Opinion: Farmers don't want to be political pawns

Ben LaCross

This weekend, farmers from across the country will be traveling from their farms to New Orleans for the Centennial Celebration of the American Farm Bureau. 

As American farmers and ranchers leave behind their fruit trees, vegetable fields, livestock, and row crops, most will travel by air to the Big Easy.  We will be the ones more comfortable with USDA than TSA, fumbling with our boots and wondering if we can wear our hats through the metal detectors.

Small businesses, farms and food processors across Michigan will have access to funding through two grant programs the state approved Tuesday.

But now, with the shadow of the government shutdown looming over the country, farmers and TSA agents are unlikely colleagues.  

TSA workers, like many essential federal workers, are still reporting to work. Thousands of others are showing up daily without the promise of a paycheck so we can continue to travel and  so airports can continue to operate smoothly. Federal meat inspectors are working without pay so we can have a safe food supply available at our grocery stores. Federal law enforcement officers are clocking-in and keeping our neighborhoods and streets safe.

Farmers are sympathetic to the current plight of federal employees.  Farming is a career in which uncertainty is certain.

The farmers in California, who had their vineyards, livestock pastures, and farmland destroyed by fires know all too much about having their livelihoods disrupted.  They are selfless, though, and are working to rebuild their communities.

Cotton farmers in southern Georgia know a thing or two about working without pay.  They spent the whole year tending to their cotton crops, only to have Hurricane Michael destroy thousands of acres of cotton in minutes.  They are resilient, though, and are already making planting plans for next spring.

It’s politics, though, you say, about the federal workers and the government shutdown.  Tell that to the soybean, hog, apple, and cherry farmers who have been the political pawns in the government’s ongoing trade battle with China and other foreign countries.

Conservative estimates show that in Nebraska alone, farmers have lost over $2 billion since the Chinese government raised retaliatory tariffs against U.S. agricultural products.  But farmers care about our country, and know that these trade imbalances needed to be addressed

I’ve had the great opportunity to be a part of Farm Bureau at various levels for many years now. Farm Bureau represents farmer’s grassroots vision for the future of food, farming, and our country. I’ve been working with Congress on immigration reform, making sure agriculture’s needs are addressed, since 2005. Barely anything has changed since then.

So, if this is the opportunity to adequately fix immigration in the U.S., let's do it. Start with border security, help agriculture address its needs for mobile, seasonal workers, and give a path forward to the millions of foreigners who have been allowed to come into our country due to the inactivity of Congress.

We are farmers, and spring is right around the corner.  We will plant our seeds, raise our livestock, and grow food.  Because that is what farmers do.

And throughout the shutdown, we’ve learned that federal employees are selfless, resilient, and care about their country, too. Just like us farmers.

Ben LaCross is a cherry farmer from Lake Leelanau in Leelanau County. He is a member of the Michigan Farm Bureau board of directors.