Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Odds-on favorite for new House speaker has been good for agriculture, except on immigration

Rep. Kevin McCarthy
The likely candidate to replace John Boehner as speaker of the House could be good for agriculture, reports Agri-Pulse. Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) "could hardly come from a more important agricultural district in the nation. The bulk of his sprawling district is in Kern County in California’s prodigious Central Valley, which ranks No. 2 nationally in the value of the crops it produces, according to the latest Agriculture Department census." Kern County "produced an estimated $7.5 billion worth of commodities last year, including table grapes, almonds, milk, citrus, pistachios and carrots."

Though McCarthy doesn't have a farm background, his "presence has paid off on occasion for California farmers, most recently in the 2014 Farm Bill," Agri-Pulse reports. "At the time, the U.S. citrus industry was casting about for some way to get the money desperate growers felt they needed to stop citrus greening, or Huanglongbing disease. California growers have so far largely escaped the disease, which has ravaged Florida groves."

Joel Nelson, president of California Citrus Mutual, an industry trade group, said he reached out to McCarthy during the crisis, asking for a sustained research program, reports Agri-Pulse. "McCarthy then reached out to the then-chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, Frank Lucas (R-Okla.), and the result was a provision in the Farm Bill providing $125 million in dedicated research spending over five years, Nelson said."

"Nelson said McCarthy’s interest in agriculture has ebbed and flowed and has been stronger recently than it was when he first came to Washington," reports Agri-Pulse. "Still, some in California agriculture have been frustrated that McCarthy hasn’t done more to pass immigration reform, Nelson acknowledged. Farmers in Kern County, as well as the entire Central Valley, rely heavily on immigrant labor.

"McCarthy opposed a provision in the Senate’s 2013 immigration bill that would have provided a special path to citizenship for immigrants, industry officials said," Agri-Pulse notes. "He also was hearing objections in his district to wage requirements in a proposed agricultural guest worker program in the bipartisan Senate bill, said Paul Wenger, president of the California Farm Bureau Federation. But he and other industry officials say McCarthy understands that agriculture can’t be forced to use the E-Verify system to check the legal status of employees until there is an adequate guest worker program." Agri-Pulse is subscription-only but offers a four-week free trial.

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