From passing a strong Farm Bill, to addressing the critical labor shortage and drought conditions, Congress must take these opportunities to step up and support our local agriculture industry. The Central Coast provides families across the nation with nutritious food, and I’m fighting to even the playing field for our local producers.
The president’s recently announced trade policies, however, have only hurt our Central Coast farmers. When the president announced a steel tariff on China, he risked inciting reciprocal measures. We’ve seen that fear realized this month as the Chinese government implemented a 15 percent retaliatory tariff on our berry and wine industries—two of the top agricultural products throughout Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, and Ventura counties.
Fortunately, negotiations around the upcoming Farm Bill have shown promising signs of bipartisan support for the agriculture industry in an increasingly polarized Congress.
The Farm Bill, which must be passed every five years, provides important support for our agriculture industry. That’s why as negotiations for the bill moved forward this year, I brought the ranking member on the House Agriculture Committee to meet with farmers in Santa Maria. I wanted Congressman Collin Peterson (D-Minnesota), a key player in the Farm Bill negotiations, to hear directly from our local agricultural business owners and operators about their priorities as Congress crafts this important piece of legislation.
Throughout these negotiations I will continue to advocate for well-funded specialty crop research grants, invasive pest prevention funding, expanding crop insurance, and other programs that Central Coast growers depend on. It is equally important that this bill includes support for SNAP and other nutrition programs, which are lifelines for low-income children and seniors on fixed incomes in our community.
Agriculture producers in our region also face another ongoing crisis with drought conditions. We need innovative solutions to address our water needs, and that is why I’m introducing legislation this month that creates an EPA program to help communities like ours strengthen the resiliency of their water and wastewater infrastructure.
Grant funding will be distributed for infrastructure projects aimed at conserving water or increase efficiency in its use and implement advanced treatment technologies such as water reuse and recycling.
Since my time serving as a Santa Barbara County supervisor, farmers, ranchers and vintners on the Central Coast have told me that finding a stable workforce is an ongoing and worsening challenge. Central Coast businesses recently reported more than $13 million in losses due to the labor shortage. The wine grapes, strawberries, and other specialty crops that thrive on the Central Coast are very labor intensive, necessitating the need for a reliable, legal workforce.
Providing stability to our agriculture industry is one of the many reasons that I fully support comprehensive immigration reform that allows existing workers to come out of the shadows and continue to contribute to our economy while also establishing a reliable guest worker program to address future labor shortages. My father spent most of his life as a farmworker initially working in our country through the Bracero Program. Later, after my family immigrated here through a system that functioned at the time, I grew up watching his hard work in the fields of Oxnard benefit our community’s agricultural industry.
Our current immigration system is badly broken, and it’s holding our country and our local agriculture industry back. That’s why I am co-sponsoring legislation to create a new system to stabilize the existing agriculture workforce that would allow all workers who pay back taxes and fees and have no criminal record to receive a “blue card” work authorization and an opportunity to apply for citizenship after five years of additional work in the industry.
Despite drought and labor challenges in 2016, San Luis Obispo County’s total crop value was a record high at $914 million last year. In Santa Barbara County, the total crop value was $1.42 billion. Clearly, the health of our agricultural economy is directly tied to the well-being of the Central Coast.
In Congress, I will continue to fight for these important measures to ensure long-term success for our local agriculture industry.
Rep. Salud Carbajal represents the 24th Congressional District of California in the U.S. House of Representatives and is running for re-election this year. Send your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org.