‘There’s a perfect storm brewing,’ Farm Bureau president warns in D.C. visit

Arriving in Washington, D.C., amid concerns over global conflict, the pandemic and inflation, the California Farm Bureau board of directors met with members of Congress, federal agencies and others on pressing issues affecting agriculture.

Discussions focused on themes including the California drought, trade challenges and immigration and farm workforce issues.

“This drought is even more historic in terms of zero water allocations and the number of farms that it affects in California,” said California Farm Bureau President Jamie Johansson. “Then, couple that with the inability of some to move food around in terms of the supply chain and getting the inputs that we need. There’s a perfect storm brewing that could pretty traumatically affect our food supply.”

For the first time in three years, the California Farm Bureau board of directors, joined by the organization’s federal policy team, met face to face with lawmakers and agency leaders May 16-19 in the nation’s capital.

“I think we built on a lot of potential,” Johansson said. “The message that they received from us is: There is a lot of money flying around in budgets—for drought, fire prevention and infrastructure—but that doesn’t mean anything unless it gets applied to a shovel or a project begins.”

Farm Bureau leaders made the case for California priorities during meetings with congressional leaders including Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., ranking member of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee. Farm Bureau leaders also met with members of the California congressional delegation or their agricultural legislative aides.

In addition, they visited the U.S. Department of Agriculture headquarters to meet with leaders of USDA agencies overseeing crop insurance and risk management, marketing and rural development programs. Members of the Farm Bureau delegation also held talks with officials at the U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Forest Service, the United States Trade Representative and the Japanese Embassy.

In meetings with the Department of the Interior, the group emphasized challenges brought by the drought, such as lack of water to grow food, the need to construct more water infrastructure and for increased forest management.

Siskiyou County rancher Jim Morris asked officials for help with the drought and water issues involving Klamath Basin farmers, tribes and fishing groups. “There are a lot of things in conflict,” Morris said. “We need to recognize the relationships between the people, and if we can do that, I think we could solve our water and fish problems.”

The group also advocated for more water storage, such as by implementing western water infrastructure funds passed through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

U.S. Rep. Josh Harder, D-Turlock, said large storage projects such as the construction of Sites Reservoir and Del Puerto Reservoir, expanding Los Vaqueros and raising San Luis Reservoir have state and federal support.

The delegation also called for more active forest management and use of livestock grazing to reduce fuel on the landscape. A smaller group met with U.S. Forest Service Chief Randy Moore, formerly a regional forester representing California.

Moore agreed that reduction of fuels is necessary. “We have a source of materials on the landscape that is destroying communities,” he said.

Tuolumne County forester and logger Shaun Crook said he was pleased by what he heard from Moore.

“To have the chief of the Forest Service offer that there’s too much fuel on the landscape and let’s figure out ways to do it was so promising,” said Crook, second vice president of the California Farm Bureau.

Lassen County rancher Taylor Hagata spoke about allowing livestock grazing on public lands. “I feel a lot more positive,” he said after meeting wth Moore. He noted the agency’s “budget has been increased, so they have the money to get things done.”

On trade issues, Farm Bureau leaders took part in meetings on supply-chain challenges that make it difficult for farmers to get products exported to markets around the globe. The group reminded leaders that California leads the country as the largest agricultural exporting state, shipping $27.2 billion in exports in 2021.

“When customers or consumers aren’t getting product from California, they’re ordering it from another country, so we want to do everything we can, as quick as we can, to avoid losing another customer,” said Yolo County farmer Garrett Driver, the North America supply chain manager for Nuseed, a global seed company. “Whether we’re talking with members of Congress or the different agencies, I get the sense there is some urgency and that they’re working on this issue.”

Farm Bureau offered support for the Ocean Shipping Reform Act to reduce a trade imbalance between the U.S., China and other countries.

In working to secure a stable workforce for agriculture, the directors urged the Senate to approve the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, which was passed in the House. The group heard from several members of Congress supporting the legislation. The Farm Bureau delegation also shared hopes for streamlining the H-2A guestworker program.

Santa Barbara County winegrape grower Kevin Merrill said the group met with staff for Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Iowa, and found support for passing legislation.

“We’ve had challenges with finding enough workers for a long time,” Merrill said. “Part of the issue is you want to help the people that have been here a long time, yet amnesty is a hot-button issue for a lot of Republicans, so they’ve got to figure out a way to deal with that. But some lawmakers are very interested in working on it.”

Regarding the will of Congress to act to solve issues, Johansson said, “Anytime with Congress, particularly in an election year, the urgency will have to come from the general public.”

Hagata, who was in Washington, D.C., for the first time, said it is important to be on Capitol Hill to remind lawmakers and departments of the importance of agriculture. The rancher said he hoped to let them know that “the rules, regulations and laws that they pass have ramifications that affect us with our businesses” and will “also affect people and their food supply.”

Christian Lovell, legislative director at the National Governors Association, met with Farm Bureau representatives. Responding to concerns raised by the delegation on safeguarding farming and ranching, Lovell said, “These issues really do affect every American—whether they know it or not.”

(Christine Souza is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at [email protected].)

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