Farm Bureau members advocate in D.C.


Issue Date: June 5, 2019
By Christine Souza
California Farm Bureau Federation President Jamie Johansson, center, greets Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kansas, on the steps of the U.S. Capitol. Moran was among elected officials who discussed issues of importance to California agriculture with county Farm Bureau leaders, CFBF officers and members of the CFBF Leadership Farm Bureau class, on steps. CFBF Federal Policy Manager Josh Rolph listens at left.
Photo/Christine Souza
The California Farm Bureau Federation delegation poses with Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, during a visit to the U.S. Capitol.
Photo/Christine Souza

Issues including agricultural trade, immigration reform and water storage emerged as priorities as a delegation of Farm Bureau leaders from California met with administration officials and members of Congress in Washington, D.C.

The trip culminated with announcement by the Trump administration of $16 billion in assistance for farmers affected by retaliatory tariffs, just as the California Farm Bureau Federation annual advocacy trip came to a close.

Seventeen Farm Bureau leaders from across the state—including the 2019 Leadership Farm Bureau class—joined CFBF officers and staff for a packed, three-day schedule of meetings that took place in offices, hallways and on the steps of the U.S. Capitol.

"We had already spent several days talking to members of Congress, U.S. Department of Agriculture and their staff about the impacts that trade is having on our farms and that it is important for them to know as this trade package goes forward and in getting their support for it," said CFBF President Jamie Johansson, who attended President Trump's news conference on tariff assistance at the White House (see story, Page 6).

A member of the CFBF delegation to Washington, Lake County farmer Daniel Suenram, said it is critical for new trade agreements to be ratified, adding, "There is a lot more at stake this time around with the ongoing trade issues and the impact this is having on California farmers."

Suenram, second vice president of the Lake County Farm Bureau, called it "very important" for people feeling the effects of the disputes "to bring our firsthand stories to our representatives and let them know what the outcomes mean, not only to us, but to our local and regional economies." He said Farm Bureau members also reiterated the importance of ratifying the pending United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement.

Pertaining to another important issue—the need for immigration reform and a stable workforce for agriculture—California farmers and ranchers discussed possible solutions with members of Congress.

San Diego County produce farmer Hannah Gbeh described a shortage of farm employees as "a major issue for our industry within San Diego County," noting that the lack of a solution takes a toll, both emotionally and economically, on farm employees and farm owners.

"Our farmers proudly offer some of the highest wages and safest working conditions in the agricultural industry," Gbeh said. "However, the current state of immigration policy leaves us scrambling to find staff when needed."

While in Washington, she said, farmers "were able to provide real-life, tangible examples of how this situation is negatively affecting our industry."

During meetings in which labor challenges were discussed, Johansson and others cited a CFBF survey released earlier this spring that documented employee shortages on California farms and ranches. The survey showed 56% of the farmers and ranchers said that they'd been unable to hire enough people, despite raising wages, reducing the number of acres and crops grown, increasing use of the H-2A visa program and mechanizing where possible.

One solution, Johansson said, is legislation introduced by Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., to grant legal "blue card" status to immigrant farm employees in the United States.

"An important part of any kind of labor reform is how we take care of our existing workforce in terms of status adjustment, and making sure they are legal in a way that recognizes that their family members are part of our community as well," Johansson said. "Moving the blue card bill is important. We also need a program that allows for easy, secure access into the United States and portability, so that those people coming to work in agriculture can move from crop to crop as the seasons change."

With insufficient water storage to capture additional rainfall and aging water infrastructure throughout the state, the need for continued investment in Western water projects to meet current and future water needs was a primary concern brought to Capitol Hill by farmers.

Modoc County farmer Cody Dodson grows alfalfa and wheat with water from the Klamath Project, which faces ongoing water shortages and endangered-species concerns.

"I had the opportunity to talk with Congressman Doug LaMalfa about California water infrastructure in our district," said Dodson, a member of the Leadership Farm Bureau class. "I had a great time learning and seeing the relationships California Farm Bureau has with our members of Congress. It is refreshing to see the presence we have at our nation's capital. My hope is with continued interaction we can gain more support for California agriculture."

In discussing agricultural issues with House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., Johansson said the chairman told Farm Bureau members to engage with new members of Congress, such as new members on the Agriculture Committee.

"We have great California representation, but we really have to engage new members on what California agriculture needs," Johansson said. "Being engaged does not always mean leaving your farm, but being a resource so they can look to you for advice or information. Another important aspect is to take advantage when they are in town, such as setting up meetings with congressmen and congresswomen."

CFBF First Vice President Shannon Douglass, who farms in Glenn County, said, "Trips like this are critical to remind our lawmakers about how their decisions are impacting us as farmers. If we want to make change, these are the visits we need to have."

Suenram, noting he has been to Washington to advocate for agriculture previously, added, "Anyone involved in farming in California who can afford to take the time to make this trip with CFBF should do so. Not only is it a great personal experience, but a great way to let your voice be heard."

(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.