Commentary: Farm Bureau members head to D.C. for advocacy


Issue Date: May 18, 2016
By Josh Rolph
Josh Rolph
Farm Bureau members will visit congressional and federal agencies in Washington, D.C., this week, where the U.S. Capitol continues to undergo renovation.
Photo/Architect of the Capitol

Even though it's a contentious presidential election year with President Obama serving his last months in office, the work of the California Farm Bureau Federal Policy Department hasn't slowed. On this week's Leadership Farm Bureau and county leader trip to Washington, D.C., we will be visiting the California congressional delegation advocating for commonsense legislation and regulation that improves the livelihoods of family farmers and ranchers.

At this time each year, a diverse group of about 20 Farm Bureau members from across the state and a variety of backgrounds visits Washington. For many, it is their first time to our nation's capital. The trip always proves to be both educational and an opportunity for Farm Bureau to do what we do best: pure grassroots advocacy.

In addition to our work on Capitol Hill and visiting federal agencies, this year we will spend time meeting with other nongovernmental organizations, to further strengthen our relationship with like-minded groups that share our passion for protecting agriculture. Coalitions can be extremely effective in advocacy.

For the last several years, Farm Bureau has called on Congress to act on legislative and regulatory reforms to address both the immediate and long-term needs of farmers and ranchers to deal with extraordinary drought. Drought and water shortages have resulted in fewer cultivated crops and hurt rural communities that depend heavily on agricultural employment.

As you are well aware, although water allocations for many California farmers have improved, that doesn't mean the drought is over. The recent El Niño winter alleviated the drought for only 10 percent of California. Some farmers and ranchers face a water allocation as low as 5 percent of their contract amount, all while more than a trillion gallons of water has flushed out to the Pacific Ocean.

We will send the message that more than multiple wet years are needed to erase the impacts of multi-year drought; we also need Congress and federal agencies to contribute to solutions that enhance and add flexibility to California's water system.

We will join our Washington-based consultant, Erin Huston, who advocated for Farm Bureau in urging Congress to unify on water legislation that will look at both long- and short-term solutions. Erin has also been instrumental in working on a drought-related problem sometimes lost on elected officials who represent urban populations: the drought's impact on already declining forest health.

The risk and severity of devastating wildfire is more broadly known, but the role of forests as an origin of water supplies is less appreciated. We encourage federal legislation that reduces barriers to productive forest management.

While in Washington, we plan to continue our advocacy on commonsense labeling of genetically engineered food products, a repeal of the Environmental Protection Agency Clean Water Rule—otherwise known as "WOTUS"—and the ongoing need for immigration reform.

We will also describe the impact caused by the creation of new national monuments in California. In February, by the mere stroke of a pen, President Obama designated more than 2 million acres of California land as national monuments, including Berryessa Snow Mountain, 330,780 acres; Mojave Trails, 1.6 million acres; Sand to Snow, 154,000 acres; and Castle Mountains, 21,000 acres.

This will create a burden on agricultural and private property rights in and around the conservation areas. Often, these designations lead to damaging reductions in economic activity and the loss of jobs in resource-dependent communities, because there is no requirement to determine what impact a designation will have on the local economy.

We will take the case to Congress that the law allowing the president to make such designations, the Antiquities Act, has reached "antiquity" status itself. The 1906 law grants the president authority to unilaterally designate federal lands as national monuments without the consent of Congress, local governments or affected citizens. That's simply wrong. We believe it's now time for Congress to have sole authority in creating new national monuments.

From my experience working with elected officials and agency representatives, I know every Farm Bureau member counts and every member can make a difference. Here's a recent example:

A Farm Bureau member reached out to me last year because she had had enough with environmental regulators who were inconsistently interpreting the Clean Water Act and making it more difficult for well-intended farmers and ranchers to understand the law. This member's story was powerful enough to earn the attention of members of the House of Representatives as well as Sen. Dianne Feinstein. Soon thereafter, this member's story had reached congressional committees, which will soon lead to a hearing where she will testify on behalf of Farm Bureau.

I share this example to emphasize how the power of Farm Bureau advocacy in Sacramento and Washington derives from its members.

When we wrap up our trip to Washington this week, our work will not be finished. Farm Bureau will continue to work for you, and with you, to maximize our advocacy effectiveness at the federal level.

(Josh Rolph is federal policy manager for the California Farm Bureau Federation. He may be contacted at jrolph@cfbf.com.)

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