Legislators participate in session at Pa. Farm Show

AFP Correspondent

HARRISBURG, Pa. (Jan. 19, 2016) — During the 100th Pennsylvania Farm Show, U.S. Representative Glenn “G.T.” Thompson and U.S. Representative Michael Conaway, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, held a forum on federal agricultural policy.
Chairman Conaway, R-Texas, explained to the agricultural leaders and several FFA members present, “We can’t do our job unless we know what you’re thinking.”
Thompson, R-Pa., from Bellefonte, chairs the Agriculture Committee’s Submittee on Conservation and Forestry. Seven other U.S. Representatives, all Republicans, joined.
Representative Cresent Hardy, a fifth generation Nevada rancher, said the agriculture industry should fight for FFA in education.
One FFA member, noting that the FFA program doesn’t start until high school in Pennsylvania, asked if there is any push for the program in earlier grades.
Representative Tom Marino, from Williamsport, Pa., indicated it should be promoted.
Thompson said at the federal level, although they cannot dictate the school curriculum, the Omnibus Bill includes career and technical education funding.
Representative Mike Kelly, from Pittsburgh, Pa., suggested locally taking an active, involved approach for changing the program.
“Go to the school board meeting,” he said, noting, “People can’t just talk at the coffee shop.”
Hardy added that his father, with limited education, always counseled taking control of a situation, and that politics should be “bottom-up,” not “top-down” as most are today.
“Think of the influence you have on your state legislature,” he said.
Representative Dan Newhouse, from Washington State, stressed reconnecting urban and rural areas, and commented about the importance of agriculture in the classroom, even at the elementary level.
He said, “We must tell the story of agriculture.”
In response to a question about immigration plans from the labor-intensive American Mushroom Institute, Representative Lou Barletta, Hazelton, Pa., reported that the problems of illegal immigration prompted his entry into Congress.
Barletta said, “We need a guest worker program that works.” He continued, “We were on a good pathway until the President blew it up,” referring to the controversial amnesty executive action.
Chairman Conaway, noting the E-Verify program, said it was not to supplement American workers, and anyone here illegally cannot work, and that (the United States) must unapologetically operate in its own best interest.
He referred to the need to compromise, but added, “Nothing will get done this year—not with this President. We don’t trust him.”
Regarding forestry policy, Thompson explained to a hardwoods spokesman interested in maintaining healthy forests that the West receives the most funds to handle fires.
Hardy added that the federal government owns 64 percent of the West.
Thompson pointed out, “I’m not a fan of wilderness areas. They are a hotbed for invasive species.”
He noted the importance of management; if harvest is delayed too long, trees which are an asset and a living entity lose value.
Turning to agricultural education and the role of cooperative Extension with the challenges of FSMA, avian flu and climate change, Thompson, using the example of FSMA, said Extension’s ‘boots on the ground’ will help navigate pitfalls.
He noted that he is receiving calls from producers for assistance.
Conaway reported that the Ag Committee is concerned with how to transition people off the food welfare programs, and not become trapped into the system.
He said at one of his hearings, a spokesperson felt that the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program should be a trampoline instead of a safety net.
Conaway stressed that the programs, however, are vital for a lot of people. The committee is looking at 10 pilot programs to determine what reforms are needed.
The yearly cost is $80 billion, and 46 million people are in SNAP. Barletta pointed out that fraud cheats the truly needy. Marino added that oversight is needed.
The Central Food Bank spokesperson who raised the issue said their error rate was 3.6 percent, and new users average nine months of using the program.
A county commissioner asked about defunding the Waters of the United States regulation.
Thompson said, “It’s the largest private property land grab in history,” and added that legislative action is planned.
Representative Mark Amodei, from Nevada, said that action on WOTUS would be renewed this year.
Prior to the forum, the congressmen toured the Farm Show.
As said by Pennsylvania Secretary of Agriculture Russell Redding, it showcases the diversity of Pennsylvania agriculture.
Thompson illustrated his joy in Pennsylvania’s number one industry by sharing his love of fried cheese cubes and milkshakes.