Chatting with Rayne Pegg, manager of the national affairs and research division of the California Farm Bureau Federation.
11:00 a.m. Tom Karst: How are you adjusting to life back in California after having been at USDA as administrator of the Agricultural Marketing Service?
11:01 a.m. Rayne Pegg: It is wonderful being back in California. It was a great experience being in DC but it is always nice to be home, close to family and back at the Farm Bureau. Who can complain when you live in California?
11:02 a.m. Karst: What made you want to go back to the California Farm Bureau?
11:02 a.m. Pegg: I’ve always enjoyed representing farmers and working with farmers. The state is going through a number of challenges. My experience both at the state and federal levels helps in addressing those challenges. Our California Department of Agriculture is taking a lot of budget cuts and is looking at how they can do things differently. So my experience at the federal level helps in looking at those and thinking of new ways to address some of our old problems. I enjoy that.
11:04 a.m. Karst: What are the top two or three issues you are dealing with in California right now?
11:05 a.m. 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 pest 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 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.
And 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 and 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.