As a farmer, it is easy to fall into the daily grind and get comfortable. When you’re trying to start seeds, till new ground or finish harvesting before the rains come the farm is all-consuming. In farming, quality family time is often time spent in the field with your kids and spouse working on the never-ending list of chores. You’re regularly making sacrifices. Attending a child’s soccer game is out of the question at the height of harvest season. It’s difficult enough keeping the ocean of responsibilities at bay, let alone taking on more.
And yet there is more we must consider taking on.
The unfortunate truth is, there are forces beyond our towns and farms that will impact us unless we get more involved.
That’s why I attended a legislative trip to Washington, D.C., on behalf of the Certified American Grown flower program with a group of talented farmers from around the country. We talked with our representatives and officials from the United States Department of Agriculture on a variety of issues facing our industry today. These issues, like it or not, affect each and every one of us on our farms and will play a role in our future success.
Did you know that approximately 75 percent of the flowers sold in the United States are actually grown overseas?
Back in the early ’90s, the United States offered financial and technical assistance to farmers in Colombia and Ecuador to help develop a flower industry to reduce the number of farms growing drugs. Back then, domestic growers produced about 75 percent of the flowers sold in the U.S. market. Due to U.S. government assistance, vastly lower labor costs (around $250/month), lower environmental standards, and the industry being government subsidized in these countries, today American Grown Flowers only represent about 25 percent of the domestic market share. We educated our members of Congress, their staff and officials at the USDA about the history of imports and how they have played havoc on domestic flower farms. We urged them to support policies that would help our American flower-farming families.
Most countries charge what is called a value added tax (VAT) on all product sold domestically, whether it’s produced in that country or imported. The U.S. is one of the few developed countries in the world that does not. When growers from Colombia and Ecuador ship to the U.S., their country refunds this 16 percent tax back to them. This allows them to ship to the U.S. without having to pay any business and income taxes. In addition, there are no tariffs on flower imports to the U.S.. putting overseas growers at a further advantage when compared to American Growers. Our group expressed support in placing this border adjusted tax on flower imports from these two countries as it would put domestic growers on a more level playing field with our foreign competition.
It’s no secret that American agriculture is heavily dependent on an immigrant workforce. Once you reach a certain size as a farm, it’s difficult to find individuals who are willing to do the kind of hard work farm life requires. While 99.99 percent of farmers follow the law when hiring agricultural employees, a number of the people working in agriculture are not in the country legally. Just as much as other Americans, our farm families want to keep our country safe and have a secure border. That said, if every illegal immigrant working on American farms was deported, our agricultural supply chains would collapse. Floriculture is especially dependent on labor as flowers are much more labor intensive than other crops. While in D.C., we asked that the programs that currently exist such as H2A be streamlined so that we have a way of hiring a steady supply of legal immigrants. The programs that currently exist are often not workable because of the bureaucracy involved. Many farmers trying to use these programs have had their crops rot in the field because of the tedious application process and lack of available labor.
There is a movement in our country to push “American made” and “local” products. Hoping to capture some of this motivation, we asked the White House to exclusively source American Grown Flowers in their arrangements year-round. This would not only highlight the seasonality of flowers, but show the wide variety we can grow across the country.
We are not the first to try this kind of thing. In the past, the majority of the wine served at the White House was French. Back in the early 1970s, Richard Nixon agreed to highlight American-produced wine and is partially credited for domestic wine becoming the household staple it is today. We hope to have a similar movement start with American Grown Flowers.
Many of our representatives and their staff have little understanding of the issues our industry faces. You can see the importance of advocating for American Grown Flowers in Washington, D.C., but our advocacy cannot end after our group leaves town; we need to assure the continued support of our representatives. The Certified American Grown Flowers program created the Congressional Cut Flower Caucus to help us achieve this goal. While in D.C., we asked our members to become members of the caucus. This group of representatives and senators pledges their support on issues affecting American Grown Flowers and participates in two or three activities each year. Currently, there is a bipartisan group of 27 members, and our hope is to double that number by the end of the year.
As an individual, it’s almost impossible to have any kind of impact; one voice is lost in the crowd. By being part of a larger organization and with a united voice, you can make a real difference. Having grown up in agriculture and advocated at the local, state and national levels, I have seen firsthand the impact we can have in influencing policy to support our farms and livelihoods. This is why I joined Certified American Grown and chose to get involved. While it’s more comfortable to stay in the daily grind, if you don’t let your voice be heard, others who don’t know your story will speak for you, and you might not like what they have to say.