OPN Connect: We understand that U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue visited your facility in Arvin last week. How did you arrange for such a prestigious meeting?
I would like to say I arranged it, but Western Growers called me on Thursday and said “Sonny Perdue is coming to visit, can you invite a few farmers and Western Growers members to a small round-table? He wants to pick peoples’ brains on how things are going.” He is already scheduled to visit us after the beginning of next year.
Well of course I said “great I will be there!”
OPN Connect: What were some of the agricultural topics that were discussed with the Secretary?
For the most part we discussed immigration and getting a good guest workers program; we aren’t happy with the ones being proposed- he listened and wants to ensure that we can harvest our crops.
We talked about NAFTA and water - big picture- federal and state. He seemed to understand that all farmers are hit with a lot of cost pressure and margins are thinner every year.
We brought up things from a California perspective – for instance we have a new gas and diesel tax that just went into effect. I was very satisfied and think he came to understanding exactly what issues we have and he was already aware of many of them – it wasn’t breaking news- I was very impressed with him!
OPN Connect: Why is it important that Secretary Perdue visit specialty crops grower such as Grimmway Farms?
I think he enjoyed finding out that we produce 65 different organic fruits and vegetable in California and we produce carrots in 6 different states. We discussed how each crop is different and varies from state to state. When you grow in one area it’s completely different- from weather, labor, and regulations. He was shocked that we grew so many different items in so many different areas. He picked our brain on all the difficulties of such diversity.
California is by far the most difficult state we operate in, more than anywhere else, from facilities, water, regulatory environment, but it’s where we produce the majority of our product.
Kern County is the number one agricultural county in California and the largest in the US. He knew that walking in.
OPN Connect: Where there any discussions on the Farm Bill and priorities for organic specialty crop growers?
We didn’t talk a lot about the Farm Bill. We did discuss how important organic is and that it not get watered down. I was vocal about not cutting corners that we cannot allow shortcuts and we must have tight rules and regulations to keep consumers confident when they purchase the label. Whether it’s here in the US or in imports, organic integrity has to be upheld.
He brought up the delay of the Animal Welfare final rule said he was trying to understand it more. We spoke briefly and he just wants to get his arms around it.
OPN Connect: Where there any significant takeaways for the USDA or President Trump?
We were very specific on the importance of a good consistent labor force. We must come up with a strong guest worker program. The labor pool is very short and those of us with seasonal crops cannot get the help when our crops are ready to harvest. The President must realize how important these are to us and we aren’t replacing American jobs - I think he got it.