Industry to tackle top issues in D.C.
Potato growers will soon make their annual trip to Washington, D.C. to meet with Congress, including newly elected members. The meeting’s location allows both U.S. Senate and House members to only be a few steps away, encouraging their participation. Attendees will have the opportunity to advocate for the industry’s policy priorities and further develop relationships. Before the Feb. 25-28 event, the National Potato Council’s John Keeling outlined goals for this year’s trip.
What issues should growers have on their radar for 2019?
1. Immigration. We have to have a border policy that has a central policy about who can come in and how they can come in and when they can come in. We have to have enforcement at the border to makes sure that all that happens. We have to have a plan to provide for some sort of work status for those workers who are already in this country and may not have complete documentation. Then we have to do a guest worker program for agriculture that’s workable, (and) meets the needs in both the numbers and skill sets for agriculture. The question is whether or not Congress has the will to put together a package like that and try to move it forward. We would hope that the unsettled nature of the border now would give people the idea that we need to do something and that we need to do a comprehensive package so that all aspects of immigration are addressed.
2. Infrastructure. When President Trump ran in 2016 he focused a lot of time and attention on the campaign trail about the need to improve America’s infrastructure and to do a big infrastructure bill. That’s also been a priority for some of the Democrats, too. So the hope would be that in the new year we get a real focus on an infrastructure bill that would improve our roads and bridges, (and) improve our timeliness to market for agriculture products.
3. Trade. We’re kind of at a pretty significant crossroads on where we go with trade, whether we’re able to complete some of these bilateral agreements and re-establish zero tariffs into some of our key markets. Right now what’s happening is that we’ve either pulled back from some trade agreements, like TPP, or we’ve said we want to negotiate bilaterally like with Japan. And what’s happening during that time period is while we’re doing that, it creates a void essentially in those countries and that void is being filled by countries negotiating trade deals with our partners.
With the midterm elections now over, what are NPC’s goals in working with a new Congress?
We try to make friends with whoever the new group is. Some doors open, some doors close and we try to figure out what those are and then use those to our best advantage to move whatever issue we want to move forward. Even though you have a divided government now, you also have a government where no one party has the numbers to insist upon their own way on any given issue — which creates both the chance for more gridlock or it creates the chance to work across the aisle and find some solutions.
Is there anything from last year’s discussion that will be continued this year?
Last year we talked a lot about transportation efficiency from the point of availability of trucking and the rules around trucking in terms of hours of services. That issue has subsided a little bit but still remains a big issue for growers. Some of these issues just don’t tend to want to go away. We will be covering some of the same ground but again it’s a new set of individuals and a new set of opportunities. So we will try to see how the pieces on the chess board can be moved a little differently than they could last year.
Why should growers attend the Potato D.C. Fly-In?
We are very interested and excited about new faces coming. The thing that growers and others involved in the industry have to understand is that your congressman probably doesn’t know a lot about agriculture. It’s really about remembering that you are an important resource to this member of Congress or this staff member. You can speak from your experience and your understanding of what you do. You don’t have to know everything about government relations, you don’t have to know everything about how the Congress works. You have to be able to speak from the heart about what you do.
Monday, Feb. 25 — Current Political Outlook, A.B. Stoddard, associate editor and columnist, RealClearPolitics
“A.B. Stoddard is an excellent speaker and well-known from her appearances on Fox News, Fox Business and CNN. Her insight into how the work of Congress and the White House may impact our industry will be fascinating,” said Larry Alsum, Alsum Farms & Produce, Friedland, Wisconsin, and vice president of finance and office procedures, National Potato Council.
Tuesday, Feb. 26 — Electoral Analysis and Prognostication, Nathan Gonzales, founder of PoliticsinStereo.com
“Nathan Gonzales is an expert at reading the numbers behind elections. His ability to turn down the noise and focus on the substance will be very valuable for our fly-in attendees,” said Jared Balcom, president, Balcom & Moe, Pasco, Washington, and vice president of trade affairs, National Potato Council.
— Ana Olvera, digital content director