Perdue sees farmers ‘making a difference’

Issue Date: February 21, 2018
By Christine Souza
At his almond orchard in Visalia, farmer Dino Giacomazzi, center, meets with U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, left, and explains a map of his irrigation system that shows flows based on soil type. Jamie Johansson, California Farm Bureau Federation president, listens behind Giacomazzi.
Photo: Christine Souza
California Farm Bureau Federation Senior Counsel Jack Rice, left, provides U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue an overview of California’s water system.
Photo/Christine Souza

To learn more about California agriculture and its successes and challenges, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue visited Central California farms and agricultural businesses as part of a three-day trip to the state.

On his second day in California, during a farm tour organized by the California Farm Bureau Federation, Perdue said he was impressed by the variety and abundance of the state's agriculture.

"Being from the east, I intellectually know that California is our largest and most diversified agricultural state, but there is nothing like being here and seeing it," said Perdue, a former farmer and governor of Georgia. "It informs me of not just how we can think not just theoretically in Washington, D.C., about policies that affect growers in various parts of the country, but hearing from them and learning what are the policies that make a difference and what are the ones they'd like to change."

CFBF President Jamie Johansson moderated a town hall meeting Perdue conducted at World Ag Expo in Tulare last week, and also traveled with him during his tour the following day.

"We were really privileged to have the opportunity to show Secretary Perdue as much as we could, from the Central Valley to the Salinas Valley, and we know he will be back to see more," Johansson said.

In an early stop on the tour, Perdue met farmer and dairy producer Dino Giacomazzi at his almond orchard in Visalia.

Perdue learned about the farm's fully automated irrigation system, which Giacomazzi explained "enables us to provide for these trees exactly the water they need, exactly how they need and when they need it." Giacomazzi walked through the orchard with Perdue, providing details about soil management and how it relates to water usage and water quality.

"We have soil moisture probes where we can monitor as the water is moving down through the profile," Giacomazzi said. "If it starts hitting that sensor, then we just back off. We are not using any more water than these trees need."

He noted that the U.S. Department of Agriculture and its Natural Resources Conservation Service had acted as partners with the farm in developing technology "that has allowed us to optimize the performance of these trees, while being as efficient as we can with water use."

Perdue said the demonstration in Giacomazzi's orchard showed how "farmers are making a difference in adapting."

"(Giacomazzi) is doing 30 to 40 percent more production with 30 to 40 percent less water," Perdue said. "That's real progress."

Because California farmers have become so efficient with their water use, Giacomazzi explained, "the problem is, you cannot recharge your aquifers with drip."

"Recharge needs to be considered as part of the process," he said. "Last year, when we had all of this water and flood releases and the canals were running all year long, we would just flood the trees to push the water back into the ground. But this year, this is the year you want to save it. Certainly, we need more storage."

The need for new water infrastructure in California became the focus on one stop on the trip, when Perdue was joined by Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, California Water Commission member Joe Del Bosque and others at the San Luis Reservoir in Merced County.

Perdue said the visit helped him understand "the complexity of California's challenges."

"We are trying to figure out how the federal government, state government and local government can work better together to build a better, sustainable water supply," he said. "It's a very complex issue, but in the end, I think we can come together for long-term sustainability of agriculture."

During the San Luis Reservoir stop, CFBF Senior Counsel Jack Rice provided Perdue with an overview of the state's water system, noting how ecological concerns in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta have limited how the system functions.

"Although USDA is not directly involved in California water management, the department has an important role in key aspects of our water system, including management of the national forests," Rice said afterward. "The secretary has discussed the importance of investing in rural America's infrastructure. We really need to be investing in updated infrastructure to support rural economies and provide improved environmental benefits."

Water was also discussed at Woolf Farming and Processing, an almond facility in Coalinga. After Perdue's visit, company President and CEO Stuart Woolf described the secretary as "a good, critical thinker (who) spoke from the perspective of a farmer. He had a good grasp of the issues we raised, including water, immigration, FSMA (Food Safety Modernization Act), co-op tax treatment and trade."

Noting that the 2018 Farm Bill is currently being discussed in Congress, Perdue said he believed the farm bill "will be more evolutionary than revolutionary," adding that he considers research and investing in the future to be critical.

During a visit to De Groot Dairies in Hanford, Perdue signed a memorandum of understanding between USDA and the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy to promote and enhance environmental sustainability in the dairy sector.

The MOU extends and expands an agreement originally signed in 2009. USDA said its support for agricultural and waste-to-energy research had played a "key role" in the success of the agreement, and that it will examine ways to expand conservation grants for sustainability initiatives by producers, cooperatives, non-governmental organizations, and state and local governments.

(Christine Souza is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at

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