LOS BANOS, California — Central Valley farmers got a chance to air their concerns to the main man in charge of agriculture in Pres. Donald Trump’s cabinet.
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue hosted a town hall with local farmers in Los Banos Friday, accompanied by California congressmen Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, Rep. TJ Cox, D-Fresno, Rep. Josh Harder, D-Turlock, and Rep. Doug LaMalfa, R-Richvale. One farmer’s hope after the discussion: solutions to agriculture’s problems.
Perdue got a warm welcome as he walked into the Germino Building in the Merced County Fairgrounds. However, before the town hall started, Costa reminded Perdue the farmers are there for business.
“As you know — water, trade, immigration and investing in our nation’s infrastructure are among the key issues [farmers are concerned about],” Costa said.
Over the next hour, most of those issues came up. An almond grower brought up tariffs, saying the financial toll taken from the loss of sales in the China market have been tough to deal with. Especially with India imposing tariffs this past month.
Perdue admitted farmers have been an unintended casualty in this trade war. However, he said short-term pain will lead to long-term gain — and that Trump has been doing his best to help.
“That’s exactly why Pres. Trump early on agreed with a $12 billion market facilitation program,” Perdue said. “This year, when China backed away from [trade] talks, he authorized a $16 billion program.”
Another farmer brought up concerns with Trump’s crackdown on immigration. Several attended the town hall with this concern, particularly because they’re seeing a dramatic shortfall in workers in their fields.
Perdue again defended his boss, saying Trump is only targeting criminals.
“We’ve communicated that to I.C.E., [telling them] while they have a tough job to do, [migrant workers] are hardworking and providing for a great economy in the United States,” he said.
Costa also brought up the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or the USMCA, which is Trump’s replacement for the NAFTA trade agreement.
When he did, Costa said he wants to make it a priority, and that he wants to see it passed by the end of the year.
Hunter Lindemann, a cherry grower with THL Ag, is a fifth-generation farmer in Merced County. He said seeing politicians from both sides of the aisle there focused on agriculture issues gives him hope — that real solutions can come soon.
“For this panel to come together in a bipartisan manner and to have the secretary here as well — it’s just really productive dialogue,” Lindemann said.
As far as where we stand with the USMCA, all participating countries have signed it. However, only Mexico has ratified it so far.