Hastings addresses farmers at Tri-Cities' REAL Ag Convention

By Franny White, Herald staff writerJanuary 9, 2013 

U.S. Rep. Doc Hastings told Tri-Citians on Tuesday that rules being written by federal bureaucrats could push some of the nation's agriculture industry overseas.

Hastings and Basin City farmer Steve Cooper, speaking at the REAL Ag 2013 Convention & Trade Show in Pasco, cautioned that defensive action might be needed on some potential policies and legislative changes on the table in the next year.

At the federal level, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently issued 547 pages of regulations based on a 2010 food safety law that will treat different commodities the same, Hastings said. That was one of the reasons he voted against the law.

Proposed buffers around streams would put 40 percent of agriculture off-limits in the first draft of rules based on a 2008 biological opinion from the National Marine Fisheries Service about chemical runoff affecting salmon, Hastings said.

The agency has backed away from that draft.

"I'm sure there is a whole lot that is egregious," said Hastings, who still is reviewing the rules. "Sometimes we don't deal with logic in the rule-making process in Washington D.C."

Hastings plans to work hard this year to address a lack of a workable guest worker program for farmers, he said. That's especially critical for labor-intensive crops, which include apples and asparagus.

That needs to be part of immigration reform legislators consider, he said. There needs to be a program that allows farmers to have a predictable labor supply and is beneficial to both farmers and workers.

Some Washington farmers have had an increasingly hard time finding enough labor to harvest the state's diverse crops. Some officials and farmers have said a guest worker program is needed for labor-intensive agriculture to survive.

Nationwide, fewer than 2 percent of the population actively is involved in farming, yet those farmers can feed not only America, but export food around the world, Hastings said.

But that small of a population can have a hard time influencing state or federal policies, he said.

Agriculture, including food processing, makes up about 13 percent of Washington's economy, employing about 160,000 people, said Cooper, the Washington State Farm Bureau's vice president for policy development.

Agriculture represented $46 billion in the state's economy in 2011, he said.

Among the farm bureau's priorities for this year is to make sure that the current tax structure is maintained, Cooper said.

Farmers and ranchers already are facing increased input costs and regulatory burdens.

The voluntary advocacy group also wants to avoid the expansion of already-strict environmental regulations and remove obsolete, redundant and overly broad sections of those regulations, Cooper said.

Any environmental policies need to be necessary, reasonable and based on sound science, he said, adding that the state can't afford policies or laws that will hurt agriculture's ability to compete internationally.

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