Farm Listening Tour
Agriculture is an integral part of Southern and Western Virginia’s economy and heritage. Virginia’s agriculture industry is by far the largest industry in the Commonwealth, generating about $55 billion annually and providing more than 357,000 jobs. It is also the largest industry in the Ninth Congressional District.
In light of what seem to be ever-growing regulatory and policy burdens imposed by the federal government, last week, I set out on a farm listening tour. Throughout the week, I traveled to Craig, Pulaski, Montgomery, Tazewell, Russell, Washington, Lee, Scott, Smyth, Grayson, Carroll, Giles, and Patrick Counties. I spoke to a wide range of farmers. Some raised sheep, others cows; some were produce farmers, and others grew tobacco. Though I’m familiar with most of the tax concerns and a little bit ahead of the curve on ethanol issues, I wanted to make sure I was hearing from farmers themselves about their specific worries.
I met with hundreds of farmers. We spoke about numerous issues. One of those issues was the death tax. If the Bush tax cuts are not extended, the tax will return to a top marginal rate of 55 percent for all assets above $1 million dollars. For a lot of farmers and small businesses, this means they can't pass their farm or small business on to the next generation. I’m a cosponsor of legislation that would end the death tax.
Another issue involved migrant farm workers. Even with the high unemployment rates, farmers continue to have a difficult time finding employees. I learned that the federal migrant worker program – called “H2A” – is difficult to use because of bureaucratic red tape. Unnecessary red tape is especially detrimental to farmers because they cannot push back the timing of the harvest. As always, I will be looking into ways to make government more effective, including the H2A program.
Not surprisingly, the EPA creates other issues. Throughout the tour, farmers brought up EPA programs and fear of EPA expansion. Issues varied from farm to farm, but in my opinion the concerns raised were valid.
Another issue was eminent domain. Virginia has a proposed constitutional amendment to strengthen the landowner’s hand in eminent domain cases. This initiative is on the ballot this November. I endorse the proposed constitutional amendment. I will also work to address the issues raised on this tour about those federal government policies which trigger the use of eminent domain.
Again, I’m grateful to the farmers and their families who hosted me last week. I will continue to work on ways to ease the burdens being placed on them by Washington policies, and I will pray that God continues to watch over them and bless them.
As always, if you have questions, concerns, or comments, feel free to contact my office. You can call my Abingdon office at 276-525-1405 or my Christiansburg office at 540-381-5671. To reach my office via email, please visit my website at www.morgangriffith.house.gov.