As the 114th Congress begins initial deliberations in Washington, D.C., the Family Farm Alliance (Alliance) has prepared a "road map" that the organization's leaders believe can be used as a guide for policy makers to protect and enhance the agricultural economy in the Western United States.
The Alliance has prepared "A Road Map towards Securing the Future of Western Agriculture" which will be shared with local, state and federal officials, including Western members of Congress, Congressional water and environment committees, and the governors of the 17 Western states. The Road Map provides findings and recommendations on four key areas that are intertwined with Western agriculture: 1) water resources; 2) The federal Endangered Species Act (ESA), Clean Water Act (CWA) and other federal environmental laws; 3) Public lands management; and 4) Immigration.
"Our Road Map offers specific policy recommendations to ensure that Western agricultural operations continue to be vibrant and innovative for generations to come," said Alliance President Patrick O'Toole, a sheep and cattle rancher from Wyoming. "The report is intended to provide a road map that policy makers can use to develop solutions to the critical challenges facing Western farmers and ranchers."
Many of the issues discussed in the Road Map are vetted in further detail in Securing the Future of Western Agriculture: A Perspective of Western Producers, a 2014 paper co-authored by the Alliance and AGree, a process that seeks to engage diverse interests to drive the transformation of the nation's food and agricultural system. While not representing official AGree policy, the 2014 paper has helped inform AGree's development of policy and action recommendations by stimulating thinking and discussion. The Family Farm Alliance is represented on the Advisory Committee of the AGree process, which is supported with funding from nine of the world's leading foundations.
The Road Map emphasizes the need for a new way of looking at water resources, one that includes a broader view of how water is used - along with consideration of food production and habitat needs.
"The goal should be to integrate food production and conservation practices into water management decision making and water use priorities," said Mr. O'Toole. "We must begin to plan now in order to hold intact current options."
The Road Map calls for flexible, streamlined policies that provide balance and certainty to support collaborative efforts and manage challenges. Solutions are proposed to address competition for scarce water supplies, insufficient water infrastructure, growing populations, endangered species, increasing weather variability /climate change, and energy development.
"Solutions in all of these areas will be key to future enhanced agricultural production, conservation and community outcomes in the West," said Dan Keppen, Alliance Executive Director.
For the first time since 2010, both chambers of Congress will be controlled by the same party, meaning that legislation has a better chance of being sent to President Obama's desk. But, with the 60-vote threshold still a requirement for passing any bills in the Senate, and with a Democrat-controlled White House for at least two more years, any legislation that does make it through to become law must have some measure of bipartisan support.
Mr. O'Toole will join other Western producers, water managers and agricultural interests in Washington, D.C. in early February to meet directly with Members of Congress and their staff as part of the Alliance's annual Farmer Lobby trip.
"We look forward to working with leaders in both parties to find bipartisan support for legislation on important topics like water, environmental regulations and energy," said Mr. O'Toole. "Many of the ideas we will advance are summarized in our Road Map."