In the two counties I represent, Stanislaus and San Joaquin, the gross value of agricultural production in 2011 was more than $3 billion and $2.25 billion, respectively. In addition to direct farm sales, our economy is supported by thousands of jobs in the upstream and downstream agricultural supply chain — involving farm credit loans, crop insurance actuaries and agents, conservation experts, disease specialists and veterinarians, transportation agents, marketers, packers, retailers and many other jobs.
By impacting this entire job stream, national farm policies have great promise to increase our community’s economic productivity and job creation. I am honored to have been appointed to the Farm Bill Conference Committee. This role will give me a platform to advocate for the needs of our state’s vast and productive agricultural economy.
As a farmer myself, I understand the specialized needs of various sectors of our agriculture economy across the country. I will take the needs of our community in particular to the table as a conferee. As the conference begins the bulk of our negotiations, I wish to share my priorities for this year’s Farm Bill with you.
My first priority is to provide long-term certainty for farmers, ranchers and dairymen while saving taxpayer dollars by eliminating direct payments and reforming nutrition programs for the first time since 1996. This is why we have designed a five-year Farm Bill. We need a workable dairy title that does not limit producers from reaching their potential, and we need to make it easier for our specialty crop growers to access crop insurance.
We also need to encourage innovative research and development on specialty crops, a major export for our region and our country as a whole. Specialty crops — such as almonds, which I grow myself — are a vital component of agricultural economies across the country.
Third, we must support trade promotion programs, such as the Marker Access Program, that increase exports by taking advantage of new free-trade agreements we have strengthened and established in the past years and preparing for those markets that are just beginning to open our agricultural products. Global demand for food will continue to increase, and nutritious items — including fruits and vegetables — should form the backbone of our school lunch programs and our foreign food aid.
As we work to protect farmers from the negative impacts of the unpredictable elements of nature through insurance programs, we must also protect domestic produce and farms from pests and diseases that primarily come from other countries.
Finally, it is imperative that we uphold states’ right to protect their own individual agriculture industries by passing laws related to safety and agriculture production. We must fight to strike the King Amendment from the Farm Bill, as it tramples on the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and imperils the fate of California egg producers. The amendment, if passed in the Farm Bill, would not only nullify many California food safety laws, but also affect food safety laws nationwide — laws that regulate tobacco, pest management, livestock entry requirements and dairy standards.
Other issues I am focused on in the Farm Bill discussion include maintaining House-passed protections for pollinators and native bees and ensuring that all U.S. foreign food aid is grown domestically, shipped on U.S. flagged vessels and emblazoned with the American flag when it is sent to those in need.
We can and must provide a blueprint to guide our farmers — a five-year plan they can count on as they plan their investments and risks, hire workers and feed America.
This year’s Farm Bill is within our control, and I look forward to working with Senate counterparts to produce a final product that will maintain a safety net for those most in need, give American growers and producers a competitive and productive global edge, and save taxpayers money.
• Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Turlock, was elected in November 2012 to represent California’s 10th District in the House of Representatives. Contact him through his Modesto office, 579-5458, or his website, http://denham.house.gov.