U.S. Department of Agriculture Undersecretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services Michael Scuse called Friday for Congress to pass a long-term budget, a long-term farm bill and to adopt immigration reform.
Scuse, speaking during the North Dakota Farmers Union Convention at the Holiday Inn in Minot, said a long-term farm bill is important for providing a safety net for farmers, such as crop insurance and disaster assistance following such disasters as the blizzard that killed thousands of animals during a blizzard in South Dakota earlier this year. Other programs funded under the farm bill help provide assistance for export of crops.
North Dakota is the eighth-largest agriculture exporter in the country, according to a press release issued by the office of Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., on Friday, and sells $4.1 billion in commodities each year in foreign markets. North Dakota agriculture exports support more than 45,000 jobs in the state, according to Heitkamp's office.
The U.S. Congress has been unable to pass a new farm bill this year. A farm bill was supposed to have been passed by the end of 2012, but Congress instead voted for a one-year extension. Scuse said Friday he is hopeful that bipartisan negotiations between the House and the Senate will result in a "comprehensive food, farm and jobs bill" being passed by the beginning of next year.
During his keynote address, Scuse also spoke at length about the need for immigration reform. He said North Dakota would experience about $50 million in short-term production losses with the elimination of the labor of illegal immigrants.
Scuse said agricultural producers rely heavily on the labor of illegal immigrants, who work in fields and factories, while other immigrants work on short-term visas. Currently, there is no easy way for employers to hire them legally, he said.
A bipartisan immigration reform bill would have provided illegal immigrants with the right to stay and work in the country and a pathway to eventual citizenship, provided they paid a fine, passed a background check and went to the back of the line for consideration of citizenship behind immigrants who came here legally. However, immigration reform also seems to have stalled for the time being in the House.