Sep 8, 2018 at 5:00 AM

Like many business owners across the country, Ohio’s pork farmers are grappling with the adverse effects of trade disputes between China and Mexico — and we need help. Trade disputes have potential to hit the U.S pork industry harder than nearly every other sector in the country’s economy, creating a harmful effect on thousands of hardworking Americans. While the results of ongoing trade negotiations are impossible to predict, there are ways Congress can provide some immediate relief through the farm bill and other pending legislation.

The House version of the 2018 farm bill includes two provisions that will take pressure off the pork industry, giving Congress a golden opportunity to safeguard an industry that employs more than 550,000 Americans, including 11,500 in Ohio. Fortunately, our representatives, including Sen. Sherrod Brown and Reps. Steve Chabot, Bob Gibbs and Marcia Fudge, sit on key committees tasked with negotiating new legislation to help combat this issue.

While these negotiations occur in Washington, D.C., it is critical we call on our elected officials to protect the Ohioans that rely on agriculture as a source of income and food.

The first priority must be the creation of a national vaccine bank for foot-and-mouth disease. If an FMD outbreak happened today, it would be nothing short of catastrophic for the American meat industry. Since the U.S. is capable of handling only a very small, localized outbreak, farmers likely wouldn’t receive a vaccine for weeks for a small outbreak, and months for a large outbreak. Besides affecting 2.7 million pigs supporting 11,500 jobs in Ohio alone, a national outbreak would cripple the entire agricultural sector and result in the immediate loss of an estimated 58,000 jobs in rural America.

For the U.S. to adequately respond to an FMD outbreak, the farm bill must include a provision allocating $150 million for the vaccine bank, along with additional resources for the National Animal Health Laboratory Network and state animal-health agencies to be prepared for a foreign-animal disease emergency. Foreign-animal diseases are an immediate threat: China is currently dealing with a major African swine fever outbreak that is highly contagious and could easily spread to countries around the world, including the United States.

Additionally, the farm bill must include the Protecting Interstate Commerce Act to address recent state-level legislation that dictates the farming practices outside state borders. Despite being a clear violation of the U.S. Constitution’s Commerce Clause, Massachusetts recently passed a law prohibiting the sale of pork, eggs and veal raised through certain methods, even when not raised in Massachusetts. California has a similar initiative on the state’s ballot in November. These mandates will result in higher food costs and fewer choices for the consumer at the grocery store.

The final piece of the puzzle is human. While technology has transformed the way we farm, the industry still relies heavily on skilled workers. American farms need a consistent and reliable workforce to meet demand and keep food affordable. The problem is that farmers can’t find people to fill these critical jobs. Foreign labor could quickly solve this.

There are two bills pending in Congress that would provide immediate relief to farm-labor shortages. The Newhouse-Cuellar Amendment would tweak the existing H-2A labor visa and enable farmers to use the program year-round instead of only for seasonal labor. The AG and Legal Workforce Act would achieve a similar effect, by creating a new H-2C visa program that would allow nonseasonal agricultural workers to remain in the United States for up to three years.

In addition to having the support of the Ohio Pork Council, these solutions also are endorsed by the National Pork Producers Council, an organization that works to ensure the U.S. pork industry remains a consistent and responsible supplier of high-quality pork to domestic and international markets.

The reality is, we all need lawmakers to take these solutions to the nation’s capital next week.

With the farm bill set to expire on Sept. 30 and other legislation drying up on the list of action-items, there is no time to waste.

Greg Waters farms alongside his family in Coshocton County, where they raise corn, soybeans and pigs.