Last week, as I walked through the rows of almond trees on my ranch outside of Fresno, I thought of my father and grandfather, who farmed this same land. I thought about the opportunity land presents to each generation, and the challenges we all face as San Joaquin Valley farmers.
Farmers in our Valley always face three major challenges among many others: Water, labor, and trade.
For decades – in both Sacramento and D.C. – I have been working to fix our broken water and immigration systems. Not only do we need reliable sources of water and labor on our farms, but we also need to ensure that both systems are fair, common sense, and address the realities we face every day.
Similarly, our farmers need access to export markets. California farmers, ranchers, and dairymen are some of the most prolific and efficient producers in the world. If we don’t have access to export markets, the United States will never consume all that we produce.
Just as land presents opportunity to each generation of farmers, each time the Farm Bill comes due for re-authorization, we in Congress are presented with the opportunity to strength our nation’s food policy for producers and consumers alike.
In anticipation of the 2018 Farm Bill, I held round-tables and listening sessions, attended agriculture town halls, and met with our farmers and farm workers across the Central Valley. I want to hear first-hand the concerns and priorities of our local producers, farm workers, and nutrition organizations regarding our nation’s food policy. Obviously, there are differences in opinion across our food supply system, but there are also five messages that I hear consistently, loudly and clearly.
First, we must maintain strong support for the cultivation and production of fresh fruits and vegetables. California grows over half of our nation’s fruits and vegetables, providing not just the Valley but the entire country with a healthy diet.
Second, we cannot abandon our nation’s most vulnerable through inhumane cuts to nutrition programs. These nutrition programs provide a steady source of food to our nation’s food insecure, including our children, disabled and seniors. In Merced County, 20 percent of the population depends on CalFresh as a source of nutritious food for their families.
Third, we should work to expand – not limit – foreign market access for our products. According to the most recent data from the California Department of Food and Agriculture, California agriculture producers earned about 44 percent of their total annual revenue from trade throughout the world.
Fourth, we must provide incentives to encourage sound conservation practices and research to ensure the sustainability and continued growth of California and American agriculture.
Lastly, we have the opportunity with the Farm Bill to address the crippling agriculture labor crisis afflicting our farms, and it must be addressed. Fifty-five percent of California’s agriculture producers report they are not able to fill the positions they have available.
Our nation’s food supply is a national security issue. California’s producers grow the safest, healthiest, and most secure food in the world. We benefit from this ability to produce our own food. Therefore, we must come together – Democrats and Republicans – to pass a strong, bipartisan Farm Bill that supports our current agriculture producers, our nutrition safety net, and the future of our agriculture system. We have an opportunity to strengthen our nation’s food policy with the 2018 Farm Bill.
Congressman Jim Costa represents California’s 16th District in the House of Representatives.