By Dr. Barb Glenn, CEO, NASDA

As a non-partisan organization, you might ask yourself why the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) would wade into this very heated political time for Americans. The truth of the matter is that agriculture is not a red or blue issue. Rural communities matter now more than ever, and resiliency for rural America continues to be our goal. More than six months ago, before COVID-19 and before the election process truly heated up, our members adopted a Call to Action seeking government policies that ensure resilience for rural America.

COVID-19 has shifted strategic planning for many organizations, and NASDA is no different. NASDA members were already leading the response to many of agriculture’s most complex challenges, including extreme weather, market uncertainty, and long-term economic headwinds. As we move towards recovering from this pandemic, we’ve taken a second look at what it means to build government policies that support rural America.

No matter who wins on November 3, the next President of the United States must:

  • Preserve and expand market access for U.S. food and agriculture products.
  • Protect workers in the food and agriculture sector and increase availability of qualified labor.
  • Prioritize keeping our food safe for consumers.
  • Expand rural broadband access for our rural business and communities.
  • Enhance resilience across the entire U.S. food supply ecosystem.
  • Invest in climate resiliency programs.

Expand market access.

NASDA Members are often viewed as regulatory officials, but they’re also the Chief Marketing Officers for their state’s producers. NASDA is a fierce advocate for implementation of existing trade agreements while encouraging the negotiation of new agreements.

It’s critical that our next President includes key elements in their trade policy such as maintaining our presence in the World Trade Organization (WTO), which, with a bit of needed reform, sets clear rules of international trade for our farmers and ranchers. Leading on trade is the best way for us to promote science-based trade standards globally. We should be writing the rules of the road.

In addition to continued implementation of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) and China Phase One, the next Administration should immediately continue active pursue free trade agreements with the U.K., the fast-growing Asia Pacific region, and beyond.

Our upcoming Tri-National Agricultural Accord with Canada and Mexico is one of example of how states and provinces are growing relationships and solving trade irritants for our North American trading relationship.

Protecting our workers.

Americans need a functioning and resilient food supply system, without sacrificing the health and safety of our nation’s front-line farm and food workers.

We often hear about government not working together but COVID has been an exception in the case of worker protection. We are seeing state agencies and the federal government working together to retrofit farmworker housing, purchase and distribute PPE, and swiftly continue adoption of high-level pandemic human health safety practices. A state like Oregon is an excellent example of this interagency cooperation.

In an effort to help alleviate some of the additional burden for farmers and to protect the state’s essential workers and food supply, Oregon Governor Kate Brown dedicated $30 million in CARES Act funds to administer the Food Security and Farmworker Safety Program. The Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) together with the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board and Oregon Housing and Community Services created the program together with a diverse group of agricultural stakeholders including farmworker advocates. The program provides reimbursement for the additional costs of transportation, mitigation like masks and hand sanitizer and multilingual outreach and communication to essential agricultural workers.

When our governor’s prioritize funding to state department of ag, we deliver big results.

It is critically important that our next Administration (and our Congress) provides federal resources and support to help states specifically manage food and agriculture worker protection, as well as availability to qualified workers. Furthermore, it is imperative that these resources are accessible to the state departments to utilize and meet local needs.

Keeping food safe.

Safe food translates in to advancing a healthy public. Our existing Cooperative Agreements with the U. S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) have continued to advance the implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) during this pandemic. Assuring that our food supply is safe is a significant responsibility shared by the FDA and the states. The food and agriculture sectors, as a critical infrastructure, will require continued resources to allow state departments of agriculture to oversee food safety, and thereby continue the high confidence of all Americans in the food supply chain. And we will continue to partner with the FDA to promote best practices for farmworker protection.

Expanding rural broadband.

Eliminating our digital divide is the crown jewel of rural resiliency. NASDA members have voted to “unite stakeholders and urge Congress to prioritize funding for rural broadband access.” NASDA is doing this through working with private organizations, our federal partners and local initiatives. In July 2020, NASDA joined Land O’Lakes and more than 100 like-minded organizations as part of the American Connection Project Broadband Coalition. Through this coalition, NASDA members are working to establish free Wi-Fi locations in all 50 states. In addition, NASDA members have advised the Federal Communications Commission on the connectivity and technology needs of precision agriculture in the U.S. and helped the USDA gather information from rural America on how to bridge gaps in broadband infrastructure. On the local level, NASDA members are mapping out farming areas with limited access to broadband services so that local governments can better work to provide internet access. Across all levels, NASDA members understand the exigency of broadband access, and they serve as expert advocates for the connectivity needs of rural America.

Enhancing resiliency in our food system.

We continue to collect lessons learned from NASDA members as we advocate for more COVID-19 food supply chain aid. This aid must trickle down to small and medium-sized producers, meat processors, and food processors and cannot leave out key players such as our National Animal Health Laboratory Network (NAHLN). NASDA members developed the first food box programs, starting unlikely partnerships to match farmers providing healthy foods to charitable organizations and food banks. Thousands of hungry Americans in every state participated early during the pandemic, receiving access to fresh dairy products, meats, fruits and vegetables.

Investing in climate resiliency.

NASDA calls on the next Administration to support voluntary, market- and incentive-based programs that enhance the resiliency of agriculture in responding to the climate. We will stand with farmers and others in agriculture in advancing climate outcomes that are economically sustainable and supported by peer-reviewed science.

Our united voice.

We are ready to use our united, non-partisan voice to be the key experts for agriculture in the next administration. There’s no doubt that cooperation between state and federal partners will be the lynchpin to the resilient rural communities of our future.