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Farm Bureau still wants farm bill

Farm Bureau President Bob Stallman said Sunday that he's optimistic that some type of immigration reform might be passed in Congress, if it can happen within the next nine months, before the next election cycle begins.

"I think the environment is ripe in this nine-month period. It's riper than it has been for several years, maybe," he said.

Stallman said he knows that legislation is being considered in both the House and the Senate, although he hasn't seen any proposals yet. The Senate may be further along, he said.

Both political parties are keenly interested in courting Hispanic voters and the largest group among them, those with ties to Mexico, tend to view immigration reform favorably.

Besides the changing political environment, key lobbying groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce are pushing for reform.

Farm Bureau is one of eleven groups that recently formed the Agriculture Workforce Coalition to push for reform of guest worker programs that would make them easier for farmers and ranchers to use.

The group includes several fruit and produce organizations and the National Milk Producers Federation.

The AWC staff has also reached out to the Obama Administration.

"They had a meeting at the White House to talk about what we're doing and to encourage them to move forward," Stallman said.

The meeting was held within the last two weeks.

According to the AWC, many sectors of agriculture are having trouble finding labor.

"A 2012 survey by the California Farm Bureau found that 71 percent of tree fruit growers, and nearly 80 percent of raisin and berry growers, were unable to find an adequate number of employees to prune trees or vines or pick the crop," says the group's website.

According to AWC: "The shortage of farm workers has several causeBob Stallman, the president of the nation's largest farm group, American Farm Bureau Federation, called on Congress to pass a five-year farm bill in 2013 and to resolve agriculture's labor needs with improved guest-worker laws during his speech to members at their annual meeting in Nashville, Tennessee, Sunday.

"We just elected and re-elected leaders for a new term. We must let them know that our nation can no longer afford political drama, manufactured crises and self-serving jackass stubbornness," Stallman said, drawing a hearty round of applause.

He reminded his listeners that Congress didn't pass a farm bill last year and extended existing law until the end of September.

"What Congress did on the farm bill is not perfect, but at least it gives us certainty for 2013," Stallman said.

"Now, we need the new Congress to show the leadership needed to pass long-term farm policy and enact the kind of reforms that the Senate and House agriculture committee have approved," Stallman said.

Stallman got another round of applause when he gave the group credit for a partial victory on estate taxes in the fiscal cliff legislation passed by Congress at the beginning of this year.

"Long before the rest of the country started talking about a fiscal cliff, farm and ranch families were looking at going over a tax cliff," Stallman said. "They were facing an estates tax threshold of just $1 million and an estate tax rate of as much as 55% beginning January 1."

At current land values in Iowa, a farm estate owning only 120 acres would have hit that lower exemption, he said. Instead, the fiscal cliff bill makes the 2012 exemption of just over $5 million permanent and indexed for inflation.

"The estate tax has been a threat to our heritage of families passing farms from one generation to the next," he said. "And even the it is permanently reduced, it has not gone away. It will still threaten some farms and ranches. But putting permanently lower rates and a higher exemption in place is a big victory -- one that Farm Bureau members have worked hard to achieve."

Also on Sunday, DuPont and the American Farm Bureau Foundation for Agriculture announced a $250,000 donation to the foundation’s My American Farm virtual education resource. The donation from DuPont’s seed business, DuPont Pioneer, will support new games and resources, increased outreach to K-12 stakeholders and a mobile application to increase access and use of this online educational portal.

The My American Farm program has engaged hundreds of thousands of youth, teachers and parents with online games and hands-on activities teaching core content subject areas including math, science, social studies, English language arts, and health, while reinforcing key agricultural themes since its launch in 2010. In addition to offering educational experiences for youth from preschool to sixth grade, the program provides standards-based resources to teachers.

s, including the reverse migration of workers from the U.S. to Mexico, historic levels of immigration enforcement and bipartisan congressional commitment to a credible work authorization system through mandatory E-Verify.  These factors have contributed to and will exacerbate this shortage if an immediate solution is not enacted as part of immigration reform."

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