Issues collide as CFBF group visits capital


Issue Date: May 23, 2018
By Christine Souza
California Farm Bureau Federation President Jamie Johansson, seated center with Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, discusses issues of importance to California agriculture while county Farm Bureau leaders and members of the CFBF Leadership Farm Bureau class listen. The visit to Capitol Hill was part of an advocacy trip to meet with lawmakers and agency officials.
Photo/Christine Souza
During a visit to Washington, D.C., CFBF President Jamie Johansson, right, and a delegation of Farm Bureau leaders from California meet with Rep. Jimmy Gomez, D-Los Angeles, second from right, to discuss immigration, farm policy, trade and water issues.
Photo/Christine Souza

Arriving during a consequential week in Washington, D.C., a delegation of Farm Bureau leaders from California advocated on key issues as two of those issues took center stage at the U.S. Capitol.

"There couldn't have been a better time to be in Washington, as we watched two critical issues—the farm bill and immigration—collide," California Farm Bureau Federation President Jamie Johansson said. "The input of California Farm Bureau Federation was critical at a time when the change we are seeking needs personal engagement, which is what the trip to Washington is all about."

County Farm Bureau leaders from across the state—including the 2018 Leadership Farm Bureau class—joined CFBF officers and staff for a packed, three-day schedule of meetings that took place in offices, hallways, or during "walk-and-talk" sessions with elected leaders and administration officials.

At the end of the week, the House version of the 2018 Farm Bill—the primary source of federal authority and funding for farm and nutrition programs—failed passage amid disagreements on immigration policies and nutrition programs. Some House Republicans sought to tie the farm bill vote to a vote on a separate immigration bill, and House Democrats voted against the farm bill due to nutrition program changes sought by Republicans.

CFBF Federal Policy Manager Josh Rolph said the House farm bill could come up for another vote as early as this week, and the Senate is also expected to soon consider its version of the bill.

As the House reconsiders the bill, Rolph said CFBF will continue to advocate for an improved definition of the term "rural"—which affects which regions qualify for certain rural-development programs—for improvements to the dairy program and for additional regulatory reform.

On immigration policy, the CFBF delegation expressed the need for reform that would lead to a more stable flow of employees and a way for people who have been working in agriculture for years to qualify for an adjustment of legal status.

"We realize our labor source is getting short and our competition for labor is greater, so we have to figure out something to be more viable and get our crops harvested," said Kern County farmer Jason Gianelli, a member of the Leadership Farm Bureau class. "Going into all of the meetings and talking with representatives was very enlightening. I think we were able to get our points across."

With the recent tariffs targeting China and China's retaliatory response affecting U.S. agricultural exports, the CFBF delegation focused on trade concerns during meetings with members of Congress, including Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, with U.S. Chief Agricultural Negotiator Gregory Doud and with trade policy officials at the British Embassy.

"The 15 percent tariff that China put on fresh fruits and vegetables and dried fruits and nuts is immediate, so we had members who had almonds in container ships in the water that were affected by this," Johansson said.

Following the advocacy trip, Gianelli joined farmers, members of Congress and state agriculture directors in a news conference organized by the advocacy group Farmers for Free Trade. The group, which includes the American Farm Bureau Federation, supports expanding export opportunities for U.S. farms and ranches. Emphasizing the significance of California agricultural exports, Gianelli noted that California exported more than $2 billion in farm products to China in 2016 and that China is California's third-largest destination for agricultural exports.

At the British Embassy, Farm Bureau leaders heard from trade officials including Sarah Clegg, head of trade policy, who described issues including the decision by the United Kingdom to leave the European Union as "a very fluid situation." She said more will be learned at a June meeting of the European Council, when the countries should be closer to agreeing on an outline for a future economic partnership. Clegg spoke favorably about keeping lines of communication open with CFBF as trade talks continue.

The ongoing need for water supply certainty remains a key issue for California farmers and ranchers. Rolph said Farm Bureau members advocated for H.R. 23, the Gaining Responsibility on Water Act by Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford, which Rolph said "would build upon the successes of the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act in increasing storage and providing more water to the Central Valley."

Other issues of concern to farmers were discussed, including challenges brought by the Food Safety Modernization Act. Rolph said the delegation met with lawmakers to ask that oversight of the program be moved from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to the Department of Agriculture.

Sheep rancher Taylor Zumstein, who serves as event and marketing coordinator for the San Diego County Farm Bureau, described the Capitol Hill experience as "quick, but packed full of meaningful discussion and education."

"We have a continuous need for farmers to make these visits and represent our organization to build upon our story. We need more farmers to impress the importance of these issues upon legislators, so that the voice of agriculture is sought after and remembered generation after generation," said Zumstein, a member of the Leadership Farm Bureau class.

CFBF Second Vice President Shaun Crook said that by visiting Washington, Farm Bureau members can help elected leaders and administration officials understand the real-world meaning of the decisions they make.

"Elected officials need to hear it from us, and they need to see that these issues matter so much to us, that we spend the time and money to meet with them on their turf in Washington," Crook said. "Victories come in different sizes, but they are all important, and you never know when that one meeting can lead to something much larger than we ever hoped for."

(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.