U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue wanted to hear from growers on issues that could be included in the upcoming Farm Bill, or simply about which regulations his agency may consider rolling back during his visit to the World Ag Expo,on opening day of the 51st annual event in Tulare, Calif.
Secretary Perdue was welcomed by growers and industry leaders in a town hall meeting.
Perdue got an ear-full from California dairy producers, who currently are waiting for a federal milk marketing order to be decided – a decision now on hold as a Supreme Court case may challenge the validity of the USDA’s administrative law judges, including the judge who oversaw FMMO hearings in Clovis, Calif., in 2015.
While trade, labor and regulatory issues may top the list of agricultural policy issues Perdue faces in Washington D.C., Glenda Humiston, Vice President of the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources Division of the state’s Land Grant university, stressed the importance of adequate research funding and federal definitions of rural versus urban, which she said is having detrimental impacts across California on important program funding.
Humiston said that while UCANR has a “proud tradition of research in California,” the university is plagued by reduced budgets at the same time the state is plagued by a new invasive pest every several weeks. She said for the university to stay ahead of these issues and to help growers in these and many other areas, additional funding is vital.
The United States is losing the battle over agricultural research with China, which spends more in that sector, Humiston says. She continues to trumpet the idea of greater broadband access to rural areas of the state as new agriculture will demand internet upgrades for technology like sensors and driverless spray rigs.
California farmers want free and fair trade agreements, saying that NAFTA should not be scrapped, but could be tweaked to make open trade more fair.
The secretary also recognized the need for California agriculture to have a guest worker program that allows foreign laborers to legally work in the United States, an issue California growers and packing sheds are currently facing as recent Immigration and Customs Enforcement inspections have reportedly left processors with a reduced workforce.
Perdue is expected to tour numerous farming and processing operations while he is in California this week. That trip will include visits to packing sheds, almond growing operations and San Luis Reservoir, a major off-stream storage facility built in the 1960s to provide irrigation water to Central Valley farmers.