Washington DC trip helps build relationships

June 23, 2017 – – The beginning of summer brings not only a warmer climate, but the annual trip to Washington, DC by a small group of California Almond industry members, along with Almond Alliance of California (the Alliance) and Almond Board of California (ABC) staff.

Almond industry leaders meet with USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue in his office.

The annual fly-in marks a week of hectic activity as we meet with multiple Federal agencies and multiple Congressional members and/or their staffs.  Our group included Holly King, Triple Crown Holdings, LP; Martin Pohl, Hughson Nut, Inc.; Kent Stenderup, Stenderup Ag Partners, Micah Zeff, Montpelier Nut Company; Julie Adams, Gabriele Ludwig, and Richard Waycott, ABC staff; and Kelly Covello, the Almond Alliance.

On the legislative side, this year we met with Congressmen Jeff Denham (R-Modesto), Jim Costa (D-Fresno) and David Valadao (R-Hanford). Both Denham and Costa sit on the House Agriculture Committee and Valadao is Vice Chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture.  All three have a farming background and are friends to agriculture for which we are extremely grateful.  We also met with staff from the House Agriculture Committee and from Senators Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris.

The primary focus of all conversations was the 2018 Farm Bill.  While the current farm bill runs through September of 2018, legislators have already turned their attention to writing the new bill.  The California Almond industry leverages many programs funded by the current farm bill including grant programs like the Specialty Crop Block Grants (SCBG), crop insurance (83% of almond growers carry USDA endorsed crop insurance), trade programs like the Market Export Program (MAP), the Foreign Market Development Program (FMD), and the Technical Assistance for Specialty Crops program, as well as the Conservation programs such as the Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP).

This is where the relationship between the Alliance and ABC provides incredible benefits – the ABC’s reputation for credible data and the trust/professionalism they’ve engendered with DC stakeholders is unparalleled.  It cleared the way for important conversations about how the almond industry utilizes these programs, and the economic impact on farm communities.   The Almond Alliance will be working closely with ABC over the next year to promote the industry’s interests to maintain or increase funding for these programs.  It is particularly important as the President’ proposed 2018 budget recommends eliminating the SCBG, MAP, and FMD programs which would be very detrimental to the California Almond industry.  With the anticipated 25% increase in production over the next 3-5 years, MAP and FMD trade programs are vital for expanding global markets for this increased production.  As part of the group’s efforts for coalition building, we also met with representatives from the American Farm Bureau Federation and Western Growers Association about how they see issues emerging in DC.

We also had the opportunity to meet privately with Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue.  Sec. Perdue was very interested in learning about the almond industry, particularly the importance of trade and the proactive investments that are being make in innovative research and building demand ahead of supply.  Secretary Perdue’s home state of Georgia also grows specialty crops including peaches and pecans.  We look forward to working with the Secretary over the next few years.

No trip to DC would have been complete without seeing staff of several USDA departments including the Agriculture Marketing Service, the Foreign Agriculture Service, Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Agricultural Research Service.  We also met with the Food and Drug Administration to discuss the Food Safety Modernization Act implementation and with the Office of Pesticide Programs of the Environmental Protection Agency.

There is a lot happening in Washington that will directly impact California Almonds, and the way we farm.  Having a relationship with key stakeholders is an essential part of making sure our issues are being considered.