Kentucky's Congressman Ed Whitfield addressed a variety of topics Monday afternoon during an annual meeting with Farm Bureau presidents at Furches Farms in Calloway County.
One of the main points of discussion, though, was ongoing immigration reform on Capitol Hill and how it might affect the plight of migrant workers from Mexico who have helped many farmers with their crops the past several years.
"As far as immigration reform and how it will affect H2A (a program that allows farmers to bring in workers from overseas annually to assist with production and harvest of crops through the U.S. Department of Labor), I really don't know how that's going to play out," Whitfield said of legislation in Washington that is aimed at cutting off access to illegal immigrants. "We want them to come in legally, though, and I do think most people are committed to making sure people here legally are treated as they have been."
"A lot of farmers can't get their crops in without these workers," said Sharon Furches, board member for the Kentucky State Board of Agriculture, who co-hosted with husband Tripp, a member of the Kentucky Farm Bureau board of directors. "There are so many concerns with how we treat those workers, yet, with as many years as some have been here, they've become part of the families."
The farm bill, held up because of an ongoing dispute over food stamps, renewable energy and crop insurance also were discussed during the meeting that attracted about 40 farmers, Farm Bureau officials and local business representatives.
"We try to have this every year at this time because it comes during a recess for our congressmen," said Joe Cain, Kentucky Farm Bureau's director of National Affairs. "We just try to give our farmers and people interested in farming a chance to have some good dialogue in an informal setting. We weren't able to have one last year, though, because of scheduling and that can prove very tough, but we are very happy that Congressman Whitfield was able to make it to Calloway County today.
"This is a very good turnout, and that shows the people are very much interested in what is going on."
Among the visitors was 1st District state Sen. Stan Humphries of Cadiz, himself a farmer. He said activities like Monday's are very important to agricultural interests.
"Now he (Whitfield) can go back to Washington and know what he has heard from people here in western Kentucky," Humphries said, adding that farmers, particularly are in a day and age where they have to have their voices heard. "We all know that we have to do our jobs, but we can't take a rest. Farmers have to be stronger advocates for themselves. As farmers, you need to be concerned about how things are going and progressing."