The National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2016. NASDA is a nonpartisan, nonprofit association that represents the elected and appointed commissioners, secretaries, and directors of the departments of agriculture in all 50 states and four U.S. territories. The organization grows and enhances agriculture by forging partnerships and creating consensus to achieve sound policy outcomes between state departments of agriculture, the federal government, and stakeholders.
“NASDA has been advocating for American agriculture for 100 years,” said NASDA CEO Dr. Barbara P. Glenn in a recent press release. “As the chief agriculture officials in the states, our members are keenly aware of the changing dynamics of food and agriculture in our global economy. The partnerships we have with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Food and Drug Administration, and other federal agencies and agriculture organizations are so critical to furthering agriculture’s advancement for decades to come.”
In early December 2016, Glenn spoke with U.S. Agriculture Outlook about NASDA’s anniversary, the organization’s unique role in American agriculture, and how the association plans to work with partners, stakeholders, and government – including the new presidential administration – to address challenges facing American agriculture and strengthen it going forward.
U.S. Agriculture Outlook: 2016 was NASDA’s centennial year. So first, how did you celebrate that milestone? And second, what do you feel are NASDA’s biggest accomplishments since it’s been in existence?
Dr. Barbara P. Glenn: NASDA had a wonderful centennial celebration in 2016. It was an opportunity for the commissioners, secretaries, and directors of agriculture to really come together to think about the value and importance of what they do, from farmers to consumers. So we had an exciting year of celebration. I’ll share with you that we were very pleased to receive statements of commendation from the House Agriculture Committee leadership, the Senate Agriculture Committee, and also from the USDA secretary, Tom Vilsack. So we have an amazing triad, if you will, of formal statements that are in the record celebrating with NASDA in terms of our hundredth.
I think that the biggest accomplishment overall for NASDA is this role that we play as being closest to the consumer. And for the state departments of agriculture, that consumer over the hundred years has grown, and food and nutrition awareness has increased. So we are allies with and closely linked to our farmers and, importantly, to consumers. I think the ability for NASDA to bring together the chief agricultural negotiators in all 50 states and four territories and to actually articulate a unified voice has been our biggest accomplishment. Fifty-four voices speaking together are much louder than one state speaking individually. We’ve enhanced that over a hundred years to include that consumer. As you know, at this point in time, the awareness that every person has in terms of their food and nutrition and their personal health, their family’s health, their children’s health, has just been enhanced so much. We’re at a great time right now. The consumer has become one of the biggest customers that our members now work for, and to that extent, they advocate for programs that are direct-to-consumer market programs, such as farmers’ markets and CSAs [community-supported agriculture] and other opportunities to bring local food to local people. Food is personal, and at the core of the American family value system.
And specifically relative to our unified voice, the opportunity to convene these members together and talk about agricultural policy – that has been very key to NASDA’s success. And we’ve most recently had the opportunity to even improve that impact and influence even more. So in a hundred years, we’ve advanced agriculture, and we’re generating that consensus in a nonpartisan manner. And I think that’s a huge accomplishment for us.
I understand that the 2016 annual meeting opened with a call for “renewed commitment to a robust role for states on federal policymaking.” What does that renewed commitment entail?
[Then] President Greg Ibach from Nebraska envisioned that it was the appropriate time and opportunity for NASDA to rearticulate our specific role in the interaction we have of state departments of agriculture with the federal government and with policymaking. That renewed commitment is for a more effective partnership between the states and the federal government. States are really more than just stakeholders. Our members have a responsibility to implement their own state programs as well as many federal programs, and therefore the states have a very unique role. And that should be respected. So we called for a renewed commitment to what’s called cooperative federalism – an enhanced partnership. We feel that we really need to enhance resources for states because we’re implementers of federal programs and we really cannot suffer under unfunded mandates – the tread line has been for the federal government to push regulatory responsibilities and implementation down to our state departments of ag. So we look forward to this renewed commitment. It is a call to action for the incoming administration. And we’re very excited to work with President-elect Trump and his new administration. We think there are some opportunities regarding this collaboration for regulatory reform, and specifically, we’ve got some issues that we want to work on that affect agriculture greatly with the Environmental Protection Agency, for example. So it’s a call to action on cooperative federalism and these effective partnerships that we deal with and our members lead every day.
While we’re on the subject of policymaking and working with the federal government, in your last interview with us (in the 2015-2016 edition of World Agriculture Outlook), you listed pollinator health, Waters of the United States, and the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) as top priorities. Has that changed or are those still the priorities that you’re talking about as far as dealing with the EPA and regulatory action?
Those were our Tier One policy priorities and as we rolled into 2016, our board approved the addition of international trade and harmonization to be included in those top priorities. So in 2016, we were involved in all four of those, and really enhanced our strategic issue management around those. For example, regarding pollinator health, this is an area where our members lead in over 45 states in the development and implementation of something called a Managed Pollinator Protection Plan [MP3]. So the state departments of ag have a huge role in our support for pollinator health. We’ve been very active with the agencies, applicators, beekeepers, and other ag stakeholders to actually devise plans within the state as to how we’ll communicate together and enhance not only agriculture but also enhance bee health. So it’s a unique niche where our members are playing a central role in something that is super critical for agriculture, which is the health of pollinators.
