U.S. Rep. Tim Bishop, D-Southampton, joined with the Long Island Farm Bureau for a coffee roundtable Saturday aimed at spotlighting issues of concern to area farmers.
Locally, Bishop said he planned to team up with the LIFB to advance their priorities regarding immigration reform.
Bishop also agreed that he would work with the Farm Bureau and BOCES on a farm career mentoring program to introduce high school students to farm work and recruit a new generation of farmers for the East End.
Some of the next generation were featured in a short documentary, "Growing Farmers." The film provides a platform for the farmers to discuss the struggles they face and also highlights the community they've created — thanks to the land the Peconic Land Trust has afforded them, despite the significant amount of farmland that has been turned into residential developments.
Bishop began the morning roundtable in Riverhead with an opening statement outlining the ongoing federal budget debate and the coming negative effects of the sequestration cuts to services like the Federal Aviation Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's food safety inspections and other critical programs.
Audience members asked questions on a range of subjects including the budget, immigration and education.
Bishop said he was confident the political climate in Washington is shifting in favor of a comprehensive immigration reform plan — something Bishop has advocated for years — citing the work of the "Gang of Eight" influential, bipartisan senators on a framework for a plan that includes tighter border security, a pathway to earned legal status for undocumented immigrants in the U.S. already, and reforms to the temporary and seasonal work visas so important to farmers.
"Right now is the most optimistic I have ever been in 10 years in Congress that we can get a comprehensive plan done," he said.
He added that the final package will likely have provisions that not everybody can agree on. "Ultimately, you can't let the perfect be the enemy of the good."
Regarding the budget, Bishop said the federal government plays an important role in facilitating economic growth and jobs, citing the defense industry and jobs at national laboratories He said reforming entitlement programs was necessary to tackle the long term deficit and that all options should be on the table except Social Security privatization, which, he said, is "unacceptable."
Also discussed was Bishop's legislation to exempt from the federal estate tax lands that have been protected as agricultural or open space. Bishop has introduced the legislation in each term he has served in Congress but he said the bipartisan bill could be considered during a debate this year on a broad reform of the tax code.