NGFA submits comments to House Ag Committee on supply chain

The NGFA submitted comments on behalf of the Agricultural Transportation Working Group (ATWG) to the House Agriculture Committee for its Nov. 3 hearing on supply chain issues. 

“The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent surge in consumer demand has resulted in major supply chain disruptions, including in the food and agricultural supply chain,” noted the 52 national-level food and agriculture groups. 

The groups note that inadequate labor availability is the largest supply chain constraint facing the U.S. agricultural industry. “The lack of access to labor threatens operations and supply chain resiliency and leads to lost productivity and higher prices for food and agricultural products along the supply chain,” the comments state. 

Enacting policies to harmonize the federal truck driving age limit with the state age limit would provide a more accessible pathway into the trucking industry for drivers aged 18-20, helping to address the nationwide truck drive shortage, the groups noted. 

“Another specific concern is how a forthcoming Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) regarding vaccines is implemented,” the letter stated. “We support the use of vaccines to fight the spread of COVID-19, but as announced, the ETS could cause serious labor disruptions for agribusinesses.”

The groups proposed a partnership with the federal agencies in developing solutions and educational programs that would expand the number of vaccinated workers without introducing additional risks to the agricultural supply chain.

ATWG also recommended USDA agencies collaborate on their climate change and supply chain polices due to their influence on the production of raw agricultural commodities. As an alternative to cropland idling climate change polices, the ATWG urged USDA to prioritize federal resources toward working land programs. “Policies that idle cropland and reduce U.S. agricultural output result in less U.S. agricultural market share and harm rural economies,” the letter noted. 

Finally, the ATWG recommended several ways to strengthen the U.S. freight transportation system:
Adopt solutions to better balance the needs of ocean carriers with the needs of our agricultural exports.
Increase federal investment to modernize U.S. inland waterways locks and dams and fully utilize the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund for its intended purpose of dredging U.S. ports and harbors.
Foster increased competition among freight railroads and other transportation modes, provide a better method for challenging unreasonable rail rates and require railroad carriers to provide increased access to railroad service data to enhance agricultural supply chain operations.
Increase motor carrier capacity through regulatory reform and legislative change.

The full comments, which were originally sent to leaders of the U.S. Department of Transportation and U.S. Department of Agriculture on Oct. 18, are available here