Columbian editorial calls for Congress to act on trade, farm labor shortage as growers face increased challenges

The Columbian editorial board today called on Congress to take action to resolve trade barriers and farm labor shortages that are hurting Washington agriculture.

President Trump’s trade war and the failure of Congress to address a shortage of farm workers do not bode well for Washington agriculture. To avoid devastating consequences, our Washington needs effective governance to come from the other Washington.

Last month, we wrote about the negative impacts tariffs were having on cherry growers. The Columbian’s editorial points out wider effects.

…the state Department of Agriculture estimates that nearly $650 million worth of exports are at risk — $480 million to China and $166 million to Mexico.

When the president announced plans to increase tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from China, Mexico and other countries, experts warned that retaliatory tariffs from trading partners would target American workers. Trade wars — like all wars — result in collateral damage, and that damage is being felt by Washington growers. Locally produced crops such as apples, wheat, cherries and hay have been included on tariff hit lists from trading partners.

It’s a fact-filled editorial, detailing stark consequences for our state’s trade-driven agricultural economy if the trade war continues. The Lens also looks at the issue.

Washington’s agricultural stakeholders continue asking the Trump administration to resolve problems stemming from the current trade war between the U.S. and other major trading partners for farm-related products…

At the end of July, President Donald Trump tried to alleviate some of the negative effects when he announced a $12 billion emergency farm aid plan to help farmers struggling within the trade war. The $12 billion strategy includes federal payments to growers and assistance with opening new markets.

Washington growers, however, told Governor Jay Inslee that they are interested in “trade, rather than aid.”

Trade policy, however, is not the only challenge facing Washington agriculture. As we wrote previously, Washington growers are facing a labor shortage affecting their ability to bring in the harvest.

The Columbian editorial calls on Congress to step in.

Meanwhile, congressional members also have failed to address the labor shortage that is hampering farmers. Agriculture relies heavily upon seasonal workers, who often are undocumented; with a crackdown on border controls and with deportations increasing under the Obama administration and further increasing in the Trump era, farmers are having difficulty finding workers to pick their crops. While it is essential that immigration laws be enforced, there also is a need to adjust regulations allowing for seasonal workers, lest crops go unpicked.

H.R. 6417, co-sponsored by Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Sunnyside, would attempt to address some of the issues involved. The bill was introduced in July but not acted upon before Congress left for its summer recess, and it has received mixed reactions from farm groups.

For our state’s agricultural sector, the clock is ticking. These issues require a timely resolution.