The political winds are gathering behind comprehensive immigration reform according to American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman. Speaking with AgriTalk Radio's Mike Adams, Stallman said, "I am more optimistic this year than I have been maybe for the past 10 years. The elections in November created a political environment that is now the most conducive I've seen in that 10 year period for us to try to get it fixed."
Despite that optimism, Stallman noted it's not all smooth sailing for an immigration plan. According to Stallman there is strong opposition to any guest worker program, a vital component for farm interests who rely on migrant labor. "We have to have that," Stallman said. "Otherwise agriculture's going to move outside the borders of this country." Stallman said Farm Bureau will stand firm on a workable guest worker plan before agreeing to any other provisions of any immigration reform package.
Stallman also touched on USDA's management of budget cuts brought on by sequestration, offering support of USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack. While others such as Senator Mike Johanns of Nebraska have challenged the Secretary's management of program cuts, Stallman noted that Vilsack has little latitude for managing the cuts under the sequestration law. He said he has talked directly with Secretary Vilsack about meat inspector furloughs and other program changes brought on by sequestration. "I am convinced that the Secretary and his staff over there are going to do everything they can to minimize any disruptive impacts," he said.
And as Congress takes up budget issues this week, Stallman said agriculture is once again wearing a bullseye adding, "In a fiscal environment that exists in this country today, agriculture's a big target."
The House budget plan introduced by Congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin calls for $31 billion in cuts over 10 years. Stallman pointed out this is just the "first shot across the bow" in the budget process and that Farm Bureau and other ag groups will have to continue to fight to maintain the ag budget baseline.
Click the player below to listen to the entire interview.