AUSTIN, Texas – Major member-approved policy recommendations from the Michigan Farm Bureau’s annual meeting this past December were approved by delegates during the American Farm Bureau Federation’s (AFBF) 101st Annual Convention, Jan. 17-22.
According to Michigan Farm Bureau (MFB) President Carl Bednarski, voting delegates at the AFBF delegate session adopted policies on several key topics, including trade, industrial hemp, dairy and labor – which included Michigan-approved policy represented by MFB board members.
“Michigan was very fortunate to have a majority of their policy recommendations adopted as AFBF policy during delegate floor debate and voting,” Bednarski said. “It's a testimonial to the effort that takes place in Michigan starting at the county level all the way up through the state level to have policies that are direct, clear and very understandable. When that happens, we have a very good opportunity to get those into AFBF policy.”
Specialty crops and trade
Trade policy from Michigan specific to specialty crops calling for tighter trade regulations and countervailing duties in cases of highly subsidized imports that are often dumped into the U.S. was approved, according to MFB board member Michael DeRuiter, an Oceana County fruit producer.
“This new policy gives us a chance, if we can get it implemented into law, to help specialty crop growers who ever come across adverse trade cases similar to what tart cherries and asparagus are seeing at this moment,” DeRuiter said. “So, this language is vitally important to protect specialty crop growers all across Michigan, and the nation for that matter.”
After a year-long process reviewing ways to modernize Federal Milk Marketing Orders, AFBF’s delegates voted to support creation of a flexible, farmer- and industry-led milk management system, while rejecting proposed policy language calling for modifications to make allowances used in federal pricing formulas.
According to MFB board member Jennifer Lewis, whose family operates a dairy farm in Hillsdale County, policy provisions supporting a hybrid mix on the somewhat controversial issue of bloc voting — which allows milk cooperatives to cast votes rather than individual dairy producer members — was approved.
“The policy that we agreed upon was to not eliminate bloc voting completely,” Lewis said. “But we approved language to give individual producers the opportunity to vote independently and confidentially on rules governing milk prices.”
While dairy policy can be divisive at times, Lewis credited AFBF and MFB for coordinating a series of working group meetings over the previous 12 months with dairy producers to conduct a thorough review of Federal Milk Marketing Orders and pricing formulas, saying the system is complicated and difficult to understand at times.
“We brought in people that actually went through those issues with us one by one,” Lewis said. “We talked about it as a group and came to consensus on what we wanted to agree upon, and what we did not want to agree upon. It was a great way for our Michigan dairy producers to be involved and get their voices heard in developing national AFBF dairy policy.”
AFBF delegates also approved several Michigan policy recommendations regarding industrial hemp, according to MFB board member Travis Fahley of St. Clair County, including additional crop insurance provisions and adjustments to regulatory THC levels from the current 0.3% to 1% for hemp products intended for non-human consumption.
“I think people are starting to understand some of the nuances to making industrial hemp a legal and viable product, such as THC levels, and the different things that it can be used for,” Fahley said. “So, it’s starting to gain some traction and becoming a bigger piece in the marketplace. MFB was fortunate to get approval on several policy provisions… included in AFBF policy.
Labor & Repeal of Swampbuster
Delegates also updated labor and immigration policies, emphasizing the need for significant changes to the H-2A program. While AFBF has had long-standing policy to ensure an accessible, competitive guest-worker program, the updates address problems with the adverse effect wage rate and emphasize the importance of year-round program access to all of agriculture.
There were significant new policies on conservation compliance, calling on USDA to significantly improve program transparency and due process for farmers. They specifically prioritized changes in USDA’s processes for wetland delineations and the appeals process.
Delegates also adopted new policy supporting the repeal of Swampbuster provisions. The changes highlight growing frustration with conservation compliance practices within the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).