The punishing drought also warranted mention. “Lest anyone wonder why we need a farm bill, we should remember the drought of 2012. … Farmers and ranchers know better than anyone that we can’t control Mother Nature. All we can do is prepare ourselves as best we can. An important part of that preparation is having a farm safety net and good risk management programs.”

More than half of the country was in a severe drought last summer, said Stallman. “Crops withered, hay supplies disappeared, feed costs soared and wildfires blazed. Thankfully, our crop insurance program worked as intended and we live to fight another day.”

However, the effects linger. “Transportation on the Mississippi River and other inland waterways is threatened by severely low water levels. We have called for action to deepen the shipping channels so that barge traffic can get through. The Army Corps of Engineers listened and began that effort in December.”

Labor

Farm labor is also a chief concern for AFBF and Stallman played up a farm worker proposal being pushed by a coalition of agriculture groups.

“For too long, we have dealt with the shortcomings of a broken farm labor system. The results have been labor shortages, lost crops and bureaucratic nightmares. … This year, we will offer a reasonable, practical and common-sense farm labor option that works for growers and workers alike…

“This new proposal will be stable, like (the H-2A visa program), but that is probably where the similarities end.”

Last November, Kristi Boswell, AFBFdirector of congressional relations, told Farm Press that the organization “has worked over the past year to find a solution that works for all of agriculture. (We’ve looked for) something that works for a small grower in California and a dairy farmer in upstate New York.

“As components of that, we must address the long-term and a transitionary, short-term period. Part of the long-term is a new agricultural worker program that mimics the domestic workforce allowing growers to offer contracts and hire at-will. It also is a more market-based and flexible program in regard to labor standards and distinguishing factors from the H2-A program.

“It is not an H2-A reform but remedies the failings of H2-A. We feel it will be a better alternative to the H2-A program.”

In the short-term, said Boswell, “we recognize there is a large percentage of our workforce that is here falsely documented. We must have a transition period and a workforce that can pass an E-Verify test while implementing the agricultural worker program.”

The AFBF has proposed work authorization for “a limited population of key workers that have agricultural experience and will continue to work in agriculture to remain in status on what we call an ‘ag card.’”

Boswell envisions the card would be biometric and carried to prove work authorization. “This would not be an H2-A reform but a new program. It would remedy the failings of H2-A and provide more flexibility than the H2-A program provides.”

Another hot labor issue was stirred up in 2012 when the Department of Labor proposed new rules that would have prevented many youths from working in agriculture. The alarm in rural America was immediate.

“Afterproposing changes that would have prevented many young people from working in agriculture, the Labor Department withdrew its proposal and said it would work with us on educating farm families about the importance of farm safety,” said Stallman. However, “that doesn’t mean we can rest easy and assume that the parental exemptions in the child labor rules will always be protected.

“We need to make sure that our heritage of family farming is protected, with parents teaching their kids the ropes and instilling in them respect for the land, for animals, for agriculture and for the deep satisfaction that only comes from hard work. I think that’s something our country could use a little more of these days, don’t you?”