CFBF group visits capital at eventful time


Issue Date: February 12, 2014
By Dave Kranz
CFBF President Paul Wenger, right, speaks with House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, left, in McCarthy’s Capitol office. Listening are, left to right, CFBF board member Tony Toso, First Vice President Kenny Watkins, Second Vice President Jamie Johansson and board member John Ellis.
Photo/Dave Kranz
CFBF board member John Vevoda, second from right, discusses issues with Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, left, in Huffman’s Washington office. Other participants in the meeting include CFBF board member Peter Bradford, right, and Huffman aide Scott Rasmussen.
Photo/Dave Kranz

During a week in which Congress finalized a five-year farm bill, California water issues gained prominence in the nation's capital, and hopes for immigration reform rose and then fell again, California Farm Bureau Federation directors visited Washington, D.C., for three days of discussions with elected leaders and administration officials.

The farm bill, drought relief and immigration reform were all priority topics for the Farm Bureau delegation, along with tax reform, forest management, and the impact of trespass marijuana grows on private and public land.

As the Senate passed the farm bill last week and sent it to President Obama for his signature, CFBF representatives expressed appreciation to California members of the House of Representatives and Sen. Dianne Feinstein for their efforts to bring the lengthy farm bill discussions to conclusion.

During a meeting with House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, CFBF President Paul Wenger thanked McCarthy for his role in assuring a key Farm Bureau priority in the farm bill: continued funding for an Air Quality Initiative. The program allows farmers, ranchers and forest landowners to participate in a cost-share program to help them upgrade equipment, decrease emissions and address federal air quality regulations.

"This was a true team effort involving several members of the California congressional delegation, and Kevin McCarthy proved instrumental in the final discussions," Wenger said.

He said the new farm bill also restores programs created to help farmers and ranchers through drought and other emergencies, and includes funding for pest and disease prevention, research, marketing and food assistance that will benefit Californians.

When the Farm Bureau delegation met with Deputy U.S. Agriculture Secretary Krysta Harden, CFBF First Vice President Kenny Watkins urged the Agriculture Department to move quickly to distribute emergency livestock aid reauthorized by the farm bill. Harden pledged that USDA would "get things done as quickly as we can."

The new law, which President Obama signed last Friday in Michigan, also authorizes investments in research on "specialty crops" such as fruits, vegetables and nuts, and on programs to encourage people to eat more of those foods.

The day after the Senate granted final passage to the farm bill, the House passed a bill intended to improve water deliveries to the Central Valley. The bill, by Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford, would restore deliveries hampered by federal regulations and legal challenges, but faced opposition from Northern California representatives. Observers give it little chance for passage in the Senate.

Sen. Feinstein told the Farm Bureau delegation she planned to introduce her own bill to address California water issues. Feinstein introduced her bill Tuesday.

In addition, the White House announced last week that President Obama would visit Fresno on Friday to discuss federal efforts to respond to the California drought.

Noting that Feinstein,Valadao, McCarthy and Reps. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, and Devin Nunes, R-Tulare, had all made drought relief a priority, Wenger said Farm Bureau is "hopeful the House and Senate can work together to craft a bipartisan solution that will address the water issues of today and the long-term need for additional water storage."

Throughout their meetings on Capitol Hill, Farm Bureau leaders stressed the benefits of new storage. Had California made a greater commitment to storage 20 years ago, Wenger said, the current drought would not have brought the severe consequences that many water users face in 2014.

The Farm Bureau trip to Washington came just days after House Republican leaders issued a set of principles intended to guide discussion of immigration reform in the coming year. The release of the principles was greeted as a sign that the House might act this year to pass bills that could be reconciled with a comprehensive reform bill passed by the Senate last year.

But during meetings with House members, the CFBF delegation learned that House Republicans remained deeply divided on the issue of immigration reform. On several occasions, elected officials told the Farm Bureau leaders that about one-third of the House Republicans—including several from California—wanted to act on immigration reform this year, whereas another third wanted to wait to act on immigration, and the remainder would not support reform.

Later in the week, House Speaker John Boehner, who had been seeking action on immigration reform, said he now considers it unlikely the House will act this year. Boehner and several other House Republicans said they did not trust the Obama administration to implement reforms that would be acceptable to them.

Because farmers and ranchers depend on a largely immigrant workforce, reform of the nation's immigration laws has been a high priority for Farm Bureau and other California farm organizations. Wenger said CFBF will continue to seek reforms that "assure border security while recognizing the contributions that immigrant farm employees make to our economy by creating a more workable agricultural immigration program."

Also last week, the House passed a public lands bill including a provision by Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Elk Grove, that would expedite environmental reviews for dead tree removal in the wake of the Rim Fire in the Stanislaus National Forest. The provision also faces an uphill fight in the Senate.

Farm Bureau representatives supported expedited environmental review, saying delay will only threaten forest renewal, water quality, soil stability and natural habitat. The CFBF delegation also expressed concern that grazing permits in the burned area might be withheld for as long as 10 years, saying that grazing cattle can stimulate regrowth of vegetation, water percolation and brush control on fire-damaged land.

On another natural-resources issue, CFBF representatives urged federal officials to help combat environmental problems caused by trespassers who grow marijuana on private and public land. Farm Bureau asked Congress to increase resources used to address cleanup of illegal growing operations and to address the safety risks posed to rural communities.

The CFBF delegation told members of Congress that any tax-reform proposals must be comprehensive, and include reform of both individual and corporate tax law. Farm Bureau representatives spoke in support of continuing unrestricted cash accounting for farmers and ranchers who pay taxes as individuals, and cautioned against reducing the number of farms eligible to use it.

(Dave Kranz is editor of Ag Alert. He may be contacted at dkranz@cfbf.com.)

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