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Immigration reform and a new farm bill: the view from Louisiana

Mike Strain, Louisiana Agriculture Commissioner, explains need for properly functioning agriculture guest-worker program. Advocates for de-coupling of farm and nutrition portions in the farm bill.

Two issues have dominated U.S. agriculture concerns in recent weeks: a new farm bill and immigration reform.

Shortly after the House failed to pass a farm bill the Senate passed comprehensive immigration reform. The inability of the House to pass a new farm bill bodes ill for the chances of immigration reform passing in the chamber.

On Thursday (June 27), Farm Press spoke with Mike Strain, Commissioner of the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry on both subjects. Strain has long been vocal on the need for a properly-functioning agriculture worker program. He also weighed in on the farm bill. Among his comments:

On the House farm bill vote…

“I’m not happy about it. We were assured they had the votes to pass it and then it failed by 40 votes. This is the first time I can recall – maybe it’s the first time in a generation – a farm bill has failed to pass the House on a vote.

“The biggest problem, I think, is Congress – which is a reflection of America as a whole – doesn’t fully understand or comprehend the situation we’re in, the role that agriculture plays in keeping this society as the most powerful nation on Earth. They take for granted that what we have now in abundance will always be there. Agriculture is the largest industry in America and is profitable.

“The only people on Earth that mess that up are ‘we the government.’”

What is the Louisiana delegation saying will happen now? Another extension of the 2008 farm bill even though (Senate Leader) Harry Reid has said that won’t happen?

“What I’m hearing is they’ll consider another extension of the farm bill. The current farm bill extension ends on September 30.

“I’m urging them to roll their sleeves up, sit down together and pass a new farm bill. They can bring the Senate version to the House, add on the amendments they need, and pass it.

“I’m also of the opinion that it’s time to separate the farm (portion of the legislation) from the nutrition (program portion). Pass a farm bill. Pass a nutrition bill. Pass or fail each – but they need to stand on their own merits.

“We need to focus the farm bill on agriculture and farming. The two sections are being held hostage against each other. And now politics reigned over substance. That needs to stop.

“The nutrition programs will continue whether or not we pass a farm bill. I will repeat that: SNAP will continue regardless. The farm bill has been effectively decoupled from (nutrition) since the (2008 farm bill) extension was put in place.”

As you well know, the pushback is there won’t be the urban backing for the farming portion – essentially the same reason cited for combining them back in the 1970s.

“I disagree. When you look at the farm bill, everyone in the urban areas eats. The farm bill is there to protect our nation’s food supply and to make sure we have a supply of affordable, safe, nutritious food. It’s a fundamental basis of the U.S. economy.

“Saying that a farm bill can’t pass without a Nutrition Title because the urban people won’t vote for it is ludicrous. That day has passed. We need to address issues as they are.

“Failure to pass a new farm bill will cause great economic harm this state and nation.”

Considering that you want to decouple those two things, what about immigration reform? Do you want to go with the Senate’s comprehensive approach or with those in the House, like Goodlatte, who would break immigration reform up into smaller chunks?

“I’m more in favor of the Goodlatte proposal.

“I’ve had many discussions with my fellow commissioners and we need to have a bonafide guest-worker program. They’re calling it an H2-C program, now. I’ve advocated for a five-year guest-worker visa.

“Remember, Americans work overseas, as well. We have many Americans that have technical jobs in many foreign countries. It’s a reciprocal type of an effect.

“But we also need to separate the guest-worker programs -- H2-A, H2-B, H2-C – from immigration reform. Those should be separate, distinct discussions. … If not, the debate will continue and the issues involved in not having a strong guest-worker program won’t be resolved.

“Immigration reform should be dealt with head-on and a resolution must be found. We cannot keep kicking this can down the road with the national debt, the farm bill, immigration, whatever. All these must be addressed. The situation, as you can see, is only getting worse.”

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