Farm and ranch leaders representing California Farm Bureau Federation visited the nation's capital last week, discussing with elected leaders and agency officials top issues important to the organization, including support for critical agriculture programs in light of a tight federal budget and the need for immigration reform legislation.
Farm Bureau President Paul Wenger, a Modesto walnut and almond farmer, said it became immediately clear in meetings with U.S. Department of Agriculture officials and congressional representatives that cuts to the federal budget will mean less continued funding for certain agricultural programs and will affect the development of the 2012 Farm Bill.
"The federal budget is the driver right now in Washington, D.C., and our budget message was very clear: We understand the need for spending cuts, but when deciding where to make those cuts, we shouldn't gut programs that are highly effective and critical to agriculture, such as pest and disease exclusion," Wenger said.
He said Farm Bureau members also focused on immigration and plans to introduce a mandatory electronic verification program to determine an employee's eligibility for employment, known as E-Verify.
In congressional visits, the CFBF delegation voiced strong concern that the House Judiciary Committee is considering immigration enforcement legislation without the development of an effective guestworker program. Dirk Giannini, a vegetable grower and president of the Monterey County Farm Bureau, expressed concern with pending legislation that would make mandatory the voluntary E-Verify program. That, coupled with an ineffective H-2A guestworker program that doesn't work for California, would result in serious problems, he said.
"Immigration reform is in a serious crisis right now in Arizona and California, with a tight labor force and others that cannot legally migrate to California to work," Giannini said. "In each meeting I participated in, I was able to convey that we've got to come up with a program to secure workers and if we do nothing or if just come out of here with E-Verify, we're going to fail."
Farm Bureau meetings with U.S. Reps. Dan Lungren, R-Gold River, and Elton Gallegly, R-Solvang—both members of the House Judiciary Committee and key players in the E-Verify debate—and with Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., centered on immigration reform.
Regarding prioritizing necessary agricultural programs in light of cuts to the federal budget, Farm Bureau leaders spoke of the need to preserve federal funds that will protect California farmers from invasive and exotic pests and diseases that affect both crops and livestock. During a meeting with the Farm Bureau group, USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Administrator Gregory Parham acknowledged that agencies within USDA, including APHIS, have a tough job ahead when it comes to prioritizing funding.