At Yuba Meeting of his Agricultural Advisory Group, Garamendi Learns More About Concerns of Local Farmers
YUBA CITY, CA – At the second meeting of his Agricultural Advisory Group (AAG), Congressman John Garamendi (D-Fairfield, CA), today heard from about 40 local farmers about the issues that impact their businesses. Garamendi is a Member of the House Agriculture Committee and is a pear farmer and cattle rancher.
In a survey distributed before the meeting began, a majority of participants cited the need for comprehensive immigration reform as one of their top three issues. Regulatory issues, stopping the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) as currently envisioned, water reliability, pest management, flood insurance, and market/trade issues were also commonly cited topics of concern.
Congressman Garamendi began the conversation with a rundown of the current status of the Farm Bill. He received an update on the bill in the morning from Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-MN). Largely, the Farm Bill that exists in the conference committee process is in sync with the priorities of Northern California’s agricultural industry, he said. The Congressman expects a vote no later than next week, and he expects it to pass.
“At the risk of putting the cart before the horse, the Farm Bill seems to finally be on track,” Garamendi said. “I expect it to pass, and if it doesn’t pass, expect a fierce revolt.”
Concerns about flood insurance dominated the early conversation. Garamendi talked about a recent meeting he had with the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) staff responsible for flood insurance on the need to fix existing catastrophic flood insurance. Garamendi expects a four-year moratorium on the flawed catastrophic flood insurance policy. Currently, flood insurance rates are expected to increase by as much as $25,000 a year for many Northern California farmers and homeowners in flood zones. Garamendi supports the moratorium but described it as “insufficient.” He also noted that the existing policy makes it impossible for homeowners and businesses to sell their property given the imminent expiration of the moratorium.
When asked if California should consider addressing catastrophic flood insurance separate from the federal government, Garamendi said that was worth considering, especially considering that California is a net contributor to the National Flood Insurance Program.
He said it makes a lot of sense for the state to consider flood insurance as a state enterprise, similar to what the state does with earthquake insurance.
“However, you have to find a way to spread the risk,” he cautioned, noting that if the law were written badly, it could saddle a specific region or industry with unrealistic costs.
Garamendi noted that the Senate passed a bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform bill, and it has the support of the overwhelming majority of House Democrats. However, the House Republican leadership has thus far been unwilling to introduce a comprehensive bill and hasn’t prioritized a piecemeal approach.
Garamendi prefers a vote on the House floor on a comprehensive bill similar to what passed the Senate, and he thinks it has the votes to pass. However, he thinks it is possible for a piecemeal process to work, provided there is an agreement at the beginning of the process to merge the bills when completed. In that way, the House could pass individual bills that deal with agricultural immigration needs, high-tech immigration needs, citizenship issues, border issues, education issues, and keeping families together. Those bills needn’t have exactly the same coalition in support, provided each piece received majority support. This approach could work, but it requires Speaker Boehner to commit to push the bill through and a willingness to seek Democratic votes.
Garamendi said, “The question is, ‘Can you put together the votes on the House floor?’ Everyone believes their part of the bill is the most important part of the bill. If any part of the compromise falls short, the entire coalition could fall apart. This is difficult work, but it’s doable.”
Everyone in the room was concerned about the possibility of a long-term extended drought in Northern California as well as other water sources like the Colorado River. Garamendi explained that during the holiday recess, he spent almost a week moving cattle from plot of land to plot of land in a desperate search for feed for them. The drought conditions are already hitting his cattle ranching business hard, a problem a lot of AAG members also share.
Garamendi talked about the BDCP and the reality that its sticker price, about $25 billion, would go a lot further if it were responsibly invested in priorities that actually create new water, like conservation and storage. As currently envisioned however, the BDCP is simply a very expensive plumbing system that doesn’t create a drop of new water.
“There’s no way the twin tunnels work. This isn’t just a Delta problem; it’s a regional and statewide problem. Why waste money on a plumbing boondoggle when we can go a lot further with a comprehensive approach?” Garamendi said.
One of the most helpful aspects of the AAG meeting is that it gives the Congressman an opportunity to hear the concerns of farmers in his district that may not be getting enough attention from Congress.
Participants at the event alerted the Congressman to a variety of issues, including:
1) Issues related to crop inspections in shipping and the risk of pest infestation;
2) The transport of bees and cattle and concerns that mandatory breaks are dangerous in some situations;
3) Duplicative regulations related to biofuels that make it prohibitively expense to switch crops; and
4) Restrictions on planting near public infrastructure
“These issues don’t make it to 24/7 cable news, but they’re important. Make sure we know. We can’t fix what we don’t know is a problem,” Garamendi said.