Farm Bureau leaders advocate in capital


Issue Date: May 24, 2017
By Christine Souza
As part of an advocacy trip to Washington, D.C., last week, California Farm Bureau Federation President Paul Wenger, left, meets with Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Turlock, to discuss issues important to California agriculture, including immigration reform, fair trade, long-term water storage and other priorities.
Photo/Christine Souza
A delegation of Farm Bureau leaders representing county Farm Bureaus and the 2017 Leadership Farm Bureau class visits the Mexican Embassy in Washington, D.C. Farm Bureau leaders heard from Kenneth Smith Ramos, head of the Trade and NAFTA Office of the Ministry of the Economy of Mexico, standing center with CFBF President Paul Wenger.
Photo/Christine Souza

While media attention in Washington focused on Russia and the FBI, grassroots advocacy continued—including by a delegation of leaders representing the California Farm Bureau Federation. County Farm Bureau leaders and the 2017 Leadership Farm Bureau class met with members of Congress and agency officials in the nation's capital last week, advocating for immigration reform, fair trade, long-term water storage and other priorities.

CFBF President Paul Wenger said during his time as a CFBF officer he has made many visits to Washington to discuss issues important to California agriculture, but noted, "This is a different year because of the new administration. There's a lot in flux. But we are here to talk about our core issues. Our representatives are elected to come back here and do a job."

During the trip, Wenger and other Farm Bureau leaders talked with elected officials about the challenges farmers and ranchers face in hiring enough people for on-farm work.

"We are dependent upon an immigrant labor force," Wenger said. "Where normally it wasn't a problem, getting people to come work—and we pay good wages—they just aren't coming. The population is now aging out of agriculture and the concern is the future flow of workers."

In meetings with representatives, Farm Bureau leaders advocated for a legislative solution that would address undocumented employees who need legal status and a program that would encourage a future flow of employees.

"I am having a hard time staffing my nursery, and it's not just my nursery, it's up and down California, Oregon, Washington—the whole United States," said San Joaquin County nursery operator Kelton Fleming, owner of Duck Creek Nursery in Lodi, who is also a member of the LFB class. "There are a lot of plants and trees that we would like to provide our customers, but we just don't have enough people to do the work."

During the time the Farm Bureau group spent in Washington, President Trump sought officially to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement among the U.S., Canada and Mexico. Many in agriculture remain concerned about how a renegotiated deal could affect agricultural trade.

Katie Veenstra of Escalon, director of marketing at GloriAnn Farms, a sweet corn grower-processor in Tracy, said trade is especially important for her company, which works with contract growers in Mexico and also ships corn to Canada, Mexico and other countries.

"We do utilize those international relationships. If (NAFTA) were to be renegotiated, hopefully the tariff part would be left alone. I think there's opportunity in making sure that the phytosanitary regulations between the U.S. and Mexico match up," said Veenstra, also part of the LFB class. "We certainly hold our growers in Mexico to a certain standard, but if it could be enforced from a government perspective, it might create just more of a free flow of the product across the border."

During a meeting at the Mexican Embassy, Farm Bureau leaders heard from Kenneth Smith Ramos, head of the Trade and NAFTA Office of the Ministry of the Economy of Mexico, who noted that trilateral trade among the U.S., Mexico and Canada has nearly tripled, reaching nearly $1 trillion in 2016. In emphasizing the economic value of NAFTA, Ramos noted that Mexico is the third-largest destination for U.S. agricultural products and the second-largest source of inputs for the U.S., adding, "For many sectors, we are by far the No. 1 market for the United States."

In meetings with elected officials, Farm Bureau leaders called for increased water storage and improved delivery policies, advocating for building upon the successes of the 2016 Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act that contributed to increased water delivery to the Central Valley. The group encouraged support for H.R. 23, known as the GROW Act, by Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford, which provides additional water operation flexibility and efficiency to maximize available water supplies.

Tulare County grower Zack Stuller emphasized the need for water reliability, now and for the future.

"I want to make sure our needs are known from back in the valley," said Stuller, who also works for Sun Pacific. "Just because we got a lot of rain and snow this year doesn't necessarily mean we're going to get the water that we are entitled to or need. A lot of farmers that I work with are just not comfortable. Infrastructure is needed, but infrastructure is a long-term solution. We need reliability. We would be more comfortable if the systems that are in place now could be used like they were designed to be used."

The CFBF delegation also met with U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell, during which Dennis Webb of Big Creek Lumber in Santa Cruz County emphasized the need to manage federal lands.

"I think (Tidwell) was very receptive to the concerns that we have," Webb said. "I think as bark beetle infestation becomes an ever bigger issue, the Forest Service is hopefully preparing to do more to help recover California's forests, not only for our forests, but because we understand that healthy forests yield more water."

Farm Bureau leaders also stressed the need for regulatory reform, and discussed shaping the upcoming federal farm bill with Acting Administrator Bruce Summers and staff of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Agricultural Marketing Service.

As the advocacy trip came to a close, CFBF First Vice President Jamie Johannson told participants such visits form part of a long-term relationship-building process.

"You are part of that process," Johansson said. "You have a role in building that relationship. D.C. is built on relationships."

CFBF Federal Policy Manager Josh Rolph said the trip produced "a number of successes, including strong interest from congressional members to schedule visits so they can see first-hand the impact federal rules and regulations have on the farm. These kinds of opportunities don't happen without our members taking the time to go to Washington."

LFB class member Veenstra said she found the officials she met with to be receptive.

"Coming from California and being such a big group, taking the time to share our stories and tell them why it is so important to us, they appreciate that and it makes us want to continue that fight, that our message is being received," she said.

(Christine Souza is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at csouza@cfbf.com.)

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