By Vicky Boyd
American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall outlined a number of pressing issues, including immigration reform and slashing regulations, during his annual address at the recent AFBF Annual Conference in Phoenix.
"Just like on ag labor – so many farmers have told me: If we don't fix this, none of the other issues will matter, because overregulation will put our farms and ranches out of business," Duvall told delegates.
Those same issues are top of mind locally, say San Joaquin Farm Bureau leaders.
In his speech, Duvall urged delegates to contact local lawmakers to reinforce the importance of reducing regulatory burdens.
Delegates didn't waste any time. Using their smartphones, they sent more than 1,500 text messages to congressional representatives Jan. 8 to support House Resolution 5, the Regulatory Accountability Act of 2017. The bill included an amendment from Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., that would limit a federal agency from lobbying for is own rulemaking.
In mid-January on a 238-183 vote, the House passed the Farm Bureau-supported bill that would ensure transparency and accountability by regulatory agencies, reaffirm congressional intent in rulemaking and strengthen the public's right to know. The measure now moves to the Senate.
AFBF delegates followed Duvall's speech a few days later by passing a sense-of-the-body resolution that called for comprehensive regulatory reform, driving home the importance of the issue.
That sentiment carries over to SJFB members. "I can tell you that regulatory reform, whether it's the state of California or the feds, is a high priority," said SJFB President Andrew Watkins. "Over-regulation is affecting a lot of people."
David Strecker, San Joaquin Farm Bureau second vice president, agreed, pointing to the Waters of the U.S. as an example of government overstepping its boundaries. The regulations, part of the Clean Water Act, are under a court-ordered stay until they can be rewritten.
"WOTUS is obviously a big one because it could affect anybody and everybody in ag," he said.
Duvall in his speech also highlighted WOTUS and cited as example Stanislaus County nurseryman John Duarte and his family.
The Army Corps of Engineers issued the Duartes a cease-and-desist order after a worker was seen tilling one of the family's Tehama County fields in preparation for planting winter forage. The Duartes are now involved in a legal battle with the Corps over allegations they violated the federal Clean Water Act during field preparation.
Because the case has ramifications for farmers and ranchers countywide and nationally, the SJFB board in 2016 approved a $20,000 contribution to the Duarte Defense Fund.
The California Farm Bureau, with assistance from the American Farm Bureau, established the fund because of the precedent-setting nature of the Duarte case.
Brad Goehring, a Clements winegrape grower and SJFB board member, said reining in the Environmental Protection Agency as well as rewriting WOTUS are paramount to the livelihood of all farmers and ranchers.
"It's extremely vital for our daily activities but even more important to our private property rights, and the EPA is trying to disassemble those" he said.
Goehring knows firsthand about the Clean Water Act, having been cited by the Army Corps for allegedly disturbing wetlands when he was plowing a field that had been farmed for years.
Strecker, who farms in the Delta, singled out the Endangered Species Act as another regulation that needs to be fixed.
"With all of these water issues and when and how the water will be released, the ESA needs to be changed," he said.
Duvall also encouraged delegates to take back the concept of sustainability "because nobody is working harder to be sustainable than America's farmers and ranchers." Part of sustainability involves farming and ranching being profitable.
"And farmers need access to a sustainable supply of farm workers," he said. "Many of the farmers and ranchers I've met with say that if we don't fix our ag labor problem, none of the other issues will matter. Without a legal supply of labor, too many farmers face lost crops, and they can't compete on the world market."
Labor shortages a problem
Immigration reform, including revamping the guestworker program, is a priority for SJFB members, too, Strecker said. "I think it's important throughout the ag industry regardless of the crops you have. Whether it's pruning or harvesting or transplanting, there are those periods of time when a large number of people are required," he said. "And the guestworker program has been discussed with me by many of our members, and it's a priority throughout Farm Bureau."
Watkins said he's heard similar concerns from members. "There are labor shortages, and guys are having a hard time getting crews to pick cherries or do field work," he said. "So we need some type of workable guestworker program." President Donald Trump repeated during his campaign that regulatory reform would be one of his highest priorities, and Strecker said he remains optimistic the president will follow through.
"Because (Trump's) a businessman, he makes decisions and sticks with the decision. He'll look to the right people to get answers. I think we should have a lot of faith that good decisions will be made."
If for some reason, the decisions aren't the best, Strecker said he believed that Trump, as a businessman, won't be afraid to change them instead of sticking with the status quo.