Lois Capps talks about farm bill with locals

Maintaining money for pest detection efforts, allocating funds for research programs and providing support during disasters, including drought, were three of several issues raised Monday during a local discussion of the next federal farm bill.

Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, met with local farmers and ranchers, Cal Poly students and faculty, and farm organizations to hear their concerns and input on a massive piece of legislation that will set farm and food policy for the nation.

The farm bill is renewed every five years and shapes policy on a wide range of programs including food safety, research, conservation efforts, food stamps, insurance and subsidies for commodity crops. The current bill expires later this year.

“California and agriculture go hand-in-hand, and the Central Coast is a major part,” Capps said. “My goal is to make sure Central Coast agriculture is strong.”

A few attendees at Monday’s meeting said one of their top concerns is ensuring access to workers.

Last October, local and state agriculture leaders met at the San Luis Obispo County Farm Bureau and urged Congress to deal with immigration reform comprehensively and seriously.

Capps said she and other state representatives will send a letter urging President Barack Obama to consider the impact immigration policies will have on the agriculture industry.

A few other topics were raised during Monday’s hourlong meeting.

San Luis Obispo County Agricultural Commissioner Marty Settevendemie stressed the importance in maintaining or increasing funding for pest prevention and detection programs.

Bernard Olsen, president of the San Luis Obispo County Farm Bureau who grows hay, grain and sheep on the east side of Paso Robles, said new regulations, such as those regarding water quality and diesel emission, need to be fully vetted to show the impact on local farmers.

“We aren’t always able to set our own prices or pass on additional costs,” he said. “So when we’re asked to take on additional regulations, it’s difficult.”

Cal Poly President Jeff Armstrong and other university officials said they hope funding continues to flow to the California State University Agricultural Research Institute. From 1999 to 2011, the program received about $262 million in state and federal funds and matching money from external sources.

Of that, $3.1 million came from a specialty crop block grant included in the 2003 farm bill.

The money has allowed four universities — Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, Cal Poly Pomona, Fresno State and Chico State — to form industry partnerships on research projects.

At Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, they include one that will reduce water use by finding a new way to peel peaches, and another that quickly found chemicals to stop a rare fly from decimating a Buellton-based company’s seed production.