We worked on international trade and harmonization as a top priority in 2016. It was a critical year for the ag community to be vocal on the need for a new and expanded global marketplace. NASDA strongly supported the Trans-Pacific Partnership [TPP] along with many of our ag partners across the country. Expanded trade opportunities for agriculture will remain a priority for us in 2017.
We spent a lot of time on food safety. We are supporters of the Food Safety Modernization Act and our members are critical in the implementation of that in each state. So we were very active in that through a partnership with the FDA [the Food and Drug Administration]. And we actually have attained an additional agreement with FDA to work on the issues around animal food and FSMA. FDA has reinforced their commitment to the state-federal partnership by providing federal funds for states to carry out the work of these rules in a manner which farmers understand, and keeps them in business. So we are very concerned about food safety, and we judge that FSMA will be a way forward to create a culture where we’re preventing food safety outbreaks rather than always responding to a crisis. There is still a lot of work to do on FSMA.
At our recent annual meeting, our board added cooperative federalism as an additional priority for NASDA. This will be a huge theme for our new president, new administration, and new Congress. The farm bill that is emerging for 2018 reauthorization is also a priority for NASDA because ag producers and communities of all sizes depend on it. And they rely on that adequate funding through the programs that are in the farm bill, so I’m sure that NASDA will establish that as a key priority as well for 2017.
Are there specific things that seem to be coming up for your members as something they’d want to see in the 2018 Farm Bill? Any big changes from what was in 2014?
Yeah, we had a series of priorities in 2014. And those included a priority around plant health and invasive species. And that’s likely to be a high consideration for the new farm bill. We were very supportive of voluntary incentive-based conservation programs. We were supportive of the Market Access Program, which expands export opportunities for our states and producers in our states, and we were supportive of research in 2014. And I think these are some of the core priorities that are likely to be carried into 2018. We recognize that NASDA’s role regarding the farm bill is important, and we can have impact on specific areas and work collegially with stakeholders and allies to advance maybe the past initiatives and build on those but also maybe to advance a couple new priorities as well. So it’s a heavy point of discussion at our winter policy conference.
You mentioned the Market Access Program and previously also TPP. Clearly, trade in a global marketplace is important for U.S. agriculture producers and state departments of agriculture. What seems to be the feeling among NASDA members of the possibility of U.S. withdrawal from TPP? Are people nervous? Are they looking for something to replace TPP? [Editor’s note: President Donald Trump signed an executive order withdrawing the United States from TPP on Jan. 24, 2017, after this interview took place.]
Agricultural trade is a huge success story for agriculture. After all, 95 percent of our potential customers live beyond our borders. NASDA will continue to advocate for the need to advance a trans-Pacific trade agreement. The risk of permanently losing markets for U.S. products and ceding our leadership in the region to China is unacceptable for agriculture. The United States must be in the driver’s seat, leading the international trade agenda so that our producers can compete in the global food marketplace. In addition, the North American Free Trade Agreement [NAFTA] is crucial for agriculture and we are committed to continuing to foster closer relationships with our NAFTA trading partners. We will work closely with the next administration to stress the importance of multi-lateral trade agreements for agriculture – we must continue to press for increased market access and robust rules of the road for international trade.
As you are aware, immigration was a pretty big issue during the election season. I know it’s hard to say at this point what might happen, but given the general feeling of what President-elect Trump has already talked about as far as immigration goes, what might his stance so far mean for migrant workers or the farm laborer? What implications might his stance have for that and how it might affect work on farms?
American agriculture is facing a critical shortage of on-farm labor. NASDA members understand the hardship this lack of labor places on producers and processors and know that a sensible solution that allows foreign laborers to continue working is necessary. We hope the incoming administration will take concrete steps to address the issue. We’re confident the new administration and new Congress understand that timely harvest depends on foreign farm labor and will have American agriculture at the table to help streamline the H-2A program. NASDA wants to work for a modernized and efficient visa system that gives farmers certainty that they will receive the help they need, that allows for a legal agricultural workforce, and allows for workers who have been here working for years [to be able to] stay in that agricultural workforce.
It seems that, in regard to a lot of these potential changes in policy, NASDA is really concerned with just having their voices heard and their perspective taken into account.
Our members are unique in that they are a co-regulator with the federal government while also being an advocate for agriculture. And their customers, as I said before, span that farmer up to the consumer. So we are smart in agriculture. We have a lot to offer. Our members should be at the table on some of these huge policy issues. We trust and respect that President Trump’s agricultural advisers understand all of this, and we’re looking forward to get the states’ leadership views into all the policy discussions. I think that can happen. We feel like we’re having enhanced impact and influence with regard to our policies. This is mostly because our members are unique in their role as both promoters and regulators of agriculture in their states. And that’s a unique hat to wear, but it places them in a very, very important and powerful position as being spokespersons for the future of ag in the United States.
Is there anything you’d like to add that I didn’t touch on?
This is a critical time. We’ve got a new administration. We have a new Congress. We have a few new NASDA members. So effective communication is critical. And NASDA will be meeting with all of those folks to share our views and our policy perspectives so that we can continue to grow and enhance ag on behalf of all the farmers and ranchers in the United States.
This article was originally published in the 2017 edition of U.S. Agriculture Outlook.