The New Year is upon us, and with it comes a new Congress. The challenges we face, on the other hand, are rather old. It’s time to resolve longstanding policy battles so the business of agriculture can grow in 2015 and beyond.
The world’s population is expected to reach 9 billion by 2050. Feeding them will not be easy. We know data-driven precision ag will help us do that, but we also need to know our business data will remain secure if we hand it to others for analysis and safekeeping. Farm Bureau has led the way in helping farmers and ranchers navigate this new territory.
Last fall, we brought together agricultural technology companies and farm groups to hammer out a historic set of data privacy and security principles. The next step means holding companies accountable, so we’re developing a transparency evaluation tool to help farmers sort through the jargon. Once it’s done, farmers and ranchers will be able to easily compare contracts to see whether and how companies comply with the agreed-upon principles.
Biotechnology is key to feeding a growing population, too. Farmers and ranchers know firsthand how beneficial genetically modified products are for consumers and the environment, but pseudoscience and misinformation threaten to drown out the progress we’ve made. Recent attempts to require mandatory labeling have undercut decades of research and development in food and food safety, alike. Farmers and ranchers, meanwhile, are redoubling their efforts to help consumers understand how their food is grown and how new technologies keep their food safe and affordable. Confusion has too long ruled the day on this issue: National labeling standards should be set by the FDA.
We are pleased the administration has staked out an ambitious trade agenda. Leaders on both sides of the Atlantic agree that a more open trade partnership makes sense, so it’s time the European Union puts politics aside and eliminates non-scientific barriers to trade. Any successful trade agreement must open restricted markets and encourage fair competition for all.
Taxes remain unsettled. While Congress may extend important tax provisions through 2014, we are already headed into 2015 with no guarantee that provisions like Section 179 small-business expensing and bonus depreciation will be available again. Congress needs to make these provisions permanent so farmers and ranchers have the flexibility they need to put their money back to work on their land and in their communities.
Agriculture still needs a steady workforce. Across the country, farmers have left their crops to rot because they could not find the workers they needed. Farm Bureau estimates that agriculture could lose up to $60 billion next year if this problem isn’t fixed. If Congress is serious about fixing the plight of farmers it must take action. Lawmakers need to address border security and enforcement, create a new flexible agricultural visa program and help current experienced workers gain legal status.
The New Year is always a great time for resolutions. This year we’re ready for results.
(Stallman is American Farm Bureau president.)