Jul 26, 2021Senate holds hearing to discuss farmworkers
The Senate Committee on the Judiciary recently held a hearing to discuss farmworkers in the United States, specifically focusing on provisions within the House-passed Farm Workforce Modernization Act (FWMA).
Members heard from two panels: Panel I included USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack and Panel II consisted of five witnesses within the farmworker/agricultural industry. When questioned by Ranking Member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) about expanding the H-2A program to cover year-round ag workers, Secretary Vilsack expressed optimism over the proposal of an expansion. He recognized the phase-in period of three years of 60,000 additional H-2A workers and a pilot program that focuses on the ability of 10,000 workers to move around the country as an opportunity to determine whether additional adjustments to the program need to be made. The Secretary also commended FWMA’s provisions on wages, employee protection and streamlined application processing.
Senators Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) had a heated exchange with Secretary Vilsack over the state of security at the southern border. Both Senators expressed that they would not be in favor of passing any sort of immigration legislation until the Southern border is secure, saying they would fear that giving legal status to even one person would create a surge at the border.
“This excuse has been used for years to avoid taking action. The Senate can and should pass a bill with strong enforcement, but there’s no definition for ‘securing the border.’ This allows members of Congress to move the goalposts, claim their standard hasn’t been met, and keep voting ‘no’ as the ag labor crisis gets worse,” said Kam Quarles, CEO of the National Potato Council (NPC).
Secretary Vilsack did mention that the NRCS is looking into whether conservation programs could potentially be used to provide assistance to farmers and ranchers at the border who have suffered agricultural property damage as a result of illegal crossings.
NPC approves Salazar as ambassador to Mexico
This week, NPC joined 32 food and agriculture trade associations recommending the prompt confirmation of former Colorado Senator Kenneth Salazar to serve as U.S. Ambassador to Mexico. The nomination hearing is scheduled for July 28 with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
In the letter to the Committee leadership, the group wrote: “We regard our nation’s relationship with Mexico to be of first order importance and submit that Senator Salazar is a proven statesman with keen insights into this long, rich and complex bilateral relationship.”
“NPC and the entire potato industry have a very solid relationship with Ambassador-nominee Salazar. His representation of Colorado during his time in Congress provides a strong background in our issues and specifically the ongoing trade dispute with Mexico. We strongly support his confirmation by the Senate,” said Bob Mattive, NPC Executive Committee member from Colorado.
The letter comes as both countries continue negotiations on several high-level issues, including U.S. efforts to urge Mexico to move forward in issuing regulations to reinstate access to U.S. fresh potatoes. The nomination hearing also precedes a meeting expected in August between USDA Secretary Vilsack and Mexican Agriculture Secretary Villalobos, which is also to include discussions around resolving Mexico’s long-standing dispute with the United States on fresh potatoes.
The full letter can be found here.
Potato Expo hotel rooms available
If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that nothing beats doing business and growing relationships face-to-face. While attendee registration for January’s Potato Expo in Anaheim opens Oct. 1, you can book your room at the Marriot Anaheim today!
Visit potato-expo.com for more information. We can’t wait to see you all IN PERSON in Anaheim!
New ‘Eye on Potatoes’ podcast available
NPC 2021 President and Maine potato grower Dominic Lajoie and NPC CEO Kam Quarles sat down with the “Eye on Potatoes” podcast to preview Summer Meeting Virtual and update the industry on several policy development that have occurred since the annual meeting in February, including:
- NPC’s efforts over the pandemic to secure $350 million for growers to offset foodservice disruptions;
- Ongoing negotiations between the U.S. and Mexico to reinstate access to U.S. fresh potatoes; and,
- The latest efforts on Capitol Hill to address comprehensive immigration reform, including ag labor reform.
The new episode is available here.
— National Potato Council