty farmers face with weather and markets makes certainty in the tax code all the more important. While the tax reform package included many tax provisions agriculture counts on, tax incentives that encourage development and use of biodiesel expired in 2017 and have yet to be renewed. Our rural economy depends on the growth of our country’s renewable fuels industry to create jobs and strengthen our energy security. At a time when farm income continues to remain at record lows, we cannot afford to lose opportunities for market growth. Farm Bureau is joining with friends across the business community to call on Congress to restore and extend these renewable energy tax credits.
Many farm families are also concerned about increases in their health insurance premiums that they will be facing if Congress doesn’t stop the HIT—the Health Insurance Tax—coming their way soon. And they’re not alone. Families who have to purchase their own health insurance will pay higher premiums if the HIT isn’t prevented. The HIT was delayed for 2019, but Farm Bureau is calling to delay it again or, better yet, stop it completely, before 142 million Americans face a new $20.3 billion tax hike in 2020.
This lame-duck session will also give opportunities to secure protections for agriculture going into the next year. One success that farmers are looking to continue in 2019 is with the new Electronic Logging Device mandate. Farm Bureau called on Congress to address the needs of livestock haulers when the ELD was coming into effect earlier this year, and we got an exemption to carry us through December. Now it’s time to make that permanent with a fix that protects both the safety of drivers and the animals they are carrying. The House and Senate appropriations bills already have language to continue the exemption, and we’ll keep advocating to see it through to the final bill.
Farmers had hoped to finally see a win in the long fight for immigration reform this year, and they worked strenuously in support of the AG and Legal Workforce Act, HR 6417. The lame-duck session may provide us one more chance for some relief in our workforce needs. The House version of the DHS Appropriations bill contains an amendment that would allow year-round H2A visas. This wouldn’t fix all our farm labor needs, but it would bring some much needed relief to farms that require more than a seasonal workforce.
There’s no doubt the 115th Congress has a lot to get done before the year’s end, but their job didn’t end on Election Day. America’s farmers and ranchers are counting on their lawmakers to finish the race well.
Vincent “Zippy” Duvall, a poultry, cattle and hay producer from Greene County, Georgia, is the 12th president of the American Farm Bureau Federation. You can follow him on Twitter @ZippyDuvall.