By Kevin Swartzendruber

U.S. Congressman Jeff Denham discusses water issues, immigration reform and trade with attendees at the SJFB Annual Meeting last month. Photo by Goff Photography.

The San Joaquin Farm Bureau Federation held its 104rd Annual Meeting on June 23 at Gill Lake, with guest speakers focusing on key issues facing agriculture and over $45,000 in scholarships awarded to local students pursuing agricultural education. Guest speakers included U.S Congressman Jeff Denham, State Assemblyman Heath Flora, and California Farm Bureau President Jamie Johansson.

"The diversity and complexity that we have in California is not experienced anywhere else in America; it’s what makes us the sixth largest ag economy; it’s what gives us 400 different commodities that we have to sell," Johansson said. "It’s what we do at the county level that sets Farm Bureau apart. Farm Bureau is the only ag organization that strives to make a difference at every level of your farm, whether it’s in your city, county, Sacramento or in Washington, D.C."

Denham, Flora and Johansson all believed there is currently a good opportunity for change, both at the state and national levels.

Immigration reform
"We have tremendous leadership in our congressional delegation and it was demonstrated last week when the House took a vote on an immigration bill," said Johansson said. "This is the first time the full House voted on an ag immigration bill, or a bill that had agricultural labor in it, since 1986. We shouldn’t wonder why the border is a mess today; because we haven’t addressed it."

Johansson said that while that bill didn’t fit the needs of CFBF and the organization had serious concerns about it, "it was the leadership of Congressman Jeff Denham, who is here today, to make sure California was represented."

Denham said one of the challenges of immigration reform is that there’s never a deadline or timeline.

"In that immigration policy, we have to have a fix for California agriculture," Denham said. "A guest worker program also needs to be in the package."

Denham expressed frustration with the governor’s twin tunnels plan and the inability of California to build new water storage. "It makes no sense for us to invest or spend money on more conveyance when we have no water to convey," Denham said. "We’ve got to have storage."

But, Denham said if we’re going to build storage, this is our opportunity.

"I want to see in my lifetime, not only water storage for the next generation, but I want to see new water storage moving forward in the next two years," Denham said. "We’ve been studying these things for 10, 20, 30 years. A lot of these projects we’ve studied so long they’ve now been shelved. We’ve got an opportunity not only to pull them off the shelf, but to dust them off and implement them and use the water bond that we have with the state leverage to actually get them done and moving." At the federal level, "We actually have a president that wants to get them moving in the next two years. A big part of $1.5 trillion infrastructure package is California water storage," Denham said.

Johannson said we have a great opportunity for agriculture to tell its story and show how important trade is to our livelihood. "While we support our president in the changes in the regulations like Waters of the US, he’s also recognized how vulnerable we are in the trade market," Johannson said.

"Sixty percent of what goes through the Port of Oakland is ag related," Johasson said. That port represents 70,000 jobs. Overall across the country, when you talk about distributers, buyers and everything else it touches, that port represents 700,000 jobs.

Staying engaged
"When we get our message out there, when we talk about our issues and don’t allow the politics and hyperbole to really dictate our narrative, and when we stick to the facts, we are on the right side of things," Flora said.

Both Johansson and Flora pointed to Foster Farms and the chicken bill that was recently killed in the Ag Committee. "Farm Bureau kept calm amidst hysteria from what the folks thought how chicken’s were harvested," Flora said. "At the end of the day, truth prevailed. At the end of the day, our narrative, everything all of you have fought so long and hard about, that is what’s going to win the day."

"As we move into November, stay engaged, stay motivated as an ag community," Flora said. "Three hundred miles in both directions of where we’re sitting right now is the richest farmland in the entire world; it’s worth fighting for; it’s worth protecting. "If you have questions on a bill, call us, talk to us," Flora said. "We have to start putting politics as a line item in to our daily lives and really engaging on it; because at the end of the day we’re right on these issues; and some of our colleagues are simply wrong."

Farm Bill
Congress is currently working on the Farm Bill and Denham said, "We don’t focus here in California on the subsidies, we just need government to stay out of our lives a little bit and let us farm."

The Farm Bill recently passed the House and is moving on to the Senate. Denham said, "It gives an even playing field for California, even as it pertains to crop insurance, which in many Farm Bills we get left behind on."

He said it was a challenge, but a good victory, and to expect the Farm Bill to move in July or August.

SJFB President presents
SJFB President Jim Ferrari also addressed issues facing agriculture and Farm Bureau successes this past year. He discussed how Farm Bureau successfully stopped the aggressive raise in fees for underground fuel storage facilities. He also said cannabis has one more chance of being defeated through a tax measure on the ballot, but if it passes, Farm Bureau will work to "steer it in the right direction and hopefully make it something we can live with."

Other issues he discussed included the battle against a fertilizer tax proposal, why we need to fight reduced flows down rivers, the opposition to the Delta tunnels, the need for water storage, labor issues, and the new nutria pest. 

"Nutria is eating away at our levees," he said. "We need USDA wildlife services to put in some funding and help eradicate these pests."

Scholarships awarded
SJFB Foundation for Agricultural Education President Joe Valente congratulated the scholarship winners and the Farm Bureau proceeded to award over $45,000 to local students. Including this year’s scholarships, the Foundation has awarded over $450,000 to local students.