Local farmer talks to national legislators about Farm Bill concerns

Published 3:07 pm Thursday, March 23, 2023

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By JOYANNA LOVE | Managing Editor

Making the concerns of Alabama farmers known is the focus each year of the Washington D.C. Legislative Conference hosted by the Alabama Farmers Federation.

This year, Chilton County Farmers Federation president Lynn Harrison was able to attend and discuss the proposed Farm Bill.

“I had always wanted to go, but things just didn’t work out,” Harrison said. “It worked out this year. I wanted to go up there and see if I could make my voice heard.”

Attendees met with their national legislators to discuss points of concern in the Farm Bill and what was important to Alabama farmers.

“It was really nice,” Harrison said. “I really enjoyed it. I got to meet a lot of people, see some new things, and I think we accomplished part of our goal by going up there.”

Harrison said time with the representatives was limited, so “we just had to hit the highlights of things that we needed from them.”

However, Harrison was able meet the staff of Sen. Tommy Tuberville and each of the members of the House of Representatives for Chiton County districts. Harrison had a breakfast discussion with U.S. 6th District Congressman Gary Palmer, whose district includes most of Chilton County.

“The main thing we were talking about was the H-2A program, changes that have been made to that this year, which will not affect farmers in our county very favorably,” Harrison said.

The H-2A program is the federal program that allows farmers to bring temporary employees from other countries to the U.S. Harrison said most of these workers are from Mexico or Guatemala.

“Since we don’t have a very strong domestic workforce in the county willing to work in agriculture, then they have the guest worker program for temporary seasonal work,” Harrison said.

He said the required wage for these guest workers was increased this year by 14%, from $11.99 per hour to $13.67 per hour.

“They estimate that … will cost Alabama farmers over $8 million in wages in guest workers this year,” Harrison said.

Harrison does not use this program, but there are several in Chilton County that do.

“That is going to negatively impact people that do use H-2A workers, that is going to cut deeply into the profits,” Harrison said.

As a part of Farm Bill discussion in Congress, adding a $600 fee for farmers using the program is being considered. Funding from the fee would be used by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to cover costs associated with processing illegal border crossings.

“That is basically saying that farmers that use the H-2A labor are going to have to pay $600 more a year in order to help take care of illegal ones,” Harrison said. “That makes no sense at all.”

Crop insurance was another topic that prompted Harrison to be a part of the Legislative Conference.

“Most of the farming that is done in Chilton County is what we call specialty crops, and there has not been a lot of input for specialty crops in the farm bill in the past, and we want to try to get some of that in there,” Harrison said.

Fruit and vegetables are considered specialty crops.

“Crop insurance for specialty crops is not nearly what it is for row crops, so that would be something that maybe they could add (to the Farm Bill),” Harrison said.

Crop insurance is available, but Harrison said it is expensive. He would like to see the Farm Bill eventually help create more options on this.

Controlling feral swine and Mexico’s president stating it will no longer allow imports of the U.S. genetically modified corn were other topics during the conference.

Congress is expected to vote on the Farm Bill in September.