51st annual event continues to Thursday

The eyes of the agricultural world once again turned to Tulare County Tuesday for the kickoff of the 51st annual World Ag Expo, and a visit from a special dignitary in its opening hours generated a lot of interest among attendees.

United States Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue was in attendance at the International Agri-Center to participate in a town hall meeting, where he offered his thoughts on California agriculture and attendees expressed their concerns and questions.

After an introduction by U.S. Congressman David Valadao (R-CA 21st District), Secretary Perdue, who grew up on a dairy in Georgia, greeted the audience and expressed his impressions of California’s diverse agricultural landscape.

“As I ride through the Central Valley, it’s amazing to me to see all the diversity of the crops and all of the things you do to help feed a hungry nation and a hungry world. I’m honored to be here,” said Perdue.

He also expressed his enthusiasm about being at the biggest farm show in the country, describing himself as “a kid in a candy store.”

Perdue extolled the “blessings of meaningful, purposeful work” the agriculture industry offers, and praised the innovation of and resiliency of American farmers.

After a brief dialogue with California Farm Bureau President Jamie Johannson on the importance of receiving feedback on agriculture regulations, Perdue turned his attention to the concerns of the audience.

“I’m here to learn. I want to hear from you very candidly on what’s working and what’s not working, so tell me what’s on your mind,” said Perdue.

With that, the floor was opened to comments, and attendees posed a variety of questions and concerns to the Secretary relevant to the state’s ag industry.

One audience member asked for the Secretary’s assistance in facilitating California’s entry into the federal milk pool, and another expressed a need for federal assistance in expanding Highway 99 to six lanes to expedite deliveries to market.

A representative from the UC Cooperative Extension expressed the importance of federal funding for agricultural research, as well a need to make better distinctions between rural and metropolitan counties for the purposes of allocating those dollars, which drew a round of applause from the audience.

While most of Perdue’s responses were acknowledgments of concern or admissions that the question was beyond the scope of a town hall meeting, on some occasions he did offer a more certain answer.

In response to one person’s concern that California’s designation as a sanctuary state and ongoing disagreement with the White House on immigration policy would affect the amount of federal infrastructure funding it receives, Perdue said he didn’t think it would be an issue going forward.

A representative from the California Avocado Commission criticized the H-2A temporary ag worker immigration policy, claiming it isn’t flexible enough and is too expensive.

“A legal, foreign-born workforce is absolutely vital to California, as the rest of the farmers in the U.S. and again, looking to continue in the deregulatory environment to reduce the kind of regulations that are impediments to the safe production of food,” said Perdue in response.

Secretary Perdue was most recently in Nevada, and has visited 33 states in the past nine months in a mission to address the challenges facing American farmers.

Along with Valadao, Congressmen Jim Costa and Jeff Denham were also in attendance at the event.

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