December 10, 2019
California Farm Bureau outlines 2020 issues
At the California Farm Bureau’s annual meeting in Monterey yesterday, President Jamie Johansson said the bureau is largely supportive of federal efforts on water issues. Yet the state arena is shaping up for a broad range of battles for next year.
Unimpaired flows will be a top issue. Despite progress in 2019, Johansson said the process is not yet solved. The bureau filed a 300-page lawsuit in February to stop the State Water Board’s Delta Plan, which will redirect up to 50% of flows from vital Central Valley rivers to delta habitats.
Meanwhile, Gov. Newsom’s ag liaison, Bill Lyons, said in a later session he is “cautiously optimistic” the ongoing Voluntary Agreements will bring a better result for the second phase of that plan. Lyons added that attorneys on all sides are also working collaboratively to make the agreements “as bulletproof as they can be” from future litigation.
A years-long lawsuit with less attention advanced this year as well. California conservation groups sued the U.S. Forest Service over alleged water pollution in mountain streams caused by grazing. Johansson said the judge in that case recently sided with all of the bureau’s points that it submitted in support of the service.
With state regulatory agencies, Johansson noted the Air Resources Board attempted this year to reduce criteria pollutants reporting from 250 tons down to four tons. “Commodity driers, mid-size farms and all dairies would have to report their emissions,” he explained. ARB avoided making a decision this year.
In a separate session, CFBF policy analyst Noelle Cremer shared that ARB intends to propose a new regulation next month to return that threshold to four tons. This would heavily impact San Joaquin Valley operations, she said.
“We’re going to keep pushing back,” promised Johansson.
The governor has met with Johansson and his team four times. Newsom’s exclusion of agriculture from his decision to cancel chlorpyrifos was “a teachable moment” for the bureau. Proposing $5.7 million and three years to find alternatives was “not nearly enough time and money to get through the regulatory process,” he said.
Lieutenant Governor Eleni Kounalakis also met with the bureau. She sits on the Board of Regents for the University of California, which has seen a significant reduction in extension funding over the years, along with advisor positions going unfilled. Johansson listed a number of counties where UC budgets for 4-H programs were also cut.
On the note of water: The CV-SALTS coalition posted a number of videos yesterday unpacking this complex regulatory program on salinity and nitrates in groundwater and what it means for Central Valley farmers.
Noelle Cremer (left)
House tackling ag labor bill
Backers of an ag labor bill are struggling to win over Republican support ahead of floor debate later this week.
The Farm Workforce Modernization Act would expand the H-2A visa program to year-round workers, and a large GOP vote would give the bill some momentum going to the Senate. But the bill doesn’t have White House support, and GOP conservatives are calling the legislation a “massive amnesty” bill since it would provide a path to legal status for existing farmworkers.
The bill had 26 GOP cosponsors as of last week. A lobbyist working on the issue tells Agri-Pulse that supporters are working to round up additional GOP votes, but he declined to predict how many they could get.
Keep in mind: The bill text has been tweaked in mostly minor ways since leaving the Judiciary committee last month. But Democrats have declined to make changes sought by the nation’s largest farm organization, the American Farm Bureau Federation, and that’s going to make it easier for conservative Republicans not to vote for the bill.
"The bill must be substantially modified for our position to change,” said Allison Crittenden, who follows the issue for AFBF.
USMCA proposal awaits verdict from House Dems
It took days of marathon negotiating sessions last week for U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Jesús Seade, Mexico’s top North American negotiator, to reach a deal on the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement. Now it’s up to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi whether she and other Democratic leaders are willing to accept the compromise proposal that could still be voted on in the final two weeks for Congress this year.
“I think we’re doing very well on USMCA,” President Donald Trump said Monday. “I’m hearing a lot of strides have been made over the last 24 hours.”
But the support of unions will be key to House Democrats accepting any USMCA deal, and AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka spent much of Monday briefing labor representatives on the compromise pact, said Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee.
Deputy Ag Secretary Censky
USDA to decide in January on MFP
USDA won’t decide until January whether to issue the third tranche of payments under the 2019 Market Facilitation Program. But even if the Trump administration were to reach a trade deal with China in the coming days, it appears that wouldn’t necessarily stop USDA from releasing the money.
“We recognize that even if we have a trade agreement and things really get moving, we know that the farm income situation has been affected and can’t be turned around overnight. So there still is a great need for those payments, particularly this year,” Deputy Agriculture Secretary Steve Censky told members of the Illinois Farm Bureau meeting in Chicago on Monday.
ILFB President Richard Guebert said his delegates aren’t proposing additional aid packages, but “we have some bankers who are looking for it to come sooner rather than later” because of borrowers facing financial challenges.
By the way: Enrollment for the 2019 MFP ended last Friday.
As of Dec. 3, $10.3 billion worth of 2019 MFP payments have been made. Farmers who produce grain, soybeans, cotton and other non-specialty crops have received $9.8 billion. Specialty crop growers have received $116 million, while the livestock sector has received $368 million.
CFBF President Jamie Johansson
He said it:
“It’s not about whether you’re eating an organic carrot or a conventional carrot. It's about eating the carrot and not the Cheeto.” – California Farm Bureau President Jamie Johansson, describing the defeat of AB 958, a bill that would have subsidized organic school lunches.
Bill Tomson, Steve Davies, Ben Nuelle and Sara Wyant (in Chicago) contributed to this report.
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