At Meeting of His Agricultural Advisory Committee, Garamendi Hears Concerns of 3rd District Farmers
WOODLAND, CA – Congressman John Garamendi (D-Fairfield, CA), a rancher and pear farmer who sits on the House Agriculture Committee, today convened the first meeting of his Agricultural Advisory Committee at the Yolo County Farm Bureau in Woodland.
During the 90 minute conversation with close to 60 farmers and agriculturalists, issues as wide ranging as agriculture research, California water policy, organic crops, food assistance, regulations, immigration, and flood protection were raised.
“As a Representative, my job is to represent this district. I take that very seriously. To do that, I need knowledge. I need to know what’s on your mind,” Garamendi said. “You’re my eyes and ears on the ground of the 3rd District’s agricultural needs.”
Congressman Garamendi began the conversation by noting that the Farm Bill is likely to get marked up by the Agriculture Committee as early as May. Explaining that he wanted “to get down into the weeds” of the Farm Bill, the Congressman invited participants to give their ideas on what needs to be included in the legislation.
“John is a great Representative for the district. Not only does he know agriculture and water issues inside and out, but he is proposing solutions,” said Richard Rominger, former Deputy Secretary of the United States Department of Agriculture, former Secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, and a Member of the Executive Committee of the Agricultural Sustainability Institute at UC Davis. “I know he will work with his colleagues, Democrats and Republicans, to bring the voice of his constituents into the drafting of a Farm Bill.”
“This meeting facilitated real dialogue and addressed all the major challenges facing California farmers,” added Eric Paulsen, President of the Yolo County Farm Bureau. “I want to specifically thank Congressman Garamendi for presenting a great plan for California water. His office has performed wonderful outreach, and I look forward to continuing a productive relationship.”
“It was encouraging to hear Congressman Garamendi promote water storage, which benefits everyone in California by creating new water,” said Megan Foster, Executive Director of the Yuba-Sutter Farm Bureau. “I also look forward to hearing his ideas on meeting the labor needs of farmers in Yuba and Sutter counties.”
Throughout the conversation, Garamendi repeatedly urged the participants to send the Agriculture Committee a letter outlining what California farmers need. Getting this information on record will help Garamendi and other members of the California delegation advocate for and prioritize both funding and changes to legislative language.
One participant noted that because federal land grants are distributed broadly across America, the University of California receives less in federal support than the quality of its research would warrant. He suggested a more competitive grant system to reward schools engaged in the best research. The Congressman noted that the big roadblock to such a reform is the U.S. Senate, which protects the interests of land grant colleges in the smallest states. Garamendi agreed that high quality high value research should be a factor in grant distribution.
Garamendi noted that one way to secure more research for UC Davis is to continue pressing for increased support for specialty crops and specialty crop research in the Farm Bill. Despite the name, specialty crops are commonly eaten crops that get less support from the Farm Bill, including fruits and nuts.
A participant who sits on a climate change consortium for agriculture argued for a comprehensive water plan for California and more broadly, the West. Garamendi agreed and unveiled his new white paper on a comprehensive water plan that would secure water for the entire state, focused on:
- The creation of new storage systems;
- Fixing the Delta with right-sized conveyance, levee improvements, and habitat restoration;
- Science-driven processes; and
- Protection of existing water rights.
Garamendi noted that the Bay Delta Conservation Plan doesn’t create a drop of new water. It’s simply a plumbing system that shifts water from one part of the state to another, without the storage, conservation, recycling, and levees essential to a complete plan.
Another participant urged a broader nationwide coalition for funding water recycling and conservation, to which Garamendi heartily agreed.
A few participants expressed concerns over regulations in a general sense.
Garamendi cited specifically his work on sulfur hexafluoride, trying to prevent the EPA from banning it based on shaky science. On this point, Garamendi noted that he was previously unaware of farmers’ concerns about sulfur hexafluoride, since it’s not used for cattle or pears, and that input from farmers in the district directly led to his involvement with the issue over the past few years.
In addition, the Congressman’s wife Patti Garamendi, who was Assistant Secretary at the USDA and in attendance at today’s meeting, noted a substantial reduction in paperwork for farmers through the USDA microloan program.
“We sometimes have too many regulations. Other times more regulation is needed. Regulations designed to protect public health are important for all Americans, but as in the case of sulfur hexafluoride, the government can overreach,” Garamendi said. “If there are regulations harming your business, please tell me your specific concern, and we’ll see what can be done. My big ask of you today is please, empower me with knowledge.”
One participant noted that the one year extension of the Farm Bill gutted almost all funding for organic farms, of which most are in California. Garamendi noted the difficulty in securing funding without Congressional earmarks but pledged to support the region’s organic farmers.
Another participant asked about the large portion of the Farm Bill that goes to food assistance programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Garamendi noted that the spike in participation is largely a reflection of unemployment following the recession and an increase in eligibility through temporary stimulus. In response, another participant suggested sunsetting SNAP assistance, to which Garamendi noted that SNAP is dependent on income, not employment status, but that it’s important to have aggressive oversight to spot abuse.
Concerns over flood protection were raised, and Garamendi noted that he’s been working on reforms that would make flood insurance for farmers more affordable.
He also noted his support for comprehensive immigration reform that includes a reliable legal worker pool for America’s farms. He noted that the Garamendi pear farm only had one round of picking this year instead of the usual two due to a shortage of available legal labor.
A participant noted that effectively every issue under consideration boils down to money.
“You got it,” Garamendi said, noting that at public events, there’s always a conflict between the public’s desire for specific programs and their desire to see the government spend less money. Garamendi believes there’s a federal role for smart investments in water and agriculture.
Throughout the event, there were three common themes:
- Farmers need to be on record with the Agriculture Committee on their needs and priorities. Input from America’s farmers shapes the final product, and Californians need to be well represented.
- With the House Republican ban on earmarks, securing funds for local priorities is a lot trickier than it used to be. Congress has less flexibility in distributing money, and while this prevents bridges to nowhere, it also prevents new construction of levees in the second most flood prone region in America – the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and the rivers that feed into it.
- Farmers and Members of Congress both need to collaborate with their peers in other states to build broader coalitions. Where Californians can reach beyond their borders, success for the region is much more likely.
At the end of the meeting, Garamendi encouraged the participants to join subcommittees focused on the specific issues that most matter to their business. Congressman Garamendi will also soon convene meetings with additional agriculture stakeholders in the district, including laborers and researchers.