Dr. William Rolleston is a farm leader in New Zealand. This country is a global leader in dairy farming and so has been facing some of the same anti-dairy activism we see in Washington state. A recent speech to a New Zealand institute was titled: "Science in a Post-Truth Era." In it, he made some very valuable observations and offered spot-on advice for farmers in our area. Here are some comments but I encourage you to read the whole article:
On the "war on farming"
“We’ve watched the war on farmers grow since the coining of the phrase ‘dirty dairying’ by Fish and Game some 15 years ago. Even in the last few days I’ve heard farming leaders talk about the hatred directed at farmers, and that NZ has a ‘cowphobia’ and that this election has created an urban-rural divide as big as it ever has been.”
How anti-farm activist misuse science
“Those who work to change public perception in spite of the evidence use a number of tactics,” he says. “They cherry-pick data, they drive fear, they oversimplify, they take data out of context. They deliberately confuse correlation with causation and they undermine trust.”
Cost of regulation and what farmers need to do
“We have seen constant ramping up of regulation with costs borne by the farmers. Perhaps society should consider how our positive [effects] such as the ecosystem services farmers provide every day can be recognised.”
Farmers need to take charge of the narrative. It looks like they are behind the game on water quality, when in fact they are ahead. Given ownership of the problems, they would find solutions that were reasonable, practical and affordable, he said.
Exactly! Save Family Farming's mission can be defined as farmers taking charge of the narrative rather than allowing the lies against farmers to stand.
Interesting article on how Maine is attempting to protect small farmers from federal regulations. It's interesting how issues of farming, particularly small farming, are bringing people across the political spectrum together. Where progressives might favor more regulation and more government involvement, that works against the growing locavore food movement when they see how regulations affect farming. With that concern there can be common cause with farmers of all sizes who have to deal with more and more regulations that are increasingly forcing farmers out or threatening to force them out. In Washington, Ecology's new CAFO permit is a burdensome, expensive and unnecessary new regulation on dairy farmers, but those seeking more and stronger regulation have been pushing it to an extreme that few dairy farmers could survive. To such farmers, the effort by Maine to push back against federal regulations can be an encouragement.
Representative Dan Newhouse is one of Washington family farmers greatest advocates in our nation's capital. Here's a report on his work in expanding available farm labor through the H2A program from MorningAgriculture from Politico.com. Note the labor opposition. The reason is simple – the severe labor shortage experienced by farmers is desired by labor unions to press for union contracts as happened at Sakuma. It was the family farm's decision to use H2A to fill the labor shortage that triggered the organized labor opposition to this long-time family farm – not abuse of workers as they falsely claimed.
H-2A PROGRAM MAY BE EXPANDED THROUGH APPROPS: The House Appropriations Committee adopted on Tuesday an amendment to the fiscal 2018 homeland security spending bill, which could help dairy producers and other farmers who need year-round labor. The amendment, offered by Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-Wash.), would expand the range of businesses that can apply for the H-2A visa program for temporary or seasonal agricultural workers, as well as nullify that stipulation that the work be short term. The measure was agreed to by voice vote with bipartisan support, including by Democratic Reps. Henry Cuellar (Texas) and Pete Aguilar (Calif.), who spoke in favor of the provision during the markup.
"This amendment is a small starting point of relief we can provide our farmers who need access to workers," Newhouse said in a statement. Newhouse, a Republican from Eastern Washington who farms 600 acres of hops, tree fruit and grapes, emphasized that the measure did not change the limit on how long a worker can stay in the country (three years with renewals), nor would it change the fact that farmers must first seek U.S. workers.
Dairy groups pumped: National Milk Producers Federation President and CEO Jim Mulhern lauded the move on Tuesday. "This amendment recognizes that we need to create new approaches to addressing the needs of dairy employers for a legal, reliable supply of farm workers," he said. "Dairy farmers, who have cows that need to be milked every single day of the year, have not been able to utilize the H-2A visa program because of how the Department of Labor interprets the rules, which restricts the program to supplying only the temporary and seasonal labor needs of employers."
The Farm Bureau is still evaluating the specifics of the amendment, but a representative tells MA that the group is supportive because producers across the country are facing devastating labor shortages.
Could the provision survive a House vote on the bill? The odds seem decent at the moment. Rep. John Carter (R-Texas) said the House Judiciary Committee was "not opposed" to its inclusion.
Labor isn't on board, however. United Farm Workers President Arturo Rodriguez called the existing guest worker program "deeply flawed" and said he was "stunned" that two Democrats supported the measure. The nonprofit advocacy group Farmworker Justice also blasted the amendment, saying it did nothing to fix the H-2A program, which it described as "rife with abuses resulting from unscrupulous employers that take advantage of the vulnerable guest workers, displacing U.S. workers and undermining U.S. workers' labor standards."
The debate will continue today when the House Judiciary Committee's Immigration Subcommittee holds a hearing on agricultural guest workers. Rep. David Valadao (R-Calif.) will testify, as will business owners and Giev Kashkooli, vice president of United Farm Workers. Read more about the amendment here, see the amendment itself here and watch today's hearing here.
The Capital Press story tells of the slow but almost certain death of a once thriving strawberry industry in Washington state.
Like most youngsters growing up in Western Washington, my first real work experience was picking strawberries. Mom would pack our lunch and bring us to the field, or if you live in the “big city” you rode the school bus. Some days were hot, some cold and rainy, but the weather didn’t matter because you had a job. We ate too many, threw them at brothers, sisters and friends, but a few made it into the flat as we inched our way down the rows. There was a sense of accomplishment as we picked up a full flat, got our crumpled ticket punched and at the end of the season got our well-earned check. It was our money, earned by our hard work.
