National Editor Tom Karst chatted with Rayne Pegg on March 29. Pegg is manager of the California Farm Bureau Federation’s National Affairs and Research Division.
11:04 a.m. Tom Karst: What are the top two or three issues you are dealing with in California right now?
11:05 a.m. Rayne Pegg: With the governor’s current budget proposal that will equal a $31 million cut to the California Department of Food and Agriculture over the course of two years, the Farm Bureau, along with some other farmer representative groups, have been sitting down with the department and saying, “How can the department maintain strong programs for protecting against pests and diseases with few dollars?”
That’s a big challenge, but I think it is actually a good question because it forces you to look at (whether) we need to do things like we have always done them. Can the pest and disease prevention programs function better or function differently? Do we need to make better investments in other areas for the long term? I like looking for answers to those questions, and that’s probably the biggest (issue) we are facing.
Immigration reform is another major issue. A lot of growers right now are really feeling the impact of not having an immigration program that works. And so we are really working with Congress, pushing Congress that something needs to be done this year, regardless of whether or not it is an election year. They need to focus on this issue; it is not just impacting California growers, it is impacting growers in Arizona, the Northeast, everywhere. One solution is not it. Just fixing H-2A is a component of it but is not the solution that will work for everyone.
The farm bill is the next issue. The biggest question in the air right now is which year will it get done. Our focus is continuing to strengthen those programs that have been successful for California.
11:07 a.m. Karst: What did you think of the recent Office of Inspector General report about USDA AMS oversight of research and promotion orders? It didn’t seem too critical of the USDA in its findings.
11:09 a.m. Pegg: Which is rare for OIG. The reason I had asked OIG to look at USDA oversight of the checkoff programs was that I wanted more information. I think it is good to have a third party look at that, and that is really the purpose of OIG.
That’s why I asked the OIG to look at our oversight while we simultaneously developed better guidelines and looked at where improvements could be made. I’m glad OIG recognized that. I think AMS is continuously looking at how they can improve oversight of those programs because they can be vulnerable, but they can also be really successful for our producers. They can be a great tool for our producers and I’ve seen that.