Building on 2019 momentum in 2020
Wednesday, February 5, 2020
Posted by: Aaron Stauffacher
By Aaron Stauffacher, assoc. director of government affairs
Edge is a young cooperative and we are even younger on the federal ag policy scene. However, in just a few short years the Edge team, including members, staff and partners, has become a consistent and trusted resource on Capitol Hill, in administrative agencies and with media and other organizations as evidenced by our 2019 achievements. Our wins may not stack up to the likes of the century-old policy organizations in D.C., but the base is laid to make for a productive 2020.
Several major dairy policy wins materialized in 2019. USMCA found legs, ag labor reform passed in the House of Representatives, and the administration took action to help farmers combat 2019’s weather challenges to just name a few. I am also pleased to report that Edge helped play a role in these three items and several more throughout the year.
Whether the accomplishment is big or small, any progress starts with getting in front of the policy makers to make the case on our issues. Over the past year, Edge members, staff and partners engaged in 75 face-to-face congressional meetings. This is in addition to the hundreds of phone and email interactions with congressional and administrative offices which occur on a day-to-day basis throughout the year.
The efforts that you all put in paid off, especially in advocating for free trade. Edge and
our members became a steady and recognizable voice both in D.C. and the Midwest in helping advance USMCA across the finish line. President Trump signed the implementing legislation late last month after it was passed in record landslide votes in both the House and the Senate. This was no easy feat, it took constant advocacy to make sure lawmakers knew they had to support USMCA. In addition to direct contact with lawmakers, Edge created and promoted media content and coordinated with broader coalitions to spread the importance of USMCA through consistent messaging. President Trump even promoted our article featured on The Hill website on Twitter, a first for Edge.
Last year also marked another first, not for Edge, but for the House of Representatives. For the first time since 1986, the House passed a bill to address agriculture labor needs. In December, the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, HR 5038, was
approved by Republicans and Democrats after months of negotiations between the Agriculture Workforce Coalition (AWC), of which Edge is a member, and farm labor groups. Even though HR 5038 is not perfect, the bill addresses Edge’s two main workforce priorities: 1) a process to retain existing workers and 2) a pathway to recruit new foreign-born workers. Unfortunately, the process forward in the Senate becomes more complicated, but conversations are happening to make sure the dairy and agriculture community does not let this opportunity pass us by. With a little bit of luck and a lot of hard work, we hope to have more good news to bring you this year on addressing our workforce needs.
Both USMCA and HR 5038 are the result of longstanding efforts, which we are very proud of. But when matters arise for one reason or another throughout the year, Edge effectively responded to raise the profile of the issue at hand to ensure our position was heard.
For example, the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act, S. 386, could have negatively impacted a current workforce option that some dairy farmers use to retain employees. Unfortunately, we did not learn of the concern until after it passed the House earlier in the summer leaving us to voice our concerns in the Senat
e. At the time, no other ag groups were aware of the problematic language. With the help of a few allies in the Senate, our team offered an idea to make the bill better through an amendment, but still not perfect. To date, the Senate has not acted on the bill, but we will be watching it very closely.
Another prime example came late last spring after hearing from our members across the Midwest. Coming off a harsh winter and facing a historically wet planting season, farmers were concerned about the feed outlook for the coming year. Long story short, USDA ended up providing additional flexibility to allow farmers to harvest cover crops at an earlier date to address any forage needs due to the adverse weather conditions. Our team helped coordinate with law and policymakers to advocate for the change by introducing legislation, the Feed Emergency Enhancement During Disasters Act (FEEDD Act), to prompt the administrative action.
Aside from last year’s policy achievements, one of the highlights of the year came at World Dairy Expo. Edge board President Brody Stapel moderated a town hall attended by hundreds of people with USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue and the then current Wisconsin Secretary of Agriculture. A great opportunity to showcase the progress we’ve made as a cooperative advocating on behalf of our members.
All in all, 2019 marked a transformative year for our cooperative, but make no mistake, we have a lot more work to get done in 2020.
On behalf of the Edge team, we look forward to working with you this year to accomplish another list of successes so the dairy community will be standing in better place come January 2021.