(April 3) INDIAN WELLS, Calif. — Immigration, the trials of doing business in California and the 2007 farm bill grabbed the attention of members of the Fresno-based California Grape and Tree Fruit League who gathered for their 70th annual meeting March 26-28.

Conducting workshops that delved into the pressing issues of the day were:

  • Attorney Monte Lake of McGuiness, Norris & Williams LLP, Washington, D.C.;

  • League lobbyists George Soares and Louie Brown of Kahn, Soares & Conway LLP, Sacramento, Calif.; and

  • Cal Dooley, president and chief executive officer of the Food Products Association, Washington, D.C., and a Democratic member of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1991-2004.

Timing couldn’t have been better for Lake’s presentation on the need for immigration reform. As he spoke, members of the Senate Judiciary Committee in Washington, D.C., were debating that very topic.

Lake was among a group of 15 people who met with President Bush and his top staff a week earlier to discuss immigration reform.

“(President Bush) let us know that he is a grower,” Lake said, and showed an understanding of the issue.

“We are here in the middle of a perfect storm today,” he said.

The immigration bill produced by the U.S. House of Representatives in December “would be disastrous for American business,” he said. Instead, he touted AgJobs, the Agricultural Job Opportunity, Benefits and Security Act formulated after “years of torturous give-and-take negotiations” by groups that have been historical opponents.

The legislation, being pushed by Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, was adopted as an amendment to the overall bill proposed by the Senate Judiciary Committee on March 27, Lake announced later that day. It was offered by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.

Addressing the challenges agriculture faces in California, Soares said 2.6 million acres of agricultural land have been lost to urbanization since 1950, “and the pace is quickening.”

The state has the sixth-largest economy in the world, he said, but “the governmental process is dysfunctional,” with a legislature that is “frozen in political conflict.”

Brown added term limits to the list. He said half of the 48 Democratic State Assembly members will be new, after the election this November, and for the most part, they will have little knowledge of issues like infrastructure, pesticides, labor, water quality and water availability.

Dooley, who said he was born, raised and worked on a farm before he was elected to serve as a Democratic Congressman, reiterated remarks he made at a U.S. Department of Agriculture forum in February.

The time has come to replace farm policies that, except for a few modifications, were developed as “temporary solutions” during the Great Depression, he said. Those policies were not designed for the age of globalization and are not helping the maximum number of farmers compete in the global marketplace.

Dooley called for providing all farmers with the tools they need “to manage risks while minimizing distortions in the marketplace.” A coalition of agricultural interests and others is needed to “cast off the policies of the past and to design the 2007 farm bill consistent with the age of globalization.”