Vilsack Stresses Almond Industry’s Economic Importance

Taylor HillmanGeneral

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack
USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack highlighted the strong economic impact of the California almond sector this week as he met in Modesto with several almond leaders. Citing a UC Davis economic study showing the almond industry generates more than 100,000 jobs and more than $21 billion gross revenue across all industries in the state, Vilsack said this economic impact affects not just almond growers but the entire country and that it’s important to educate people at all levels of government about the positive economic impact of almonds.

Vilsack’s comments came as he addressed concerns about the port slowdown earlier this year that severely affected the almond industry. Approximately 70 percent of California almonds are exported and nearly 80 percent of bulk almond exports by value are exported from the Port of Oakland. Bulk almonds alone accounted for nearly 16 percent of the $20.1 billion in goods exported from the Port of Oakland in 2013.

The slowdown in loading and unloading vessels resulted in almond handlers and shippers reporting hundreds of containers delayed, dozens of cancelled orders, several rerouted orders at considerably greater expense, as well as hundreds of thousands of dollars in congestion and other charges.

Vilsack said the port slowdown is a prime example of the importance of educating government and federal agency officials about the value of California almonds. He noted that the most effective stories that were told to the Administration about the crippling effects of the port slowdown came from farmers.

Vilsack met Monday and Tuesday during a Modesto visit with several industry leaders including Kelly Covello, president, Almond Hullers and Processors Association; Bill Lyons, Mapes Ranch, chair of AHPA’s Government Affairs Committee; Dick Cunningham, Cunningham Ranch Inc., AHPA chairman; Alicia Rockwell, Blue Diamond Growers; Anne MacMillan, Wonderful Almonds & Pistachios; Dexter Long, Hilltop Ranch Inc. and  Ron Fisher, Fisher Nut Company.

Almond leaders also were able to discuss industry issues with Central Valley Congressmen Rep. Jim Costa (D-Fresno) and Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Modesto) who both serve on the House Agriculture Committee. State legislators attending were State Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Cathleen Galgiani (D-Stockton), State Senator Anthony Cannella (R-Ceres) and State Assemblyman Adam Gray (D-Merced).

“We appreciated Secretary Vilsack taking time from his schedule to meet with us and discuss in-depth the issues that concern the California almond industry,” said Covello. “We discussed a broad list of issues ranging from the port slowdown to federal drought legislation and the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Secretary Vilsack demonstrated a great grasp of our issues and we felt the dialogue was very constructive and look forward to continued discussions with him and the USDA.”

Vilsack praised the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement. He called it an enormous opportunity for American agriculture. The TPP will boost demand for U.S. farm and food products among nearly 500 million consumers in 11 countries across the Asia-Pacific region. Specifically, for California almonds, the TPP states that that Japan, Malaysia and Vietnam will eliminate tariffs on all tree nuts including almonds, pecan, macadamia nuts and walnuts. In the 2013-14 crop year, over 75 million pounds of almonds were exported to Japan, nearly six million pounds to Malaysia and more than 18 million pounds to Vietnam.

Covello said almond leaders made it clear in their comments that, “This trade agreement will help California almond growers in their efforts to gain and increase access to these important markets.”

In comments about the need to put more funding into the nation’s infrastructure, Vilsack again pointedly noted the importance of California agriculture to the nation. He told the group that Congress needs to figure out how to get the funding for the country’s infrastructure needs. He called for significant investment and said it is not just a California problem but a national infrastructure problem that needs to be dealt with by Congress,

Vilsack also pledged USDA’s continued support to farmers affected by the drought. Vilsack said the USDA has provided funding for the installation of water-saving irrigation systems, emergency water supplies for rural communities and research. He said more than $100 million has been directed by the department for specific initiatives to California and explained the support and help will continue as long as California is dealing with the drought. He said it’s in the interest of the nation to solve California’s water problems.