By Maria Weaver
Hico’s Bennie Hromadka didn’t get to talk to everyone he wanted at the Texas Farm Bureau National Affairs and Awards Trip last month, but between he and the more than 100 other TFB directors, the voice of the Texas farmer was heard on Capitol Hill.
“Washington knew we were there,” he said. “We were there in great number to represent the farmers and ranchers of Texas and Hamilton County.”
“This trip is the perfect opportunity for Hamilton County residents to really connect with their elected officials,” said David Melde, Hamilton County Farm Bureau president.
County members earn their places on the DC trip by meeting with local legislators and through other acts of advocacy. Hromadka said it was empowering to talk to the representatives face to face.
“This helps elected officials put a face with an issue,” Melde said. “When they talk about immigration reform or over-regulation, we want them to think about our faces and how it will impact us.”
Hromadka and other TFB representatives went to the Capitol specifically to discuss trade, the Farm Bill, tax reform, regulatory reform and immigration and labor.
The Administration has withdrawn the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which would have boosted trade access to Japan and other Pacific Rim Nations.
President Donald Trump also has announced he wants to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, which has helped make Canada and Mexico the two best international customers for all goods produced in the US.
TFB is concerned the President’s recent trade decisions could threaten existing markets for US ag products. If the Administration has other trade ideas in mind, TFB would like to see a plan soon.
“The US cannot afford to keep losing trade opportunities to other countries,” Melde said. “With more than 95 percent of the world’s population living outside the US, we must do everything possible to increase access to foreign markets for agricultural products.”
TFB also feels the Farm Bill safety net must be preserved.
Crop insurance is the principal element of that net. Efforts to reduce funding for the federal crop insurance program have been made over the years, a few of which have been successful, according to TFB.
Likewise, Title I commodity programs were cut by more than $14 billion in the 2015 Farm Bill.
“TFB opposes further cuts to the federal crop insurance program or to Title I commodity programs,” Hromadka said. “We strongly support the classification of cotton seed as an ‘other oilseed’ under Title I of the Farm Bill.
“The current financial crisis in the cotton industry is just the tip of the iceberg of the consequences of ill-considered cuts to the safety net.”
Agriculture operates in a world of uncertainty. From unpredictable commodity and product markets to uncertain weather, running a farm or ranch business is challenging under the best circumstances. TFB believes farmers and ranchers deserve a tax code that recognizes these unique challenges.
TFB supports fair and equitable tax reform that would lower the effective tax rates and believes a full repeal of burdensome estate taxes while keeping the stepped-up basis is paramount to any tax reform package.
“Tax reform should reduce capital gains taxes, provide immediate expensing of business inputs and keep the deduction for interest expense,” Hromadka said. “TFB also supports the continuation of cash accounting and like-kind exchanges.”
“We hear from Congressmen and our US Senators that they want to talk to their constituents,” TFB President Russell Boeining said. “They want to actually talk to the people that it’s affecting.”
“I love it because our TFB men and women are the hardest working people in the world,” said Congressman Kevin Brady. “They’ll meet day or night on all these issues. They don’t hesitate to come to Washington. They don’t hesitate meeting in Texas.
“What we’re proposing are the lowest tax rates on our farmers and ranchers in modern history and ending the death tax,” Brady said.
Brady, along with Congressman Will Hurd and Sen. Ted Cruz, told members that simplifying the tax code will allow nine out of 10 Americans to file their taxes on a postcard.
Onerous federal regulations have a direct impact on farmers and ranchers, and over the years, the breadth and extent of the regulatory landscape have increased. Today’s agricultural producers are faced with too many unnecessary requirements through federal agencies, according to TFB’s priority issues.
TFB believes all farmers, ranchers and landowners deserve a regulatory system that is fair, takes economic impacts into account and respects citizens’ freedoms, which is why TFB advocates legislation and ideas to reduce unnecessary regulatory red tape.
Hromadka said he did not speak to officials about immigration and labor, however the current immigration system is broken and ag producers are suffering from a labor shortage in the US.
TFB supports comprehensive immigration reform that includes a temporary visa provision for agricultural laborers.
Rep. Will Hurd, who has 830 miles of border in his district, said, “We can secure our border and facilitate the movement of goods and services, but building a wall from sea to shining sea is the most expensive and least effective way to do border security.
“We should be increasing the amount of intelligence we’re collecting on drug trafficking organizations, on kingpin human smugglers, and stop those criminals before they get through our border.”
TFB advocates enforcement plus a redesigned guest worker program that would meet national security needs while ensuring a continued supply of safe and affordable food and fiber is produced in the US.
At the March 27-30 meeting, TFB representatives met with their congressmen as well as Mike Conaway, chair of the House Committee on Agriculture, and Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn.
“There seems to be a lot of optimism in Washington, D.C., right now, “Melde said. “We’re hopeful that will translate into great opportunities for Hamilton County, Texas and our nation.”