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When Congress failed last year to pass a farm bill it led some(including Secretary of Agriculture) to question agriculture’s influence. While others disagreed it is a fair question to ask. Passage of a farm bill in the full Senate and the House Agriculture committee wasn’t enough to even get the bill to the House floor for a vote. As we wait to see what happens with the farm bill this year we have another test case that may help answer the question on agriculture’s influence. A group of Senators has reached an agreement on a framework for a farm worker program that would be part of a comprehensive immigration reform bill. All of the details haven’t been worked out but the proposal would provide a path to legal status for undocumented workers and set a cap of 112,000 3 year visas each year while setting a formula by which wages would increase each year with a cap and floor. Several ag and labor groups are supporting the proposal as a way to keep and attract much needed farm workers. It remains to be seen if the farm worker proposal will be part of a comprehensive plan or a separate bill. The bigger question is whether agriculture still has the clout to influence the outcome of such a politically sensitive issue or will agriculture’s interests be ignored. The answer may be an indication of things to come.
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