Conservative district hard to please
US Rep. John Garamendi won't officially represent Colusa and Glenn counties in Congress until Jan. 3, but the Democrat from Walnut Grove knows he has his work cut out for him if he hopes to please his largely conservative, agricultural 3rd District.
Garamendi, who met with farmers, hunters and conservationists at the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge near Willows on Friday, joined the House Agriculture Committee on Nov. 27 to be a part of the final negotiations for the five-year Farm Bill.
The congressman, along with Minnesota Rep. Collin Peterson, were invited by Ducks Unlimited to hear the concerns of those who will be impacted by legislation, particularly the more than $30 billion in proposed cuts to farm subsidies, conservation and nutrition programs.
"The farm bill is in play at the moment, and it's a pretty contentious issue," Garamendi said before the closed meeting.
While Democrats and Republicans in the House of Representative have agreed on about $28 billion to $32 billion in cuts, getting to a final agreement on what has to go has proven difficult, Garamendi said.
The bill proposed by the House Agriculture Committee would get half its savings by cutting farm subsidies and conservation, and the other half from supplemental nutrition assistant program, commonly referred to as food stamps.
White House Democrats want no cuts to the nutrition program, which has stalled progress on the bill's passage, he said.
Garmandi said the program not only feeds the 25 percent of children who go to bed hungry, but provides a market for farmers, whose surplus products are purchased for nutrition programs.
All the cuts could have a significant impact on Glenn and Colusa's rice industry, as well as the natural habitat for the millions of migrating waterfowl who make rice fields and refuges their winter feeding grounds.
The cuts also stand to impact the school lunch and senior nutrition programs.
"It's a lot of money," Garamendi said. "It's a lot of money for the farmers and it's a lot of money for hungry people."
The Farm Bill has been a staple for local rice farmers since the 1930s when President Franklin D. Roosevelt made federal support of agriculture a centerpiece of his New Deal.
Farmers see it as an industry-support system against the vagaries of price, yield and weather.
"Rice prices have been good for three years," said Gridley farmer Doug Rudd, before he met with the congressmen in the closed meeting. "What about the 15 years before that? Government subsidies holds the line over time."
Rudd, who grows rice, prunes and almonds, said cutting farm subsidies will have the greatest impact on younger and new farmers who may not have enough savings built up to cover high fuel costs, which drive up cost for fertilizer, harvesting and decomposition.
"Everything is fueled by fuel costs," Rudd said.
Ducks Unlimited, which has been a leader in wetlands conservation since the 1930s, has its concerns as well, particularly on any legislation that impacts agriculture and conservation.
"Waterfowl are very dependent on the agriculture community, especially the rice industry," said Mark Biddlecomb, Ducks Unlimited director for the western region, which covers the nine western states including Alaska and Hawaii. "Our concern is the sustainability of agriculture."
Whether it's the Farm Bill or water legislation, Biddlecomb said it's important that wetlands of Northern California don't pay the price.
Garamendi's and Peterson's meeting at the wildlife refuge ran about two hours.
Both legislators said they plan to take the information back to Washington where the new Farm Bill is to be decided by Dec. 31.
CONTACT Susan Meeker at 934-6800 or email@example.com.