Agri­cul­ture Sec­re­tary Hears Val­ley Farm­ers

Riverbank News - - FRONT PAGE - By ERIC ESCALANTE

Many is­sues fac­ing Cal­i­for­nia farm­ers, from the Food Safety Mod­ern­iza­tion Act to the North Amer­i­can Free Trade Agree­ment and the 2018 Farm Bill, came to the fore­front as United States Sec­re­tary of Agri­cul­ture Sonny Per­due, a for­mer farmer and vet­eri­nar­ian, made his first ap­pear­ance in the state at a fo­rum hosted in Modesto on Sun­day, Nov. 5.

From dairy­men and wal­nut grow­ers to the Cal­i­for­nia Al­mond Board and var­i­ous farm bu­reaus, a num­ber of peo­ple took part in Sec­re­tary Per­due’s ques­tion and an­swer ses­sion at a town hall meet­ing hosted by the Cal­i­for­nia Farm Bureau and held at the Modesto Ju­nior Col­lege Agri­cul­tural Pav­il­ion. Per­due sought in­put from farm­ers on the is­sues they’re chal­lenged with and also sought ad­di­tional in­put for the Farm Bill.

The event comes just a few months af­ter com­mu­nity mem- bers and agri­cul­tural or­ga­ni­za­tions spoke out be­fore the United States House Com­mit­tee on Agri­cul­ture dur­ing a “Lis­ten­ing Ses­sion” for the 2018 Farm Bill in Au­gust.

From that Au­gust meet­ing, one of the most com­monly dis­cussed topics was the Sup­ple­men­tal Nutri­tion As­sis­tance Pro­gram, a pro­gram which pro­vides food se­cu­rity for peo­ple un­able to pro­vide food for them­selves and their fam­i­lies. The CalFresh pro­gram, the Cal­i­for­nia vari­ant of SNAP, serves ap­prox­i­mately 87,000 par­tic­i­pants in Stanis­laus County, ac­cord­ing to a Jan­uary anal­y­sis from the Cal­i­for­nia Bud­get and Pol­icy Cen­ter.

The sec­re­tary ad­dressed what he con­sid­ered to be a ma­jor change to the SNAP pro­gram in the up­com­ing Farm Bill.

“I think that one ma­jor change that you will prob­a­bly def­i­nitely see in that Farm Bill is to re­move those waivers for able bod­ied adults with­out de­pen­dents,” ad­dressed Per­due, “and it’s be­come a life­style for some peo­ple when we’ve seen those waivers be­ing re­duced for peo­ple who do not have de­pen­dents but who are con­tin­u­ing on the pro­gram.

“Our goal is to help peo­ple get a job and to be part of the econ­omy that would help to pro­vide for their fam­i­lies and give them gov­ern­men­tal as­sis­tance for food while they need it but then help them with the train­ing, if they need child care, trans­porta­tion, other things (that) would help them to be duly em­ployed,” con­tin­ued Per­due.

As the ses­sion pro­gressed, con­cerns re­gard­ing the Food Safety and Mod­ern­iza­tion Act were ex­pressed by mul­ti­ple at­ten­dees and val­i­dated by the Sec­re­tary of Agri­cul­ture.

“You have a right to be con­cerned about it. We’re con­cerned about it, and we’re work­ing to mit­i­gate what­ever we can at this point in time…” ac­knowl­edged Per­due.

Joe Fer­rari, a wal­nut grower out of San Joaquin County, was vehe- ment about vague lan­guage in the bill, sec­ond time non­com­pli­ance re­sult­ing in a Class E felony, and is­sues of be­ing caught be­tween the pro­duce safety rule and pre­ven­tive con­trol rule.

“The prob­lem is also that, in my op­er­a­tion, I sell to a buyer who then is un­der a dif­fer­ent rule. He’s un­der the pre­ven­ta­tive con­trols rule. They have a re­quire­ment to ver­ify the sup­plier,” said Fer­rari. “The prob­lem is this shouldn’t be in the law, be­cause they have to tell me ad­di­tional rules above and beyond what the pro­duce safety rule has in the text. I don’t even know what that is. That goes beyond my knowl­edge, and I could get the per­son sub­se­quent to me in trou­ble by some­thing I didn’t know I was sup­posed to do or wasn’t sup­posed to do.”

The ses­sion also ad­dressed trade agree­ments as the Cal­i­for­nia Al­mond Board’s David Phip­pen ex­pressed his dis­com­fort over

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s re­marks on the North Amer­i­can Free Trade Agree­ment.

“I wanted you to know that these trade agree­ments are vi­tal to our in­dus­try, and it’s not just the al­mond in­dus­try here in Cal­i­for­nia. As you well know, many of our crops are ex­ported,” Phip­pen stated, who also pre­vi­ously stated that 70 per­cent of Cal­i­for­nia al­monds are ex­ported.

Escalon dairy­man Rien

Door­nen­bal sup­ple­mented Phip­pen’s claims by adding that dairy­men, corn grow­ers and hog pro­duc­ers have ben­e­fited from NAFTA.

“If we lose NAFTA, I know my dairy em­ployee prob­lems will be gone be­cause I won’t have any cows left for them to milk,” Door­nen­bal said.

Ad­dress­ing the con­cerns, Per­due re­sponded, “Our pres­i­dent is an in­ter­est­ing ne­go­tia­tor. If you read the book ‘The Art of the Deal,’ he feels like you’re not go­ing to be able to get the best deal

if you’re not will­ing to walk away from the deal, and that does con­cern me. I think we’re go­ing to get a NAFTA deal in the end, but there may be some bumpy roads in be­tween.”

As the ses­sion came to a close, Sec­re­tary Per­due ac- knowl­edged that there is more for him to do as he rec­og­nized the im­por­tance of trade, the la­bor con­cerns for dairy­men and har­vesters, and the en­vi­ron­men­tal and tax reg­u­la­tions that im­pact farm­ers such as those re­gard­ing food safety.

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