Commentary: Farm Bureau members advocate on federal issues


Issue Date: May 10, 2017
By Josh Rolph
Josh Rolph
A delegation of Farm Bureau leaders from around California will travel to Washington, D.C., next week to discuss priority agricultural issues with members of Congress and representatives of federal agencies.

This week marks six months since the election of President Donald Trump and the accompanying sea change in Washington. As he took the oath of office on the steps of the U.S. Capitol nearly four months ago, there was still a fair amount of uncertainty about how agriculture might be impacted by a change in administration.

Today, things are beginning to take shape, as former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue recently became the 31st secretary of agriculture, leaving only one cabinet position, U.S. trade representative, still vacant. Within the administration, the next several months will be marked by the appointment of deputy secretaries, under secretaries, assistant secretaries and administrators of department agencies.

Meanwhile, in Congress, the Republican majority in both chambers hasn't changed but the dynamics certainly have. With an unconventional Republican in the presidency, we've seen so far that we shouldn't expect Mr. Trump's and congressional Republican priorities to occur at the snap of a finger, as became apparent in discussions of health care reform. With regard to Farm Bureau priorities, the unique climate in Washington offers opportunities and challenges in the 115th Congress.

Next week, a delegation of Farm Bureau grassroots leaders from around the state travels to Washington. This trip will be an opportunity to share cross-commodity agricultural priorities, as reflected in our member-adopted policy, with administration officials and legislators on Capitol Hill.

Although Gov. Jerry Brown officially declared the end of the years-long California drought last month, Farm Bureau has not changed our call for increased water storage and improved delivery policies. We need to build upon the successes in last year's Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act that have contributed to increased water delivery to the Central Valley. We support H.R. 23 by Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford, known as the GROW Act, which provides water operation flexibility and efficiency to maximize available water supplies. In addition, farmers and ranchers support immediate appropriations for WIIN Act water storage projects.

The wet winter and improved water availability provides the potential for bountiful crops this year, resulting in a needed economic boost to rural communities and the urban areas that process, market, transport and serve the foods we produce. But without an adequate workforce in place, it would be as if the drought had never ended. The need for meaningful immigration reform has never been more apparent.

There has been little action on immigration reform since early 2014, when a compromise measure failed to move through Congress, so now is the time. Congress should create a viable visa program for the entry of a foreign legal workforce for agriculture, and allow unauthorized workers who pay a fine and pass a background check to continue their employment. Strict immigration enforcement by a tough-talking president, absent legislation to address ongoing labor shortages, could cause severe impacts that Farm Bureau members will describe while in Washington.

Each issue builds upon another. Agricultural production thrives when farmers produce enough to sustain their livelihood, earning revenue to pay wages, provide for their own families and invest in their farms and ranches to ensure long-term success. California agricultural production simply would not be sustainable, and a third of food-related jobs would disappear, if it weren't for open trade markets and strong international demand.

Though we were disappointed to see Mr. Trump axe the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement and threaten withdrawal from the North American Free Trade Agreement, we will encourage the U.S. to continue pursuing trade agreements with former TPP nations and aggressively pursue additional agreements with other nations. We will make the point that reopening NAFTA and other existing agreements has the potential of creating unstable markets.

We have applauded Mr. Trump's rollback of stifling regulations such as the waters of the U.S. rule. Executive orders and congressional action are swinging the pendulum back toward reason.

Farm Bureau believes regulations should be practicable, science-based, and should not create a tremendous burden for those who are primarily responsible for feeding the nation. The Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act and Food Safety Modernization Act should each be improved in ways that can simultaneously create a healthier environment, prevent food-borne illness and promote productive agriculture.

Other priorities will include simplifying the tax code to make it less burdensome—particularly repealing the estate tax, which would allow farm families to pass the farm to the next generation without the government stepping in to take nearly half of hard-earned assets.

Federal investments are needed in transportation, water, energy and broadband, to improve rural America's ability to innovate, compete and comply with regulatory mandates. We expect an infrastructure-improvement package in Congress this year and we are developing a list of priorities.

Additionally, Farm Bureau will ask for reforms to wildfire funding and will support a reauthorized farm bill that includes California priorities.

We expect our delegation to Washington will show again that the most effective advocacy tool is Farm Bureau members actively sharing stories and experiences that demonstrate the need for policy changes.

Of course, there are many ways to be an effective grassroots advocate without traveling to Washington. Signing up for FARM TEAM alerts and keeping in close touch with your county Farm Bureau are excellent ways to stay involved. Your advocacy on behalf of Farm Bureau makes a real difference.

(Josh Rolph is manager of federal policy for the California Farm Bureau Federation in Sacramento. He may be contacted at jrolph@cfbf.com.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.