Michigan farmers are facing challenges from all sides of the barn.

This includes the harmful (and costly) effects of trade disputes with China and Mexico, and other challenges that range from increased vulnerability to livestock disease to a serious labor shortage. In Michigan, these difficulties are impacting a sector that generates $101.2 billion annually to our state’s economy and makes up about 25 percent of our workforce. While the entire agriculture industry is struggling with similar issues, the pork industry is shouldering much of the burden.

Michigan alone has over one million hogs representing 4,700 jobs, including a new packing plant in Coldwater. These issues are creating a fragile future for our state’s farmers and economy. Congress has already begun addressing pork sector challenges through provisions in the House version of the 2018 Farm Bill and writing legislation that’s stuck in limbo, but farmers need these policies to cross the finish line in order to feel relief. Luckily for Michigan farmers, Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) sits on the Farm Bill’s conference committee and is (unofficially) named as one of four key decision makers.

Here’s where Michigan pork farmers need immediate help:

Our top priority is to create a national vaccine bank that will protect herds from Foot-and-Mouth Disease (FMD). Currently, obtaining enough vaccine to contain a small, localized outbreak would take weeks, while a larger one would take months to adequately contain. A single FMD outbreak would close all export markets to U.S. meat, at a cost of 1.5 million American jobs and $200 billion to the animal, corn, and soybean industries.

To solve this, Congress can authorize mandatory annual funding in this year’s Farm Bill to help prevent a potential national disaster. We need $150 million for an FMD vaccine bank, along with additional resources dedicated to the National Animal Health Laboratory and state animal health agencies to prepare for a foreign animal-disease emergency. This funding is even more critical given the recent outbreak of African Swine Fever in China that’s quickly spreading.

The second priority is to pass pending legislation that will help solve a serious labor shortage.

Every position on a farm is critical in order to provide high-quality animal care and keep your food affordable, but pork farmers are lacking a consistent source of skilled and trained labor. Unfortunately, this is something we’ve been struggling with for years. Foreign labor could fill the workforce gap, but the current visa system is ineffective. Pork farmers need Congress to pass the Newhouse-Cuellar Amendment, which would tweak the existing seasonal labor visa and enable farmers to use the program year round, and the AG and Legal Workforce Act, which would achieve a similar effect by creating a new category of visa.

These solutions are all endorsed by the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC), an organization that works to ensure U.S pork remains responsible and consistent in its ability to supply international and domestic markets, including more than 2,100 pig farms in Michigan. With the Farm Bill set to expire on September 30 and the visa reform legislation drying up on the list, Congress has the opportunity to offset the damaging impacts from the trade disputes. The time to help Michigan’s pork farmers is now.

Bob Dykhuis is president of the Michigan Pork Producers Association.

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