West Columbia, SC – South Carolina Farm Bureau (SCFB) President David Winkles encouraged citizens to contact their elected officials seeking a resolution to issues affecting local farmers and consumers. SCFB is the state’s largest general farm organization with more than 110,000 member families statewide. The organization was established to help keep family farmers in business, to keep rural lifestyles thriving, and to keep food production as local as possible.
Winkles addressed the issues of the federal Farm Bill and immigration reform He also addressed state issues of deteriorating roads and bridges as well as funding for statewide agricultural and natural resources programs and research. Agribusiness is the State’s largest economic engine generating $34 billion to the State’s economy and creating 200,000 jobs.
Winkles said the congressional extension of the current US Farm Bill will expire on September 30 if Congress does not act before then. “If Congress fails to pass a new Farm Bill food costs will soar. Milk prices, for example could triple,” Winkles said. “The name Farm Bill is a misnomer since commodity programs only account for about six percent of the funding.
More than two-thirds of the bill funds food and nutrition programs like SNAP,” he said. Winkles explained that most nations support their farmers financially and that the safety net paid to American farmers only kicks in when prices are low when farmers need it the most. “Farmers operate in a global market today and we need the Farm Bill’s help to level the playing field for international trade. It helps keep families farming.”
A version of the 2013 Farm Bill was recently defeated in the US House of Representatives. Winkles thanked Congressmen Joe Wilson and Tom Rice for voting in favor of the bill. He called on others in South Carolina’s congressional delegation to show their support for a Farm Bill the next time it comes before the House for a vote.
The SCFB President also addressed the need for comprehensive immigration reform and praised US Senator Lindsey Graham and Congressman Trey Gowdy for their work on the immigration issue in Congress. Winkles said, “It’s been said that the fresh food we eat is going to be picked and processed by foreign hands, whether it’s by immigrant labor here on American farms – or by domestic labor in foreign countries. I would much rather eat fresh fruits and vegetables grown here in the US where I know environmental safeguards are in place to protect consumers.”
If US farmers cannot find enough farm workers, it could have a $5 billion to $9 billion negative impact on the national agricultural economy. Winkles said, people who complain that immigrant labor takes away jobs from citizens are wrong. He shared statistics from one South Carolina peach farm showing that only six percent of all citizens who apply to work at the farm finish working through the season compared to 89 percent who quit after a few days or do not show up to work at all. “We need for people to let their congressmen know that we need immigration reform that will provide a year-round reliable workforce for agriculture,” Winkles said.
Winkles also discussed the need for repairs to the State’s vast highway system, one of the largest state-maintained highway systems in the country. “Our forefathers recognized the need to build a farm-to-market road system to move commodities from the field to market. But, through the years, that infrastructure has been ignored or abandoned. Detours caused by deficient bridges cost farmers time and excess fuel,” Winkles said. He acknowledge that the General Assembly addressed the issue during the most recent legislative session, but added there is still much more that needs to be done. “When farmers are faced with challenges, we step back, analyze the situation, think outside the box, and invent new ways around those challenges or obstacles. We’re looking to our State’s leaders to do the same as they address our deteriorating roads and bridges.”
Winkles thanked legislators who voted to override gubernatorial vetoes on agricultural and natural resources line items in the current State budget. He expressed his disappointment over the veto that cut funding from the SC Department of Agriculture’s South Carolina Grown marketing and branding campaign. Winkles pledged Farm Bureau’s resources to continue to advocate for family farmers and agribusiness when the legislature reconvenes in January.
David Winkles is a family farmer from Oswego in Sumter County, SC. His farm produces soybeans, corn, wheat, and timber. Over the years, he’s been very active in agricultural organizations, including Farm Bureau, the Palmetto Agribusiness Council, the United Soybean Board, the South Carolina Soybean Board, and Clemson Extension Service programs.
He was elected in December 2011 to his eighth two-year term as president of the S.C. Farm Bureau Federation, which was founded in 1944.
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