Commentary: Grassroots leaders carry ag’s message to Washington


Issue Date: May 22, 2019
By Corinne Madison
Corinne Madison
A delegation of Farm Bureau leaders from around the state will travel to Washington, D.C., to relay the concerns of farmers and ranchers to elected officials and regulatory decision-makers.
Photo/Christine Souza

A lot has changed in Washington, D.C., since our last county Farm Bureau leaders trip. Democrats now hold the majority in the House, working with a Republican Senate and president. Following the last election cycle, both parties recognized the need to win over rural America, which has been a refreshing nod to an often-overlooked population.

We applauded Congress's bipartisan work to pass the 2018 Farm Bill on time. However, there are congressional members touting the "Green New Deal," yet failing to realize the impacts an idea like that would have on rural communities.

Although the next general election is still a year and a half away, people are gearing up for the 2020 race now. Many presidential hopefuls have tossed their hats in the ring, including one of California's own senators, Kamala Harris. With 2020 on the horizon, it can be difficult to persuade elected officials to vote on logic, rather than politics. Nevertheless, the California Farm Bureau Federation continues to push for sound policymaking on Capitol Hill.

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

One of the key messages Farm Bureau will be advocating this week is the need for immigration reform. There has been little action on immigration reform since early 2014, but it is needed now more than ever.

In our recent labor availability study conducted with the University of California, Davis, Farm Bureau members solidified that message. Of the 1,071 respondents, 56% had been unable to hire enough people, and of those, 70% said they had more trouble hiring employees in 2018 compared to 2017. Our members are exhausting every effort they can find, but it's now Congress's turn to step up to the plate. Congress needs to 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 employee shortages, could cause severe impacts, as Farm Bureau members have described while in Washington.

Despite an unusually wet winter and spring, Farm Bureau has not changed our call for increased water storage and improved delivery policies. We need to build upon the successes in the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act of 2017 that have contributed to increased water delivery to the Central Valley. In addition, farmers and ranchers need continued appropriations for WIIN Act water-storage projects.

Timing is everything, and that rings true in Washington. Farm Bureau has been on the Hill while our nation's leaders have been working to reach a deal on a trillion-dollar infrastructure package. We have shared our stories of losing internet for days at a time, driving over potholes on Highway 113, and the fear of having only one evacuation route when a wildfire comes. Our aging infrastructure can no longer wait to be repaired, and we need Congress to act now.

The wet winter provides the potential for bountiful crops this year, resulting in a needed economic boost to rural communities and the urban areas that benefit from the foods we produce. But we also know that a harrowing fire season can follow. This week, Farm Bureau has reinforced the need for wildfire funding reform and continued advocating for efforts that protect our forests, watersheds and communities.

Each issue builds upon another. Agricultural production thrives when farmers produce enough to sustain their livelihood, which overflows into their local economies. 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.

Whether it's a trade agreement with the European Union across the pond or passing the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement with our next-door neighbors, Farm Bureau has consistently pushed for better trade agreements that help our farmers and ranchers. Following the recent announcement of increased tariffs on China, Farm Bureau has continued to advocate to the president for increased market access opportunities across Asia with minimal harm done. We are encouraging the U.S. to pursue trade agreements with former Trans-Pacific Partnership nations and aggressively work on additional agreements with other nations.

We have applauded President Trump's continued rollback of stifling regulations such as the "waters of the U.S." rule. 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 and world. 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 foodborne illness and promote productive agricultural businesses.

We expect our delegation will show again that the most effective advocacy tool in Washington, D.C., 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.

(Corinne Madison is a legislative analyst for the Federal Policy Department at the California Farm Bureau Federation. She may be contacted at cmadison@cfbf.com.)

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