Chairman Sammy Duda, Duda Farm Fresh Foods, concluded the 2017 March Board Meeting in Sacramento, California, Thursday afternoon. During the three-day meeting, the 44-member board engaged with key state officials – including Governor Jerry Brown and California Department of Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross – on critical industry issues and deliberated Western Growers’ public policy priorities.
The following is a summary of the major issues discussed during the committee meetings and addressed by the full board:
Legislative: The Legislative Committee was briefed on federal and state legislation impacting agriculture and the business community. At the federal level, Western Growers’ priorities include blocking E-Verify until immigration reform is achieved and securing funding for the recently-passed federal water bill. Additionally, Western Growers will remain engaged with the Administration and Congress on trade policy, tax reform, Endangered Species Act reform, Affordable Care Act repeal and replacement and the Water of the United States rule.
In Arizona, Western Growers is supporting several bills currently in the state legislature, including legislation that would allow landowners to retain ag property tax status if there is a reduction in their water deliveries and they choose to temporarily fallow the land; and provide funding to the Arizona Department of Agriculture Plant Services Division to compensate for a loss of federal funds.
In California, Western Growers is directing its efforts on a range of bills, including those related to air quality, renewable energy, employment hiring practices, universal single-payer health care and the nitrate drinking water issue.
Food Safety/Science & Technology (FSST): The FSST Committee held a conversation on “data-driven agriculture” and how Western Growers can help its members both identify best-in-class technology providers and use this technology to tell positive stories about their improvements in efficiency and performance based on quantitative data. It was noted that data is crucial to helping protect the social license of farmers to continue irrigating and fertilizing their fields.
The FSST Committee also discussed the Western Growers Center for Innovation and Technology, which has grown to over 30 startups since its opening in December 2015 and generated a high level of interest from investors, academia, government, startups and the industry. Now in its second year, the Center is shifting from its early organic growth strategy to a more focused, solutions-oriented approach to soliciting future technology providers and residents. Western Growers will continue to develop its network of growers engaged with the Center to pilot and mentor startups.
Other topics presented to the FSST Committee included updates on the Center for Produce Safety research and findings and the ongoing efforts to synchronize the Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement metrics and audits with the Food Safety Modernization Act.
Labor: At the federal level, the Labor Committee received updates on President Trump’s executive orders on immigration and their potential impacts on agriculture, as well as Western Growers’ efforts to educate its members on how to prepare for potential increased enforcement activities. The Labor Committee was also briefed on current efforts to modernize the H-2A program to make it more responsive to industry needs.
At the state level, the Labor Committee discussed the recently-enacted minimum wage increases in both Arizona and California, as well as the phase-out of agricultural overtime in California, including the uncertainties surrounding the 7th day of rest and irrigator exemptions.
The Labor Committee was also briefed on the industry opposition to the appointment of former state Senator Isadore Hall to the Agricultural Labor Relations Board (ALRB), Western Growers support for two court cases that challenge aspects of AB 1513’s safe harbor rules, and the latest activities of the PMA/United Joint Committee on Responsible Labor Practices, which is set to reconvene in April.
International Trade (IT): The IT Committee reviewed President Trump’s proposal to renegotiate NAFTA and provided direction on which provisions should be retained and what additional policies should be pursued, including those addressing border delays, Mexican subsidies and pesticide tolerances. The implications of other Trump Administration trade priorities, including the proposed border tax, were also discussed.
Water: Representatives from the Metropolitan Water District, San Luis Delta-Mendota Water Authority, Kern Water District, Friant Water Authority, the Exchange Contractors Water Authority and the Northern California Water Association joined the Water Committee in a roundtable discussion on the future of water supply in California. Topics such as the California Water Fix, biological opinions and the evolving science around the Delta, dam operations and flood control, development of water infrastructure projects, water rights and water conservation were all covered during the panel conversation.
The Water Committee was also briefed on Western Growers’ efforts to secure federal funds (under the WIIN Act) as match money for proposed Prop 1 water projects.
Trade Practices & Commodity Services/Transportation (TPCST): The TPCST Committee received an update on the Western Growers Transportation Program and ongoing trends in trucking industry. Other issues addressed by the TPCST Committee included master container labeling compliance for multi-unit packages, mobile refrigeration equipment regulations and potential Canadian legislation establishing a PACA-like payment protection program for growers and shippers selling product into Canadian markets.
For more information, contact Cory Lunde at (949) 885-2264.
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