State Farm Bureau President David Winkles took an uncharacteristic step and held a statewide press conference to share farmers’ frustrations with both the farm bill and immigration reforms being stalled in Congress.
“We feel like the need is there today that we need to speak out. There are so many people speaking out with half-truths or stretches of the truth that we really need for agriculture to have their voices heard. So, I am calling on everyone who likes to eat three times a day,” said Winkles.
Newer House Republicans from South Carolina are favoring an incremental approach to immigration reform, rather than the all-in-one bill championed by Sen. Lindsey Graham.
The Farm Bureau is standing by the Senate Bill, saying a comprehensive bill allows all interests to negotiate.
“Sen. Graham and the seven others have worked very,very hard to get a balanced bill that addressed all the issues,” Winkles said.
“Our system of government is based on compromise. It’s really based on wearing people down to finally agree, ” Winkles told South Carolina Radio Network. “It’s based on the guy from New York City getting what he wants, the guy from South Carolina getting something for what he wants, the guy from New Mexico getting something he wants.”
“Even though some guys have to hold their nose to vote for it, they are getting things they know will be good for their constituents.”
Farmers are asking for a seasonal immigrant guest worker program that meets their needs when they cannot find enough local workers. The current law’s quotas are outdated, both sides agree. The bulk of the immigration bill debate, however, is over border patrol vs. an earned amnesty for illegal residents.
Both bills are being held up on principle and that can be dangerous, Winkles said at the State Farmers Market Friday. “We are going to have foreign hands pick and process our food. Now it can be here in the United States with the rules and regulation of the EPA, USDA and DHEC or it can be in a foreign country that has no rules and regulations. Which do you prefer?” Winkles challenged.
Winkles and farm interests are particularly frustrated with the lack of a new farm bill, when the current version expires at the end of September. The bill assures crop protection and farm price support that farms depend on —- as well as the banks that lend to them, said Winkles.
The most recent version of the farm bill died in the House, mainly over how much to cut food stamp programs (SNAP) that make up a large part of the funding.
“I think saying that SNAP is killing it is a cop-out,” Winkles added. “Granted there is abuse and fraud in the process, so let’s work on curing the abuse and fraud, make sure those who need it get the assistance, but let’s don’t hold the process hostage.”
He comes from the soybean industry and has been involved in farm bill discussions since the 1980’s. “It’s very frustrating to me to see the breakdown in communication that I see today. I just don’t see people being willing to talk to each other, with ideology getting in the way.”
“Would you rather it stay like it is or move closer to what you’d like to see?”
SCFB is the state’s largest general farm organization with more than 110,000 member families statewide.