FRESNO, Calif. — The 800-pound gorilla in the room was anticipated spending cuts as Karen Ross, head of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, held the second in a series of listening sessions on the upcoming 2012 federal farm bill at the offices of the Fresno County Farm Bureau Federation.

“We recognize that all sectors should show fiscal responsibility,” said Carol Chandler, federal legislative director for Fresno-based California Women in Agriculture and co-owner of Chandler Farms, Selma. “We urge that budgetary reductions should be done weighing the cost benefits of the bill’s programs.”  

Ross, who was accompanied in Fresno by Undersecretary Sandra Schubert at the Aug. 29 session, is scheduled for two more listening sessions: Sept. 8 at the San Diego County Farm Bureau, Escondido, and Sept. 9 at the Monterey County Agricultural Commissioner’s office, Salinas. The sessions are designed, she said, to give California a strong voice in the national food policy discussion.

Support for specialty crops programs is high on the list for the California Grape & Tree Fruit League, Fresno, said Chris Valadez, director of environmental and regulatory affairs.
“We see significant opportunities to build on some of our positive momentum from the last farm bill,” he said.

Funding concerns dominate farm bill sessionThe specialty crop block grants “have been widely successful and continue to enhance (growers’) competitiveness,” Valadez said.

He pointed to the Market Access Program and the Technical Assistance for Specialty Crops programs as high priorities for the League.

With regard to funding, the League would like to see specialty crop grants commensurate with the proportion of specialty crops by region, Valadez said.

The specialty crop block grant program is also a priority for the Tulare County Farm Bureau, said Patricia Stever-Blattler, executive director.

Also among the bureau’s top concerns is maintaining funding for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program that works to protect working lands while also providing environmental benefits for wildlife habitat, air and water quality, she said.

Stever-Blattler said the U.S. Department of Agriculture should be more aggressive on the global front.

“The bureau strongly supports USDA’s market development programs to improve trade as we face increasing competition in foreign markets,” she said.

Fewer than 50 people, two dozen of whom spoke, attended the listening session. Among the speakers, six represented the dairy industry while nearly a dozen spoke on behalf of urban-based groups such as the Pesticide Action Network, Food and Water Watch and Food and Freedom Riders.