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Trying the binder out on SLR Farms Inc. in Rosalia
last summer.

Photo by Laurie Roecks

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POLICY

On the Hill

Trade, labor, farm bill implementation top congresswoman's ag priorities

June 2019

Rep. Kim Schrier was elected last November in Washington’s 8th Congressional District to replace retiring Rep. Dave Reichert. She has been appointed to serve on the House Ag Committee, as well as the House Education and Labor Committee. Her district includes parts of King, Pierce, Kittitas, Chelan and Douglas counties. Before being elected, Schrier worked as a pediatrician in Issaquah.

We wanted to get to know Rep. Schrier a little better and introduce her to Wheat Life readers. Below are a series of questions we asked the congresswoman on issues that are important to wheat growers and her answers.

What are your top three priorities for agriculture in Washington?

First, I will use my position in Congress to address the impacts of trade tariffs on our region. I’m very concerned about the current trade wars via tariff offensive and the impacts it will have on our farmers. Trade is a long-term relationship that our farmers have built. Once markets are closed, it can be difficult to near-impossible to get them back. We cannot afford to lose our export markets to competitors like Canada or Australia.

Second, although I’m not on the House Judiciary Committee, which has jurisdiction over this issue, I want to make sure our farmers have the workers they need for harvest. That starts with guarding and improving the H-2A program and creating a path to citizenship for workers already here but lacking documentation. Right now, there is too much uncertainty and a very high cost for farmers.

Finally, I would like to assist with farm bill implementation in general. I wasn’t here when it was negotiated and voted on, but I’m here now during roll out. It is important that if our growers and farmers have concerns about farm bill programs, they reach out to my office and make sure I hear about it. I am here to help, and I intentionally pushed for a position on the House Ag Committee to be a voice for our region. It isn’t fair to place demands on farmers without providing a support system. Fully staffing the Agricultural Research Service and the U.S. Department of Agriculture are priorities.

You represent a district of extreme urban and rural areas. Many times, these populations don’t see eye to eye. How do you balance that and represent people on both sides of the Cascades?

The 8th District has unique geography for a Congressional district. But I think it is a good representation of our state and country as a whole. While there are issues that may be of more concern to either end, like agriculture on the eastern side and traffic and public transportation in the urban areas, there are many more common issues we have in common. Every family, no matter where they live, wants lower health care and prescription drug costs; great quality public education for their children; and real action to address and protect from the growing threats of our changing climate. I represent the whole district and will focus on the needs of the middle 70 percent of us. There’s more we have in common than you might think.

What would you tell farmers who are worried that you don’t understand their priorities?

I’m here to learn. I want to hear from them. I appreciate their concerns that this family pediatrician may not be able to understand their issues. But I have made this a top priority and joined the agriculture committee with that in mind. One of my jobs as a representative is to legislate. But I think an even more important part of my new role is to listen. I have already visited multiple farms and orchards in my district and met with even more farmers, ranchers and orchardists in my district and D.C. offices. I look forward to this being an ongoing discussion with them. My door is open.

There’s been a lot of talk about pesticides at both the state and federal level. Do you feel pesticide restrictions are adequate or do you see areas where they are lacking?

This question is very broad, and I will use evidence in each assessment. Like all of you, I want our farmers and families to be safe. Food safety is the #1 concern for all our farmers. Pesticides are just one tool farmers use to help protect crops. Responsible agricultural practices like crop rotation and utilizing technology like GPS are ways growers can minimize use of pesticides. We should also be mindful that pesticides kill the harmful and protective insects.

What are your thoughts on breaching the lower Snake River dams?

I recognize how critical this issue is to our state’s wheat growers. Unfortunately, there isn’t a single silver bullet to recover salmon populations. Ultimately, I consider myself a person of science. We have spent billions on salmon recovery efforts but aren’t even close to being able to delist many stocks from the Endangered Species Act. In addition, Chinook salmon recovery is critical to orca survival. What I want to see is a thorough, honest study of salmon recovery options in the Columbia and Snake rivers along with a cost-benefit analysis and a real assessment of the impacts on energy and agriculture.

Democrats in Congress have expressed reservations about the USMCA. Where do you stand on the issue, and what are you doing to help farmers who are being hurt in the current trade environment?

I signed a letter in March along with 22 other freshman members recognizing the importance of trade negotiations and requesting greater engagement with the administration. Since then, Ambassador Lighthizer and his staff have been very willing to meet and talk about concerns centered around labor, environment and access to medicines. I’m hopeful that we are getting to a good place where we can see a deal done because our farmers and the entire state of Washington depend on trade agreements, and the tariff wars have been incredibly destructive.

Is there a specific area that you plan to focus on while serving on the House Ag Committee?

As the only member on the House Agriculture Committee from Washington state, I am looking to be a voice for our region’s farmers.