Those days are gone, a victim of well-intended laws to protect young workers. In the view of many, more was lost than gained by these laws. Other solutions could have been found to protect against the little abuse there was. Employers routinely talk today about the loss of work ethic among the young.
Now the industry is all but gone. Labor costs are without question the primary reason. Despite the fact that a skilled, hardworking picker can earn $30 per hour and more, today’s growers cannot compete against foreign labor – particularly Mexican – where workers are paid more like $10 per day.
Sakuma Brothers Farm in Skagit County provides a sad lesson. The family farm has been in the Japanese-American family since the early 1900s and the entire family endured the Japanese internment camps in World War II. For the past several years it was ground zero for the effort to unionize farm workers. Many of the 400 or so pickers that Sakuma employed were local, had worked there for many years and depended on the much needed income boost that the seasonal work provided. Outside labor agitators came in and with lies, distortions, complicit media reporters painted the “corporate farm” as wage robbers and worse. Funded by union organizing dollars from California and beyond, the organizers recruited local university students who were given class credit and free rides on taxpayer paid buses to protest in front of Costco and other retail stores. Despite paying its workers guaranteed pay above the state’s minimum wage and the strong workers as much as $50 per hour for their production, the agitators won. Acres of strawberries were plowed up, and the few acres that remain will not likely last long. How can they against the extremely low labor costs paid by competing farmers in Mexico and China?
The union organizers staged rallies in downtown Seattle to protest Sakuma. I wonder about those cheering crowds. Did they understand they were forcing berry farmers out or to mechanize at accelerating rates--meaning that few if any small farmers could possible survive? Did they understand they were supporting the lower food safety standards and much, much lower worker pay from foreign farms? Did they know that those farms don’t have anywhere near the same environmental and pesticide regulations as our Washington state farmers have? Did they know that the taste of a very sweet Western Washington berry would become a distant memory? Did they think about what it means to have their berries (assuming they can afford them) come from thousands of miles away rather than from local farms?
Perhaps farmers are to blame. It’s easy to blame the media such as the Seattle TV stations so eager to carry the story that the organizers told and so reluctant to show there was much more to the story. But if farmers, farm supporters and farm organization leaders don’t speak out about these kinds of issues and tell those Seattle folks who are so far from the farms what is really going on, can we blame them?
While much of the news in mainstream media and much on social media about dairies focuses on the accusations of anti-farm critics (much of it false as we often cover here), the real story is the continuing progress toward sustainability and environmental performance.
Here are some excellent examples from these award winners from the Innovation Center for US Dairy. However, Washington dairy farmers (which includes several past award winners) are often at the forefront of these innovative changes. Congrats to all the winners and all those farmers working hard to do the right things.
While climate change gets all the press as one of the main threats to the future of the human race, little attention is paid to how we will feed 9 billion people in the near future. This issue is made all the more urgent given the direction of public sentiment to things like GMOs, organic farming, small vs big, etc. These factors, as this article points out rather gently, contribute to the very great challenges ahead.
Not enough non-farmer types in our cities are even aware of the Green Revolution, the post WWII application of new technologies that has fed the world for the past 50-70 years. Now, as this article points out, a Green Revolution 2.0 is urgently needed, and now is the time to get it going. We have new problems to solve, such as increasing water shortages and increasing pressure on farms related to water. Unless many are to starve, solutions must be found and soon.
Farmers are facing more and more pressure over water. Water quality, water quantity, water rights. In California, the heavily urban population of Southern California heard from numerous media reports that farmers used 70% of the water (not true). In Whatcom County, anti-farm activists are calling for farms to meter their water and for government to impose an irrigation tax. And Courts and government agencies are saying maintaining historically high stream flows trumps all other uses.
But without water there is no food. This very short little video from National Geographic helps put this important issue in perspective.
This story from a Central California TV station provides an example of a fearful headline that is nothing more than clickbait. But, go beyond the headline designed to shock and draw readers, the story offers hope. Salmon protection and recovery is important. The farmers we know and work with as part of Save Family Farming are deeply concerned about salmon, even as they reject the activism of our critics who want to place the blame for all salmon loss on farms. The truth is quite well captured in the four H's of salmon loss: Hydro (dams), habitat, harvest, and hatcheries.
This story provides just one example of how farmers are pro-actively working for salmon. There are numerous such examples in Washington including how Whatcom farmers are trying to improve stream flows but are stymied by court decisions with serious unintended consequences for the environment. (See Fix Hirst & Foster video)
In the area of Northwest Washington where much of the activism against farmers related to salmon comes from faces serious harvest issues. It started with the listing of local salmon as endangered when it was noted that over 80% of the salmon stock had been depleted by over-fishing, now continues with serious over-harvesting. What is very troubling is that the WA State Department of Fish and Wildlife is the state's resource manager, and they do not appear to us to be managing it very well.
Enhancing our shared resource is in the interest of all of us, most certainly farmers. Progress is best made by working together and farm critics need to recognize that rather than doing all they can to drive farmers out of business with new laws, regulations and law suits, environmental interests are best served by sitting down and identifying what each party can do.
Representative Dan Newhouse has proven to be an unflagging friend of farmers, not just in our state but nation. We are deeply grateful for his leadership in addressing the abuse of the EPA in funding the What's Upstream campaign.
We were very saddened to hear of the loss of the Congressman's wife, Carol. Our deepest sympathy to Representative Newhouse and his family.
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