U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack visited California this week, meeting with growers, industry groups, and state officials to learn about the challenges facing agriculture. During his stop at Terranova Ranch in Fresno County, Secretary Vilsack heard from local producers about the impacts of drought. Secretary Vilsack noted that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) may need to rethink assistance programs to better address the unique situation in California.
“They are really established for specific instances of disaster that last and go away. What you have here in California is a long-standing, some would call a ‘megadrought.’ One that’s lasted years as opposed to months,” Secretary Vilsack explained. “Our programs need to be designed for addressing that type of disaster, rather than trying to cobble things together which is what we’re doing today.”
The farm tour and press conference included Representatives Jim Costa and David Valadao. Secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture Karen Ross was also in attendance. Secretary Vilsack referenced the Interagency Drought Relief Working Group and other USDA resources aimed at relieving some of the pressures of drought. He said that USDA understands the hardships growers are facing due to the “toxic mix” of rising temperatures, lack of rainfall, early snowmelt, and wildfire events.
POSITIVE OUTLOOK ON TRADE:
In his remarks to the press, Secretary Vilsack opened with an update on trade. He explained that the U.S. is on pace for a record year of agricultural exports. While not all California crops stand to benefit from the increased trade volume, work will continue to expand export opportunities. “We need to continue to work with our Chinese friends to continue to open up markets in China. But also, to look at ways in which we can diversify our trading partners to include Southeast Asia, Africa, as well as countries in South America. We are certainly working on that,” Secretary Vilsack noted.
PUSH FOR LABOR STABILIZATION:
Labor challenges facing the agricultural sector were another topic of discussion at the event. Secretary Vilsack stated that “the time has come for the Farmworker Modernization Act to pass”. He referenced the need to provide stability not only for farming operations but for agricultural workers and their families. Secretary Vilsack highlighted the legislation as a positive example of Congressional cooperation and hopes the U.S. Senate will take action quickly.