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Denham: Farm bill critical to California

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POSTED November 17, 2013 11:14 p.m.

Congressman Jeff Denham, who is also a Turlock almond grower,   underscored the importance of education measures and the Farm Bill during a talk before the Salida Rotary.

“It’s a big issue that most in California don’t realize as a big issue,” Denham said of the Farm Bill.  “Across the nation, most other members don’t realize how big our agriculture really is in this state.  We are the top dairy state and over 50 percent of the nation’s vegetables, fruits and nuts come out of California.  We are by far the largest Ag economy in the nation and the largest Ag economy in the world.”

Denham stressed there are some big issues in the Farm Bill where farmers finally have an opportunity to get “a fair shake” for once, like having crop insurance.

“Other states always get their crop insurance where ours has it challenges,” he said.

He added that he wants to see a bill that gets rid of subsidies, saying he doesn’t need a check to help him run his business.  In contrast he cited the need for things that are out of control for the farmer like pest prevention.  

“The Glassy Winged Sharpshooter came across our border and nearly devastated our wine industry, our grape industry,” he said.  “There are pests that can come in and create huge challenges for our industry.”

The congressman noted that California has the best research labs in the entire world.  There is a need to be using the CSU and UC university systems and continue to keep a global advantage and “grow more with less,” he quipped.

Immigration is another key issue he touched upon saying, “I am convinced if we do nothing about the 11.5 million people who are undocumented, that is amnesty.  Our system has been broken far too long.  It is a multi-generational issue that has gone on now for over three decades.”

He added that he doesn’t want to see the immigration question continue to be tweaked, saying the country needs a long-term solution.

Denham cited the national debt as yet another problem in Congress.

“It’s our version of handling a check book and giving the President a blank check,” Denham said. “It is our credit card.  At some point the Republicans have to come together with the Democrats.  The $17 trillion (in debt) makes me nervous.  That is $60,000 for every man, woman and child.”

Denham shared that he had signed up for the military at 17 – a family tradition.  He had grown up on a farm and spent 16 years in the U.S. Air Force serving both on active and reserve duty.  

“While in the reserves, I started a plastics company that I still own today.  I was able to buy a home and ranch where my wife and I brought up our kids and grew almonds.  Farm work taught me a lot about life, putting a business together and then I got frustrated,” he said.

Denham said education was a big part of his frustration with very young kids at home at the time.  His other issue was the agriculture that he felt was over regulated by people who had no idea about the lives of those in rural communities.  A lot of decisions were getting made that adversely affected the farmers and created disadvantages, not only on the U.S. market but also on the world market, he said.  The congressman recalled seeing many challenges in place that could put the industry out of business.

“My wife and I will never forget sitting around the table discussing many times whether our kids would go to public or to private schools.  Then, finally, one day she just said, ‘If you’re really that concerned do something about it.’  I don’t think she meant for me to run for the state Senate,” he said.

Denham recalled it was those two issues – education and agriculture – that he was very concerned about that first got him into politics.

“It was a big decision, because I’m not a city kid,” he quipped.

He beamed when he said it finally gave him the opportunity to work on the Farm Bill when he arrived in Congress and now for the first time he’s on the Conference Committee.

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