The Obama administration is using scare tactics to magnify the impact of sequestration, according to U.S. Rep. Robert Aderholt, R-Ala., who spoke to Alabama farmers visiting Washington, D.C., March 12-14.
Aderholt, a member of the powerful House Committee on Appropriations, serves as chairman of its Subcommittee on Agriculture. He discussed the national debt and the importance of crafting a new farm bill with 128 Alabama Farmers Federation members during the organization’s annual Washington Legislative Conference.
“It’s very frustrating that the administration would use USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) as one of its scare tactics and scapegoats for these cuts,” Aderholt said. “While some furlough days (for FSIS employees) are possible, I think the administration could tone down its rhetoric with this and try to manage the funding crisis so production hours (in food processing plants) are cut as a last resort.”
USDA recently announced meat inspectors would be furloughed one day a week beginning in July for a total of 11 days. Those temporary layoffs could cause significant delays at meat, poultry and egg processing plants. Law requires inspectors to be present at the plants.
Federation President Jimmy Parnell introduced Aderholt during the meeting, describing the congressman as a friend to Alabama farmers who recognizes and appreciates the importance of agriculture. Parnell echoed Aderholt’s remarks about the need to pass a farm bill before 2014.
“Farmers need a farm bill so they can determine what and how much they intend to plant next year,” Parnell said. “We need to know before 2014 gets here.”
Talladega County Farmers Federation member David Wilson was among conference attendees. He said it’s important farmers take time away from their farms for face-to-face meetings with lawmakers.
“It’s good to get personally acquainted with our representatives,” Wilson said. “They are able to put a face with a name, and it’s important for them to know where we stand on issues that affect us.”
Farmers heard more about the national debt and government regulations from other speakers throughout the day, including Matt Erickson, an economist with American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF); Chuck Penry, a lobbyist with Tyson Foods, Inc.; Bob Redding, a lobbyist with the Georgia Peanut Commission, and Kristi Boswell of AFBF, who spoke on immigration and farm labor reform.
In addition to hearing from speakers during the conference, 18 small groups were held with congressional staff members. Parnell said those meetings are significant.
“The large group sessions are good, and we get a lot of information from our speakers,” he said. “But when we are able to meet with staffers and other ag leaders in small groups, the stream of information is reversed. We’re able to tell them what our issues and concerns are and hopefully impact the decisions that are going to be made.”
While in Washington, Federation members attended a barbecue for Alabama’s congressional delegation and their staffs. Members had breakfast with their respective congressmen, U.S. Sens. Richard Shelby and Jeff Sessions addressed the group at a luncheon.
For additional pictures from the conference, visit Facebook.com/alabamafarmers.