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New FB team makes inaugural trip to D.C.

Issue Date: March 15, 2006
Christine Souza

California Farm Bureau President Doug Mosebar, left, and Second Vice President Kenny Watkins discuss California's levee integrity with Rep. Doris Matsui, D-Sacramento.

Walking the halls of the congressional offices in Washington, D.C. last week, California Farm Bureau Federation's new team of officers brought the messages of California agriculture to the nation's capital. The trio, during their first trip together, strengthened relationships with representatives and discussed issues critical to protecting the future of farming in California.

California Farm Bureau President Doug Mosebar, who was unanimously elected president by the organization's delegates last December, visited more than 20 representatives during the three-day trip. He was joined by First Vice President Paul Wenger of Modesto and Second Vice President Kenny Watkins of Linden.

The team met with legislators and their staffs to discuss key issues that impact California farmers and ranchers, including immigration reform, modernization of the Endangered Species Act, protecting the state's flood protection system and the expiration of the 2002 Farm Bill.

"We wanted to come to Washington, D.C. and introduce ourselves as the new team of officers for California Farm Bureau and to address the issues that are important for us in California agriculture," Mosebar said. "It is very timely to be in Washington because issues like immigration reform and the ESA are being addressed right now in Congress. We wanted to ensure that our message regarding these issues is being heard."

Together, the CFBF officers stressed the importance of fostering relationships with legislators and maintaining a presence on Capitol Hill.

"The process of telling our story and continuing to develop relationships is extremely important in this town," Mosebar said. "Although we often interact with many of these people from a distance, developing relationships with the elected members and the staffs who represent those members is extremely important."

Maintaining a constant presence in Washington, Wenger said, is vital to the success of the California Farm Bureau and its members.

"We definitely look to American Farm Bureau to represent us in Washington, but a lot of the issues that affect our California growers are California-specific, so we have to be here in D.C. as the California Farm Bureau," Wenger said. "We have to make sure that our presence is known and that our elected officials, not only in California but outside California, understand the issues in California. We need to establish those lines of communication and be back in Washington as often as necessary to keep those relationships going."

During their visits with congressional leaders, the officers discussed concerns about the emergence of various immigration reform bills that have heated up the national debate about illegal immigration and border security. Farm Bureau leadership made it clear to those they met with that a guest worker program is essential for the future viability of California agriculture. Farm Bureau would like to see an immigration reform package with provisions that allow eligible workers currently in the country to qualify for temporary work visa status without being forced to leave. The farm organization would also like a requirement that qualified individuals maintain a tie to agriculture for a specific period.

The officers met with Rep. Dan Lungren, R-Gold River, who believes that immigration reform legislation can be successful only if it focuses on both a guest worker program and border security. Lungren is a member of the House Judiciary and Homeland Security committees. He will likely play a role in any joint House-Senate conference that will decide the final language.

"Talking with Dan Lungren was really refreshing," Watkins said. "We all know the issues and the problem, but he actually has put a lot of thought into it and understands it thoroughly."

If Congress fails to enact a guest worker program, Farm Bureau estimates that, for every farm job lost, an additional three to four jobs will be lost in related sectors—equipment, inputs, packaging, processing, transportation, marketing, lending and insurance.

With the Endangered Species Act legislation currently in the hands of the Senate, Farm Bureau officers stressed to legislators the importance of modernizing the ESA so that species can actually be recovered. Farm Bureau would like to see a greater focus on recovery planning and cooperative relations.

"We realize it is still very early in the process, but one of the things being considered in the Senate is a proposal that will encourage growers to be a part of the solution for rescuing species," Wenger said.

Other items of discussion between Farm Bureau leaders and lawmakers include California's desires for the 2007 Farm Bill and enhancement of the state's flood protection system. Rep. Doris Matsui, D-Sacramento, told Farm Bureau leaders she is able to connect with agriculture because she is a farmer's daughter. She spoke of working together to find common ground on issues including protecting California's levees.

All three officers confirmed that their first trip to Washington, D.C. together as the new leadership team was a success.

"We had good meetings. You can't say that one was any better than the other," Wenger said. "You go into some meetings with representatives who are your friends and are looking for just a reaffirmation that they are there working for you, and you go into those who might be a little more challenging just to establish those relationships and friendships

"We learned that everything is in a state of flux in Washington and we shouldn't take anything as the last word at this stage of the game. There is a long way to go, so we just need to stay engaged and get our message out."

CFBF officers stressed the importance of members connecting with their representatives in Washington whenever possible and communicating their personal stories so that representatives understand the point of view of California agriculture.

"Any time members can help us tell our story and their story at any level—whether it be through Farm Bureau or another organization—your voice needs to be heard," Mosebar said. "I encourage all of you to communicate your personal stories, either in person or with phone calls, e-mails or letters because you can make a difference in protecting the future of California agriculture."

(Christine Souza is a reporter for 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.




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