Wheat growers meet with state, federal legislators

Most of the wheat growers’ advocacy trips to Olympia and Washington, D.C., are a whirlwind of activity, hurrying from one appointment to another to fit in as many meetings as possible in just a couple of days. This year’s efforts involved a whole lot less walking but just as much advocacy.

Since early March, the leaders and staff of the Washington Association of Wheat Growers (WAWG) have connected virtually with almost every congressional office and more than 30 state legislators (as of press time), with more meetings scheduled. While growers miss the personal interaction with lawmakers, the ability to meet with legislators later in the session means growers can react to specific bills and bill details.

“It’s an unusual legislative session for sure,” said Ryan Poe, WAWG president. “We are fighting hard to protect agricultural employers from paying retroactive overtime pay and encouraging legislators to allow an overtime seasonality exemption. We are also defending our need for an ag exemption in any carbon policy or low carbon fuel standard for fuels used on the farm and in transporting our products to market. Finally, we are working to make sure that agricultural real estate is not subject to a capital gains tax.”

Some of the issues WAWG leaders are discussing with state legislators include:

  • Overtime in agriculture and retroactive overtime pay. WAWG supports a phased approach to overtime pay, as well as a seasonality exemption. WAWG opposes agriculture having retroactive liability when state law did not require such payment at the time.
  • Carbon policies. WAWG opposes any carbon policies, whether it’s a low carbon fuel standard, a cap and trade program or a carbon tax, that will raise fuel, fertilizer, transportation and processing costs. Furthermore, WAWG supports that any revenue generated by a carbon policy or tax should be reinvested in transportation infrastructure projects. Any carbon policy should be based on science and recognize agriculture’s ability to sequester carbon.
  • Preserving the Snake River dams. WAWG opposes any efforts to remove or disrupt transportation on the Snake River, including Rep. Mike Simpson’s (R-Idaho) proposal. See page 26. 
  • Funding for construction of research facilities at Washington State University (WSU). WAWG supports WSU’s $8 million request in the 2021-23 capital budget to demolish 60-year-old Johnson Hall to leverage $104.9 million in federal funds to build a new USDA Plant Biosciences Building.
  • Department of Natural Resources (DNR) ag leases. WAWG supports legislation sponsored by Rep. Chris Corry (R-Yakima) requiring fair compensation to farmers for the remainder of their lease term when DNR chooses to terminate an ag lease early.

In federal meetings, WAWG is discussing many of the same topics as in their state meetings. Other federal issues include:

  • Enforcing existing trade agreements and addressing nontariff trade barriers. WAWG supports full implementation and enforcement of existing trade agreements to allow fair trade to occur within the export marketplace. WAWG also strongly supports the enforcement of sanitary and phytosanitary agreements with its trade partners.
  • Renewing Trade Promotion Authority (TPA). WAWG supports the renewal of TPA, which is set to expire July 1, 2021, in order to aid in the development of future fair trade agreements.
  • Funding for market promotion activities. WAWG supports continued strong federal funding through the Market Access Program and the Foreign Market Development program to maintain the progress achieved with the increased support of Agricultural Trade Program funds.
  • Keeping the agricultural safety net strong. WAWG strongly supports future farm bills to continue to offer agriculture and nutrition support programs, including maintaining the current structure of the crop insurance program and current cost-share levels. 
  • Increasing the Price Loss Coverage (PLC) reference price. WAWG supports making adjustments to the PLC wheat reference price so it is closer to $6.50 per bushel to truly enable the program to function as an effective safety net. The price and yield functions of Agricultural Risk Coverage formulas should be adjusted so it can be a viable option for producers.
  • Research funding. WAWG supports the PNW Herbicide Resistance Initiative and a FY2022 programmatic funding increase of $3 million for USDA ARS salaries and expenses.
  • Investment into broadband infrastructure. WAWG supports extending and improving broadband in rural, unserved and underserved areas.

“Our meetings with state and federal legislators have been very productive, and I feel we’ve made our voices heard despite the restrictions on in-person meetings,” said Michelle Hennings, WAWG’s executive director. “There’s still a lot of work to do and a lot of issues we need to educate on. We’ll continue to utilize every method available to get our message heard.”