In a letter to congressional leaders, Gov. Jerry Brown emphasized the importance of a comprehensive farm bill that reauthorizes programs important to farmers, ranchers and users of federal food and nutrition programs. In addition, he urged members of Congress to oppose inclusion of the King amendment into the final bill.
"The King amendment seeks to prevent states from exercising their traditional authorities over a broad range of agricultural production and manufacturing processes, from food safety and animal health, to invasive pests and quality standards," Brown wrote.
While the farm bill appears to be on its way to final approval early in the year, immigration reform remains more problematic.
Bryan Little, CFBF director of labor affairs and chief operating officer of the Farm Employers Labor Service, noted there has been speculation that Congress could move legislation to improve the nation's broken immigration system.
"Congressional leaders are believed to be weighing movement on immigration reform legislation early in the year. This would be beneficial to agriculture because the H-2A program is difficult to use and the Adverse Effect Wage Rate just went up to $11.01 an hour," Little said.
The key to whether movement will happen this year, he said, depends on the outcome of primary elections.
"A key indicator will be how many incumbents attract anti-immigration opponents in their primaries," Little said. "The question is whether leaders can amass enough support to pass meaningful immigration reform before the election season overshadows everything."
Back on California farms and ranches, producers may be able to hire enough employees to get by during the upcoming growing season, Little said, but there will not be an overabundance of available employees; see related story. That trend is likely to continue until the immigration issue is resolved, he said.
"California farmers and ranchers should continue to press their members of Congress about the need for immigration reform," Little said. "We have been very forthright over the years about our desire to work with policymakers to create a legal, adequate workforce for farms and ranches."
(Christine Souza is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at email@example.com.)