“Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” – The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution
Lobbying is a vital part of American democracy and helps ensure that grievances that threaten the livelihood of individuals or an industry are heard and, ideally, resolved. This tool is especially important for agriculture, which continually faces a plethora of legislation and regulation that make it increasingly difficult for farmers to grow healthy, nutritious food.
Western Growers (WG) understands that the policymaking processes that govern our nation are complex and can be overwhelming for individual citizens or business owners.
“At its heart, Western Growers is an advocacy organization,” said Dave Puglia, WG executive vice president. “We’re in front of legislators and regulators in Sacramento, Phoenix and Washington, D.C., fighting for the interests of our members. Our advocates don’t represent anyone else, and their intense dedication to our members becomes very personal. I certainly know the elation, frustration and anger that come with every success and setback. No group of professional advocates is more dedicated to this industry than ours.”
For more than 90 years, WG staff have acted as the liaisons between fresh produce farmers and elected and appointed representatives. They understand the legislative process inside and out and have made it a priority to educate policymakers about the importance of agriculture before they vote on bills that affect the fresh produce industry. With fully staffed government affairs offices in Sacramento, Phoenix, and Washington, D.C., WG’s dedicated investment to advocacy is unique to the industry.
Since opening the Washington, D.C. office in 2007, WG’s influence has grown substantially at the federal level. For example, the D.C. staff organizes an annual “fly-in” in the spring, where members of the WG board of directors and executive staff convene with federal lawmakers and administration officials face-to-face to address issues critical to the agriculture industry.
Today, the D.C. office is comprised of three staff members: Dennis Nuxoll, vice president, federal government affairs; Jonathan Sarager, director, federal government affairs; and Tracey Chow, federal government affairs specialist. These advocacy experts act as the on-site warriors promoting policies that protect the industry and fighting against legislation that endanger growers and their operations.
Here is a behind-the-scenes look into what a week in September 2019 looked like for the tremendous trio.
With negotiations surrounding the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) and the U.S.-Japan Trade Agreement heating up, Dennis meets with Tracey at the office to discuss the week’s pending meetings. This includes speaking about WG’s position, ironing out talking points, discussing the latest updates on the negotiations and determining which WG staff member will attend which meetings.
Dennis and Jonathan meet with the D.C. steering committee for the Agriculture Workforce Coalition (AWC) to collaboratively work on a House ag labor bill. WG is among the 130 global organizations in the AWC that share the goal of achieving agricultural immigration reform that will protect current workers and pave the way for a future flow of labor; in D.C., the steering committee is comprised of representatives from about a dozen of those 130 groups.
Tracey meets with the Food and Ag Dialogue’s North American Working Group to discuss USMCA updates and strategies. This includes determining what the goals are for the week, what needs to be accomplished in the coming days and exchanging pertinent information about each of their respective organization’s needs. Next, the group—which solely represents food and agricultural organizations—finalizes the key messages and talking points and collaborates on organizing meetings with target Congressional offices.
Tracey reaches out to congressional staffers to set up meetings with legislators to discuss agricultural needs in the USMCA.
Dennis and Jonathan conduct a download from the AWC and delve into other topics surrounding immigration, including updates on H-2A and farmworker wage negotiations.
Jonathan reviews food safety documents that WG Senior Vice President of Science, Technology & Strategic Planning Hank Giclas sent over the previous night relating to E. coli and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s latest efforts to identify a kill step. Jonathan researches and reviews past articles and webinars on the topic.
Tracey prepares for her upcoming meetings with congressional members about USMCA. She then heads out to those various meetings to speak with staff of House and Senate leaders about agriculture’s needs as they relate to international trade.
As part of his role on the Agricultural Technical Advisory Committees for Trade (ATAC), Dennis participates in a classified briefing with the Administration and the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) about the various trade negotiations. During today’s briefing, Dennis hears about updates in negotiations with Japan. He also has the opportunity to engage with Administration officials and discuss how aspects of the potential agreement will affect the agriculture industry.
Jonathan reaches out to WG members in Colorado to coordinate “farm tours” for the upcoming week. Next week, Jonathan and Tracey will fly out to Colorado to meet with Colorado Fruit & Vegetable Growers Association/WG members to inquire about what federal issues are most important to Colorado fruit and vegetable growers and how the WG D.C. team can help solve those challenges.
