December 11, 2020
State bill prioritizes farmworkers for vaccines, with pushback
Central Valley Rep. Josh Harder is urging California public health officials to prioritize all agricultural workers in its distribution plan for COVID-19 vaccines.
“Ag is too often left behind in policy discussions and our farmworkers get lip service instead of the help they need,” said Harder in a statement. “It’s not enough to call farmworkers 'essential' if you’re not going to treat them as essential.”
He called for a broad definition of agricultural workers that would include farmers, farmworkers and processing plant workers in the 1B tier of vaccine access.
In introducing a bill on vaccines this week, Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia called for the state to prioritize farmworkers and grocery store workers in the top tier.
“This measure moves to strengthen legislative safeguards for these vulnerable populations,” he said. “Our frontline workers should be at the front of the line.”
Gov. Gavin Newsom said the first vaccines should be arriving as early as this week. The Legislature will not begin considering the legislation, however, until it returns to session on Jan. 4.
Farmworkers at the center of universal healthcare bill
Senator Maria Elena Durazo of Los Angeles has introduced a measure to grant healthcare coverage to all Californians, regardless of immigration status. Durazo, a former labor leader, has aggressively advocated for farmworkers in previous legislation.
“COVID-19 has mercilessly hit hardest our communities of color, especially those who work in our fields and in other essential jobs,” said Fresno Asm. Joaquin Arambula, a co-author on the bill.
The California Immigrant Policy Center strongly supports the measure.
“Immigrant communities and farmworkers in the food and agricultural sector, like meatpacking plants, have literally been hotbeds for the spread of disease,” said Sarah Dar, a director at the center.
Newsom appoints farmworker advocate to judicial post
Gov. Newsom has appointed Luis Céspedes to serve as judicial appointments secretary in the governor’s cabinet. As a 15-year-old farmworker, Céspedes joined in strikes in the early days of the United Farm Workers union.
He was later a staffer in the Assembly and launched his own law firm.
“From going on strike alongside César Chávez to selflessly lifting others to higher office, Luis has walked the walk,” said Attorney General Xavier Becerra in praising the appointment.
Newsom’s decision drew accolades from an icon in the farm labor movement, Dolores Huerta.
“I knew I could rely upon Luis’ help in my efforts to increase protections for farmworkers and their families, ensuring farmworkers’ right to vote for a union of their choice,” she said.
USDA reinstates farm labor survey for H-2A wages
Under court order, USDA is reinstating the farm labor survey that has long been used to determine minimum wage rates for H-2A workers. It’s not clear yet how the action will affect 2021 wage rates.
Not long after USDA announced it was killing the survey, the Labor Department issued a rule freezing H-2A rates for 2021 and 2022 and then basing them on a national average of wage increases for all jobs.
A federal judge found in October USDA had not considered the impact on farmworker wages when it decided to scrap the survey in September. USDA says the survey is expected to take nine weeks to complete and will be based on reference weeks in July and October.
Keep in mind: United Farm Workers is asking a court to halt implementation of the new rule, due to take effect Dec. 21. The state of California is seeking to support the lawsuit as a friend of the court.
Biden makes it official: Vilsack to USDA, Tai to USTR
President-elect Joe Biden today will formally introduce Tom Vilsack as his agriculture secretary nominee and congressional trade adviser Katherine Tai as his nominee to become U.S. trade representative.
The Biden transition team made those selections official on Thursday. In addition to Vilsack, Biden is also bringing back Susan Rice, a national security adviser to former President Barack Obama. She will head Biden’s Domestic Policy Council.
China will be the No. 1 challenge for Tai, who is the former chief counsel on China trade enforcement at USTR during the Obama administration.
The American Farm Bureau Federation praised the selection of Tai, who is fluent in Mandarin. She “has deep trade experience and a solid understanding of the need to enforce existing trade agreements while working with our trade partners to expand market access for America’s farmers,” AFBF said.
Read our report on Tai’s selection here.
By the way: Vilsack likely has a new item on his to-do list. Four years after he issued a rule on livestock and poultry marketing, his successor, Sonny Perdue, has issued a new version. Critics of the latest rule will be counting on Vilsack to scrap it and start over – again.
The rule is supposed to give packers and producers clarity on what constitutes “undue or unreasonable preference” in the meat sector.
Read our story on the new rule here.
Farm equipment purchases strong
Tractor purchases were up 41% last month over November 2019, and they’re up 16% year to date, according to the Association of Equipment Manufacturers. Sales of combines are up more than 6% for the year.
The November surge may be due to purchases farmers are making for tax reasons, “but the market has been pretty solid all year,” said Curt Blades, vice president of ag services at AEM. Government payments have buoyed sales this year, and the increase in commodity prices also has played a role, he told Agri-Pulse.
By the way: The flip side of the sharp rise in soybean and corn prices this fall is that livestock and poultry producers will be paying more for feed into 2021. A new CoBank study suggests feed costs will likely be up 12% increase next year, which would be the largest increase in nearly a decade.
“Industry margins are far better today than they were in the spring, but there will be tighter windows of opportunity for the livestock and poultry sectors to profit in 2021,” said Will Sawyer, lead animal protein economist with CoBank.
He said it:
“I've got Republican friends that have no clue what it means to be a Central Valley legislator or a farmer or a grower.” — Republican Asm. Heath Flora of Ripon, in a panel discussion at the annual Almond Conference.
Steve Davies, Ben Nuelle and Bill Tomson contributed to this report.
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