With a focus on the new—new members of Congress, a new Cabinet official, a renewed format for communicating with congressional staffers—California Farm Bureau Federation officers and directors visited Washington, D.C., to advocate on topics including trade, water and immigration.
The Farm Bureau delegation met last week with more than 20 members of the California congressional delegation, with a particular emphasis on members newly elected in 2018. They met with Acting U.S. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, two days before the Senate confirmed his appointment as the Cabinet's newest member. For the first time in several years, they conducted a briefing for congressional staff members, to describe key issues facing California farmers and ranchers.
The CFBF group also participated in an hour-long White House meeting with administration trade and labor officials; held separate discussions with U.S. Department of Agriculture representatives on topics including farm bill implementation, trade and the potential return of whole milk to school menus; heard from House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield; and met with California Sen. Dianne Feinstein to discuss the potential for immigration and water legislation.
"I've been coming to Washington for 10 years, and this was the most successful D.C. trip I've been a part of," CFBF President Jamie Johansson said. "At a key time, we had the opportunity to meet with high-ranking decision-makers who influence laws and regulations affecting our members, and we took full advantage of the opportunity to build momentum for agriculture on these issues."
On trade, Farm Bureau encouraged ratification of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, negotiated to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement. CFBF told California representatives the new agreement retained the agricultural benefits of NAFTA, while modernizing rules related to biotechnology, sanitary-phytosanitary measures and market access for dairy products.
Administration officials expressed confidence in ultimately gaining passage of USMCA, but encouraged farmers and ranchers to continue advocating for it, in hope of moving toward a vote on the agreement later this year.
Johansson said CFBF was happy to take that message to Capitol Hill.
"The administration's successful negotiation of USMCA has been encouraging for California agriculture," he said. "It's time for Congress to act quickly on its passage, which would strengthen our negotiating position with China and eventually with Japan."
Regarding the continued imposition of retaliatory tariffs by China, Ambassador Gregg Doud, chief agricultural negotiator for the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, told Farm Bureau leaders during the White House meeting that progress has been made, but more work needs to be done. In a separate meeting, Deputy Agriculture Secretary Stephen Censky also reported progress on U.S.-China trade. Both officials said free-trade talks with Japan would begin soon; later, news reports indicated the discussions would start this week.
On immigration, Farm Bureau leaders advocated for earned legal status for current California agricultural employees, many of whom are believed to be in the country without authorization. Feinstein and Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, introduced legislation early this year that would provide legal "blue card" status to immigrants who have worked in agriculture for at least 100 days during the previous two years.
CFBF welcomed introduction of the bill as an important first step toward comprehensive immigration reform. Farm Bureau leaders met separately with Feinstein and Lofgren on Capitol Hill to discuss the status of the legislation.
Farm Bureau also advocated for an agricultural immigration system more flexible than the existing H-2A program, saying the current program needs to be streamlined and must allow employees the freedom to move from registered employer to employer.
During the White House meeting, Kristi Boswell—who works on immigration policy in the Office of American Innovation, led by Jared Kushner—encouraged farmers to comment on needed improvements to H-2A.
On water, Farm Bureau leaders urged continued federal investments in storage and other water infrastructure, and reiterated that water projects should be included in any infrastructure legislation considered by Congress. Farmers and ranchers also said streamlined environmental regulations and permitting processes would ensure that water projects can be built in a timely manner.
The CFBF group made those points during meetings with congressional offices and with top officials of the Interior Department, including Secretary Bernhardt and Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman.
During the Interior meeting, Farm Bureau leaders also discussed how accelerating the pace and scale of forest-management projects can benefit watersheds while helping prevent wildfires.
Five CFBF officers and board members participated in the congressional staff briefing on California agricultural issues. After Johansson provided an overview of the state's agriculture and the issues it faces, First Vice President Shannon Douglass discussed agricultural career opportunities, CFBF board member Mike Vereschagin of Orland described the water outlook, board member Al Stehly of Valley Center talked about employment issues and farm technology, and board member Blake Alexandre of Crescent City discussed dairy production and organic agriculture.
"The briefing gave us a chance to reach an important audience: congressional staff members who work directly with members of Congress and with their constituents," Johansson said. "We were pleased that about two-dozen congressional staffers participated, and I think they came away with a better understanding of California farmers and ranchers, and the issues they face."
Johansson thanked House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., for making the committee's hearing room available, as well as committee members Jim Costa, D-Fresno, and Doug LaMalfa, R-Richvale, for their support of the briefing.
(Dave Kranz is editor of Ag Alert. He may be contacted at email@example.com.)
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