Dennis and Jonathan participate in a two-hour meeting with the AWC, exchanging information on the latest updates on negotiations relating to a House ag labor bill.
Dennis reads and reviews the documents discussed during the ATAC briefing, focusing on the agriculture-specific items.
Tracey heads to a meeting with the USMCA Coalition, a broader business coalition focused on educating representatives about USCMA and securing congressional passage of the agreement. As one of the members of this coalition, WG works with other business partners to lay out a plan, share feedback from congressional meetings and discuss tactics on how to get USMCA across the finish line.
Dennis and Jonathan meet with members of Congress and the AWC steering committee to review, edit and strengthen the House ag labor bill.
Dennis works with Hank Giclas and Dennis Donohue, director of WG’s Center for Innovation & Technology, to set up meetings with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) on mechanization and automation. WG is gaining steam on its efforts to accelerate the pace of automation in agriculture. The team continues to collaborate with USDA on potential programs and initiatives to advance specialty crop mechanization.
Dennis participates in a classified briefing for ATAC to receive an update on the U.S-Japan Trade Agreement.
Dennis attends a fundraiser for Congressman Salud Carbajal, where he has the opportunity to speak with Rep. Carbajal about concerns of WG members farming in the Santa Barbara/Santa Maria areas.
Jonathan attends an intimate breakfast fundraiser for Congressman Dan Newhouse, where he speaks to Rep. Newhouse and his staff about the necessity of passing a House ag labor bill. Over the past months, Dennis and Jonathan have worked closely with the Newhouse office on immigration reform efforts.
Tracey fields calls from WG members to assist in solving importing and exporting issues.
Dennis strategizes with Dave Puglia and Cory Lunde, WG senior director, strategic initiatives & communications, on a media campaign to secure passage of a House ag labor bill and lay the groundwork for the bill to be passed through the U.S. Senate. The team brainstorms an integrated media campaign that will target California, Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico.
Tracey attends the meetings with members of Congress to discuss USMCA.
Dennis and Jonathan meet with the AWC to strategize on how to finalize the immigration reform bill language and move into the next steps for official Congressional consideration.
As the end of negotiations on the House ag labor bill nears, Dennis spends hours speaking with Rep. Zoe Lofgren’s office to discuss items such as where the bill stands, components and elements within the bill, what language needs revising, and much more. The discussion also identifies stakeholders who will be crucial in helping the bill pass through the House.
Jonathan attends the CropLife America Government Policy Weekend and Annual Meeting. In addition to being a part of two coalitions that fight for the use of crop protection tools, WG is actively engaged with organizations that produce and protect the necessary crop protection and biotechnology products used by farmers. During the meeting, Jonathan receives updates about the latest and pending threats to pesticides and speaks with other advocates about ways to protect these necessary tools on a federal level.
Dennis speaks with the chief of staff for a California congressional representative to outline the pending House ag labor bill and explain how the bill would benefit the constituents the member represents. This is in an effort to gain momentum for the passage of the ag labor bill in the House.
Tracey communicates with several WG members on their export issues and walks them through how to resolve those challenges, which often includes close coordination with USDA staff. She also finalizes the agenda for the Colorado farm tours she and Jonathan will be participating in next week.
Dennis works with congressional staffers and water and irrigation districts on the mechanics of a House water bill that can accompany the Drought Resiliency and Water Supply Infrastructure Act (S. 1932) authored by Senators Dianne Feinstein, Cory Gardner, Martha McSally and Kyrsten Sinema. The larger objective is to secure a legislative package to address water supply and drought resiliency needs throughout the country, particularly in the Western states.
Dennis connects with WG President & CEO Tom Nassif and Jason Resnick, WG vice president & general counsel, to provide an update on the House ag labor bill and discuss tactics on how to move the bill forward.
For many, the thought of spending long hours every workday in the halls of government is about as appealing as a dentist appointment. Fortunately for Western Growers members, Dennis, Jonathan and Tracey are driven to be there, to fight for good ag policy, and to never give up.