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Dairy group head wants immigrant labor, access to foreign markets – Twin Falls Times-News

TWIN FALLS — What federal immigration and trade policy will look like in 2017, and how they will affect the dairy industry in Idaho, are still big question marks.

But the head of the Idaho Dairymen’s Association hopes some of the regulatory policies and appointments coming out of the Trump administration will be better for his industry than Obama’s.

Bob Naerebout said he’s glad a Republican president will both appoint the next Region 10 Environmental Protection Agency administrator and fill any upcoming federal judicial vacancies. He pointed to the “ag security” or “ag gag” law — as its supporters and opponents respectively called it — banning secret taping on farms. Idaho’s state law was overturned in court, but a similar law in Wyoming has been upheld.

“Judges do make a difference,” Naerebout said. “Different judge, different ruling.”

Naerebout is also glad that Donald Trump’s win means the EPA’s “waters of the United States” rule, a clean-waters rule extending federal environmental protections to streams and wetlands that flow into navigable rivers, is likely dead. Many agricultural groups opposed the rule.

“Mr. Trump has made commitments that the rule would not go into effect,” he said. “We’ll watch what he does on that rule.”

Immigration and trade were two major campaign issues for Trump — he ran against free trade and in favor of taking a hard line on illegal immigration — and his policies on both could have major implications for Idaho agriculture.

“Their policies and actions they take in those fields will greatly affect the vitality of rural Idaho,” Naerebout said.

Many workers in Idaho agriculture are immigrants, both legal immigrants and refugees and undocumented ones. And Naerebout said competition from imports is much less of an issue for his industry than being able to access foreign markets — about 15 percent of dairy products produced in Idaho are exported.

“Negotiated trade deals are extremely important to our industry,” he said.

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Naerebout said the U.S. could have done a better job with both the North American Free Trade Agreement, which was passed under President Bill Clinton’s administration, and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which was negotiated under Obama but has not been ratified by the Senate. Naerebout said the Canadian market, for example, is still closed to Idaho’s dairy exports under NAFTA, and under the TPP’s terms the Japanese market is not as open to American dairy as he would like. However, the Dairymen’s Association did support the TPP despite these misgivings.

Trump has said the TPP will not move forward in its current form, and he criticized both the TPP and NAFTA frequently during the campaign.

With local unemployment so low, Naerebout said, any changes in immigration or refugee policy that reduce the size of the labor pool will hurt his industry. Dairy work is year-round, and the current agricultural visa programs are seasonal, which would make it even tougher to replace anyone were federal laws or enforcement priorities to change without addressing this. Naerebout said foreign-born workers are important not only in agriculture but in sectors such as construction, food processing and the service industry.

“They contribute greatly to our community both in diversity and work force development,” Naerebout said.

Naerebout said he expects to see immigration legislation in Congress this year, and his group will work to make sure rural Idaho’s interests are represented.

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