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Weekly Column: Fighting For Regulatory Relief For Idaho Farmers And Ranchers

Guest column submitted by U.S. Senator Mike Crapo

Federal agricultural-related regulation too often results in more time, more paperwork, more money, more ambiguity, more headaches and more stress for those working to get food on our tables without any real benefits for workers, consumers, taxpayers or the environment.  Regulations should be carefully thought through and reviewed, with consideration of the farm families charged with integrating these policies into their operations.  If the benefits do not considerably outweigh the costs, the regulation is outdated or just too heavy-handed, it should be scrapped. 

Fellow Idahoans have shared their concerns about yet another regulation, the U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) changes to the Adverse Effect Wage Rate (AEWR), that would add additional cost and administrative burdens for producers currently struggling to find workers to help grow and harvest crops.  The AEWR is the minimum wage the federal government requires those employing H-2A visa agricultural guest workers to pay.  The flawed methodology of this system has led to the AEWR in Idaho increasing by 40 percent since 2015. 

The AEWR rule would require farmers to track the different activities performed by H-2A workers over the course of a day to ensure the proper wage is paid for a given activity.  This imposes a massive financial and administrative burden on farmers using the H-2A program, which will lead to higher prices for consumers.

In a letter to Congress, the Agriculture Workforce Coalition that represents agricultural producers in Idaho and across the country wrote, “The DOL’s regulation comes at a time when American farmers are reeling due to record high costs of production that have translated into thin and even negative margins, conditions the new regulation will exacerbate.  Moreover, the regulation further complicates an already complex program and creates legal uncertainty for farmers who comply with requirements in good faith.” 

Recognizing these problems, I co-sponsored a Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolution to nullify the Biden Administration’s untenable changes to the agriculture guest worker program’s wage rates.  I will continue to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to nullify this rule and ensure we have a farm workforce system that meets labor needs and reduces costs and regulatory burdens on growers. 

I will also continue to push back against other overly-burdensome regulation impacting Idaho agriculture.  In March, with fellow Idaho Senator Jim Risch’s and my support, the Senate passed a CRA resolution challenging the Biden Administration’s Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule, which wrongly expands federal regulatory authority over water.  Unfortunately, President Biden vetoed the WOTUS CRA resolution, but its passage shows the clear, bipartisan support for halting the Biden Administration’s effort to trample on states’ water rights and further undermine the agriculture sector.   

As a society, we continuously ask farmers to do more with less.  We ask them to produce more to meet the food demands of a growing world population, but use less land, water and other inputs necessary for a safe, affordable food supply.  We ask them to produce more while inflation leaves them with less money to meet higher wage and other regulatory demands.  Meanwhile, Congress is due to enact a farm bill intended to provide a needed safety net for producers while our country faces soaring federal debt impacting the ability to effectively fund needed farm programs to help maintain the domestic food supply crucial to our national security. 

Understandably, people disagree on what changes are needed to address perceived problems.  But, our government should be working closely with those most affected by regulation to ensure the changes are sensible and can be implemented in the least burdensome manner.  That is how we grow and innovate together.  With a deep appreciation for Idaho farmers and ranchers, I keep fighting for regulatory relief and federal policy for farmers across our country to give them room to do more with more. 

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