Commentary: County Farm Bureau executives advocate in D.C.

Issue Date: October 16, 2019
By Colleen Cecil and Dusty Ference
A delegation of a dozen county Farm Bureau executive directors and California Farm Bureau Federation President Jamie Johansson, seen here posing outside the White House, advocated with members of Congress and administration officials on topics including water, immigration and trade.
Photo/Josh Rolph

Multiple times a year, the California Farm Bureau Federation arranges for members to fly into Washington, D.C., to meet with elected officials and federal agency leadership. The most recent trip included 12 county Farm Bureau executive directors from all over California, joined by CFBF President Jamie Johansson and CFBF Federal Policy Manager Josh Rolph.

No Farm Bureau trip to D.C. would be complete without a stop at the American Farm Bureau Federation. At AFBF, attendees spoke with President Zippy Duvall, Executive Vice President Dale Moore and Trade Specialist Dave Salmonsen. Learning from AFBF on real-time conversations happening on Capitol Hill covering trade, water and labor helped set the tone and direction for the work ahead.

Meetings at the Department of the Interior allowed for conversations covering the importance of the updated biological opinions on delta water flows and their impacts on fish populations, with urging for the new opinion to be released promptly. Additionally, the need for surface water storage was a hot topic, along with encouraging the department to support efforts currently underway to repair the Friant-Kern Canal.

At the Department of Agriculture, we met with Undersecretary Greg Ibach, where we focused on new hemp regulations we are all awaiting. It was a great chance for all of us, from multiple parts of California, to share with Mr. Ibach and his team the unique challenges each is experiencing from incorporating hemp into our farming systems at the county level.

It was eye-opening to learn how many federal agencies were affected by the need for the new hemp rule. In addition to USDA, agencies that must weigh in on the rule include the Drug Enforcement Agency, Department of Transportation and even the Post Office. Although there remain many things to accomplish before it is publishable, USDA officials said they hope their rule will be released in late fall or early winter.

With all the hemp talk, there was still time to discuss the Food Safety Modernization Act. Farm Bureau expressed concerns regarding FSMA inspections and implementation, explaining as its most significant concerns the inconsistencies from food-safety inspectors and the lack of hard and fast rules in the regulation.

The remainder of our meetings included a divide-and-conquer approach from our group, so we could meet with as many members of Congress as possible. Among all of us, we met with at least 18 different members of Congress or their staff representatives.

Our entire group met with the staff of Sen. Dianne Feinstein to specifically discuss labor and the need for comprehensive immigration reform. The senator's agricultural labor liaison assured the group that immigration reform was a top priority for the senator, and was excited to hear from representatives of California agriculture about the importance of meaningful immigration reform.

The second day of the trip began with a breakfast featuring Reps. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., and Glenn "GT" Thompson, R-Pa., with special guest Rep. Doug LaMalfa, R-Richvale. Reps. Stefanik and Thompson each have large amounts of agriculture in their districts, with farmers who face similar challenges as our Farm Bureau members in California. It was a great meeting and an example of the importance of relationships in Washington.

Throughout the trip, county Farm Bureau executive directors took full advantage of the opportunity to share the importance of California agriculture and how it supports our state and national economies. We reminded legislators and regulators of what it takes to produce the food we eat daily and encouraged them to make decisions with agriculture in mind.

It was a privilege to represent our Farm Bureau members while in Washington, and we would encourage all our members to participate in going to D.C. with Farm Bureau. It takes time and it takes planning, but it is worth it. Telling our story provides our elected representatives with real examples of how their decisions impact our ability to farm and ranch.

Contact your County Farm Bureau office today if you are interested. We're eager to help you tell your story to the people who need to hear it.

(Colleen Cecil is executive director of the Butte County Farm Bureau. Dusty Ference is executive director of the Kings County Farm Bureau.)

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