Farmers discuss key issues on Capitol Hill

Issue Date: May 20, 2015
By Christine Souza
Santa Barbara County farmer Russell Doty, center, talks with Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Turlock, right, as Farm Bureau members visited Denham’s office in Washington, D.C. Other participants in the meeting included, left to right, California Farm Bureau Federation Political Affairs program coordinator Chelsea Molina, Leadership Farm Bureau member Breanne Ramos of Merced County and CFBF field representative Rachael Johnson.
Photo/Christine Souza
In Washington, D.C., California Farm Bureau President Paul Wenger speaks during a news conference to show support for trade promotion authority legislation with U.S. Senator Cory Gardner, R-Colo.; Jeff Slaven, Virginia Cattlemen’s Association president; Richard Wilkins, American Soybean Association first vice president and Sen. John Thune, R-S.D.
CFBF Second Vice President Jamie Johansson, right, talks with Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-Los Angeles, as Josh Rolph of the CFBF Federal Policy Department listens.
Photo/Christine Souza

To address drought and water supply issues, government regulations, taxes, immigration policy and other concerns, a delegation of Farm Bureau leaders from California traveled to Washington, D.C., last week to advocate for policies that protect farms, ranches and agricultural businesses.

"A lot of important federal issues converged all at once on this trip," California Farm Bureau Federation President Paul Wenger said. "It was the perfect opportunity to bring Farm Bureau members from around the state to Washington, both to learn and, most importantly, to advocate."

The state's ongoing drought topped the list of the concerns shared by the delegation. The group, which included the 2015 Leadership Farm Bureau class, advocated for flexibility in water operations to maximize the supplies available, and for supply solutions to address water shortages.

During a breakfast meeting, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., told Farm Bureau leaders and other constituents that she plans to continue to move forward with federal drought legislation.

"The No. 1 issue in California is drought," Feinstein said, adding that legislation should include streamlined processes for agriculture-to-agriculture water transfers, increased water supply certainty and ongoing funding for storage projects. Feinstein emphasized that water should be saved during wet years for use in times of drought.

During meetings with legislators, agency officials and others, Farm Bureau leaders coupled discussion of drought with discussion of destructive wildfires that rage throughout California.

Nevada County cattle rancher Tom Browning, a member of the CFBF delegation who is also a volunteer firefighter and member of a multiagency incident-management team, said, "The cost of fighting wildfires is astronomical; it is at least over $1 million a day to fight a forest fire."

Browning said fire conditions are getting worse.

"The fuel loads are getting heavier and the drought has just created a scenario that is pretty much unmanageable in many areas," he warned.

Given the dry conditions in California and across the western United States, Farm Bureau members urged representatives to support the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act, legislation that would develop suppression-funding processes similar to those used for other emergencies. This would help ensure that agencies do not raid forest management programs when suppression funds run out.

While Farm Bureau members were in Washington, the House of Representatives passed the Regulatory Integrity Protection Act, legislation that would force the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers to stop moving forward with a proposed "waters of the United States" rule. The proposed rule would redefine and expand the scope of waters protected under the federal Clean Water Act.

In a meeting with EPA agricultural liaison Ron Carleton, the Farm Bureau delegation learned that the agencies' final rule is expected to come out in the next few weeks.

Carleton told the group they should expect to see some revisions in the final rule, to address public comments made by farmers, ranchers and agricultural organizations. He said the administration wants "more clarity about what is jurisdictional and what is not jurisdictional" under the Clean Water Act.

CFBF Federal Policy Manager Josh Rolph said the EPA believes its revised rule will resolve many of the concerns expressed by farmers and ranchers.

"Mr. Carleton assured our group that there are clearer definitions for agriculture in the final rule that should alleviate some of our concerns," Rolph said. "Even if that is the case, the overall rule will not be easy to swallow."

While the group was conducting legislative visits last week, the U.S. Senate passed a motion to proceed on Trade Promotion Authority legislation that would allow the Obama administration to complete negotiations with 11 Pacific Rim nations and bring a finalized trade accord to Congress. Known as the Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities and Accountability Act, S.995 would allow Congress to have a yes-or-no vote on trade agreements. The legislation includes negotiating objectives for the administration and provides for consultation between Congress and the administration during negotiations.

Standing in for American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman, Wenger spoke at a news conference with a group of U.S. senators and other agricultural leaders to express support for the trade legislation, which is expected to be considered this week by the Senate.

"Farm Bureau strongly supports efforts to increase agricultural trade through comprehensive new trade agreements," Wenger said. "We need to be engaged in trade promotion, both in TPP, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership."

Wenger noted that California exports more than $20 billion in food and agricultural products a year, contributing to more than 150,000 on-farm and processing jobs.

If the trade legislation passes in the Senate this week, it goes to the House of Representatives.

While advocating agricultural issues on Capitol Hill, farmers mentioned continuing challenges related to immigration and difficulties hiring enough people to work in agriculture.

Leadership Farm Bureau class member Russell Doty, a lemon and avocado grower from Goleta, talked with legislators about the labor situation. At peak times during the season, he said, growers often face a short supply of employees, forcing his family farm to make tough decisions when it comes to what blocks of trees to harvest.

"Our harvest decisions are increasingly dependent on the availability of labor," Doty said. "With the current immigration structure, we're leaving food in the fields that could be feeding the nation. The longer we wait to fix the problem, the more farms and farm families will be lost."

Doty added that the country's immigration system is broken and that Farm Bureau opposes legislation that would create mandatory E-verify requirements without some sort of solution for agriculture.

Rolph said the trip to Washington provides learning opportunities both for Farm Bureau members and for the representatives and agency officials with whom they meet.

"When we go to Washington, D.C., it's always an excellent opportunity to put a face to the issues," Rolph said. "Farm Bureau members can make a real difference."

(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.