OPN Connect: You were sworn in on January 3, 2017. What are your initial impressions as a freshman member of Congress?
It has been a whirlwind of activity in Washington, D.C. and at home on the central coast of California. From that very first day, I have been actively engaged in the legislative process considering that I have voted 239 times, co-sponsored 50 pieces of legislation, and authored two bills. I speak on the floor of the House of Representatives every week and have testified in front of numerous subcommittees during the appropriations process. I was appointed to the House Agriculture and House Natural Resources Committees, which perfectly represent the bountiful agriculture and beautiful environment of my district. When I come home every weekend, I go throughout the Central Coast to meet, talk, and listen to people about their needs and concerns, including those in agriculture that are affected by the growing labor shortage and those who were afflicted by the damage from the severe storms of this past winter.
OPN Connect: How are you enjoying the Agriculture Committee? What are your priorities?
The Committee has a reputation for bipartisanship and it appears to be living up to that with our work on the 2018 Farm Bill. My priority on the Committee is to ensure that our specialty and organic crop producers get what they need from the government so that our region remains one of the most productive agriculture areas in the nation. I hope to work at the federal level to provide our producers with the most effective tools and technical assistance possible to help them increase yields, conserve resources, and protect our environment. By working to establish collaborative partnerships between USDA, our land-grant universities, and the private sector, we as a Committee can help foster innovative solutions to some of our greatest agricultural challenges.
OPN Connect: Specifically, what challenges are producers and farmworkers facing in your district? How can you help through your work in Congress?
Having grown up on the Central Coast, I know how important immigration is to our economy, communities, and culture. However, it is apparent that the failure of Congress to address immigration reform since 1986, the current administration’s rhetoric and anti-immigration executive orders, and a shrinking and aging work force, has led to a labor emergency for our agriculture industry. Recently, I authored a bipartisan letter to President Trump highlighting the importance of immigration to our agriculture sector and our rural communities. Joined by Representatives Jim Costa (D-CA-16), Jeff Denham (R-CA-10), and David Valadao (R-CA-21), it was my goal to stress that the economic viability of California’s agriculture industry is heavily dependent on a reliable supply of labor and that more attention should be devoted to crafting an effective solution for this challenging issue.
OPN Connect: Your district has many organics producers. How are you working on the federal level to help them succeed?
My home on the Central Coast is the fifth largest organics producing district in the country. There are over 400 organic producers who have capitalized on organic’s consistent double-digit growth over the past decade. It is my goal on the Agriculture Committee and as a member of the Organic Caucus to help this industry continue this record of success. More should be done to provide the organic sector with the resources necessary to successfully support this dynamic and growing market. There needs to be significant investments in organic research to better meet the unique needs of this industry. From increased technical assistance efforts to better incentives tools for organic transition. I look forward to advocating for the expansion of organic agriculture to provide economic opportunity for our producers and increased accessibility to consumers.
OPN Connect: You mention investments and sufficient resources, but President Trump has suggested that he wants to slash domestic spending. How are President Trump’s proposed cuts to USDA going to impact California’s Agriculture Community?
A 21 percent cut to USDA is unjustified and indefensible based on the needs of our farmers and ranchers, and it undermines agriculture’s contributions to our communities. This proposed slashing of funding for USDA programs would severely limit the Department’s ability to effectively operate on behalf of our producers and rural communities. The USDA funded Agriculture Research Station in Salinas is dedicated to developing solutions for some of the most pressing challenges faced by specialty crop and organic producers. When this station makes scientific advances, our entire industry benefits. Slashing the USDA budget, particularly in relation to research, would be a shortsighted error that would stifle innovation and stagnate the future success of our agriculture industry. I will continue to advocate for California growers, shippers, and farmworkers to ensure that proposed budget cuts do not hamper the state’s $54 billion agriculture industry.