This year’s Policy Development season was unlike any other. First of all, most of our county meetings and the entirety of our annual meeting happened virtually, in accordance with the State’s COVID protocols. And while I was admittedly braced for a less-than-robust policy discussion during the annual meeting, Farm Bureau members once again exceeded my expectations in the best way.
In a marathon six-hour policy development session, members from across the state weighed in on new policies with the expertise that only those who live with these issues each and every day can bring. From cattle markets to game cameras, seed sales to fire suppression, our delegates left no stone unturned.
Based on these policy directives from the delegates, the Arizona Farm Bureau Board of Directors also approved a list of policy priorities to guide our organization as we look for ways to embed our policy into legislation and regulation. As always, this year’s policy priorities are ambitious. But we’re confident that throughout the year, we will find and create meaningful opportunities to act on each of them to the benefit of our members.
Arizona Farm Bureau’s 2021 priority issues include:
Protecting Agriculture’s Access to Water:
- As the fight for the preservation of rural groundwater puts more and more pressure on agricultural pumpers, we will work diligently to uphold the principles set forth in our policy as articulated by the Rural Groundwater Working Group report.
- We will unite agricultural stakeholders in the face of impending updates to the Management Plans in the Active Management Areas. We will make sure that agriculture’s voice is heard by the Arizona Department of Water Resources and facilitate the development of proactive solutions and alternatives to detrimental regulatory proposals.
- We oppose the transfer of on-river agricultural entitlements of the Colorado River to off-river municipalities. To protect the on-river agricultural communities, we will support efforts to limit the transfer of water off of the river.
- We will continue to support agricultural water users as they fight to maintain their historic water rights in the face of ongoing surface water adjudication. We will continue our participation in the Upper Gila River Alliance. We will capitalize on the momentum from last year to continue pushing forward solutions for the issues of forfeiture and subflow. We will work with state and federal officials to find a way forward that ends the burdensome and unnecessary litigation against farmers while also providing a clean, safe, and reliable source of water for all of Arizona.
- We will uphold our partnership commitment to Pinal County Agriculture’s Regional Conservation Partnership Program grant project.
- We will fight for swift and unburdened implementation of the new Navigable Waters Protection Rule. We will work with Arizona’s water and environmental regulators to make sure that any state water regulations are similarly clear, logical, and no more burdensome than necessary.
- We will be vocal and active in our participation on the Governor’s Water Augmentation, Innovation, and Conservation Council. As leaders from across the state work to determine Arizona’s future water management strategies, we will make sure that agriculture’s voice is heard.
- As the world adjusts to life after a global pandemic, we will continue to fight for meaningful, helpful, and responsible government relief.
- We will continue to provide our members with information on how to access government relief, keep employees and families safe, and navigate the ever-changing regulatory environment that COVID has created. We will advocate for the continuation of relaxed regulatory environment that leads to economic prosperity.
- We will support employer protection from frivolous lawsuits related to employees or patrons allegedly contracting the virus at places of business.
- The pandemic’s travel limitations have driven more people than ever before to enjoy recreation on Arizona’s public lands. As our ranchers live and work on these lands, we will escalate our efforts to work with the Arizona Game and Fish Department, the US Forest Service, and other land management agencies to promote good neighbor etiquette, prevent damage to public lands, and improve the public’s relationship with public lands ranchers.
- We will work to protect agricultural land from being over-taxed by uninformed or overzealous County Assessors. We will disseminate the updated version of the Agriculture Property Tax Manual to our membership.
- We will find opportunities to work with cities and towns that have adopted a sales tax on livestock feed to conform to the state code, which exempts feed from sales tax.
Arizona Department of Agriculture:
- We will work with the Department of Agriculture to implement needed improvements to the Livestock Inspection Program.
- Employees at the Department of Agriculture play a crucial part in our industry and in keeping Arizona’s consumers safe. We will advocate for a competitive wage for these employees in order to allow the Department to recruit and keep qualified people for these essential roles.
Removing Transportation Burdens:
- We will publish an updated version of the Farm Bureau Transportation Handbook to better inform and assist our members.
- We will continue to support flexible, realistic, and practical rules for hauling livestock and perishable agricultural commodities and oppose the mandatory use of electronic logging devices and hours of service restrictions on these haulers.
Preventing Bureaucracy from Inhibiting Progress
- We will make a concerted effort to look for opportunities to expand livestock producer access to locally based State and USDA inspected processing facilities. We believe this is key in helping producers access lucrative markets.
- We will work with state and federal agencies to optimize wildfire response and recovery programs, minimizing the financial and physical burdens of fires on ranches.
- We will continue our partnership with fellow agricultural stakeholder groups, NRCS, the Arizona State Land Department, the State Historic Preservation Office, and the Arizona State Museum to clear the backlog of archeological clearances for conservation projects.
- We will continue to fight for meaningful reforms to the Endangered Species Act and updates to the Bureau of Land Management’s grazing rules. As discussions begin in earnest about a new Farm Bill, we will seek meaningful changes to the Livestock Indemnity Program. Producers who are struggling against the depredation damage caused by wolves need a workable, realistic indemnity program.
- We will work to help our members protect their operations from unnecessary and frivolous lawsuits.
- AZFB remains committed to visa reform and programs to provide our members access to workers willing to work in agriculture. We will work with our Congressional delegation to amend current efforts to reform the program to ensure these efforts:
- Provide for a reasonable, competitive wage that does not price employers out of the H-2A program
Do not expose farm employers to the extensive additional legal liability imposed by placing H-2A workers under the protection of the Migrant & Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act (MSPA)
- Include year-round visas are available in a number that will provide meaningful relief to the ag industry
- Provide employers with a legitimate guest worker program prior to imposing E-Verify requirements on those employers
- We will work with Congress to ensure that regulatory agencies like the FDA do not overstep the bounds of their authority during an investigation. There must be accountability when FDA prematurely releases damaging information about a grower or producer without adequate verification. It is also essential that producers of products consumed raw continue to have access to insurance coverage, and we will seek out ways to ensure continued coverage for these producers.
- As plant-based meat alternatives and cell-cultured meat options become more popular and more available, we will make sure that traditional agriculture products are competing on a level playing field. We will push for clear and accurate labeling of alt-meat products and place an increased focus on the benefits of traditional animal protein.
- We support Arizona’s milk marketing cooperative, the United Dairymen of Arizona. Recognizing that American Farm Bureau’s Federal Milk Marketing Order Working Group Report does not reflect policies consistent with the success of Arizona’s dairy industry, we will work with other state Farm Bureau organizations and the American Farm Bureau to develop policy that is consistent with the needs of all regions and sectors of the dairy industry.
For more information, go to www.azfb.org/public-policy.
It’s our policy development process that allows Government Relations staff to say, with complete confidence, that our policy represents the will of the entire Arizona agricultural industry. Thank you to each of our members for participating in this essential task!