From TheCalifornian.com, Leslie Griffy, firstname.lastname@example.org, 19 Apr 2011.
Agricultural leaders told a Congressional committee that regulation — particularly rules about hiring and environmental protection — could be detrimental to the Salinas Valley’s biggest industry.
At a hearing in Salinas City hall on Tuesday, five agriculture industry leaders testified before the Congressional Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, or rather its chairman Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Vista and Monterey County’s Congressman Sam Farr, D-Carmel.
The group told the pair that a proposal to require all industries to use an online system to verify an applicant’s right to work in this country could seriously damage American agriculture.
“If we do that without providing a work program (for farm labor), we will be in dire, dire straights,” said Tom Nassif, president of the industry group Western Growers.
Under that scenario, wages, Monterey County Farm Bureau President Norm Groot warned, would increase.
The group rejected streamlining an existing visa program as too expensive to work well, instead pointing to proposed compromise legislation, known as the Ag Jobs bill.
It’s legislation that is languishing in Congress, but has the backing on industry leaders and union groups. The bill would provide a path to legal status for undocumented farmworkers who agree to continue working in agriculture and pay a fine. It also expands the county’s guest worker program.
The bill is unique said Richard Smith, owner of Paraiso Vineyards, because the United Farm Workers and industry leaders helped craft it.
“That (teamwork) to me is the kind of thing we’ve been trying to figure out all day,” Smith said. “We have a labor solution that is a license to be here and go home.”
The group also told the Congressmen that environmental regulations, often sparked by lawsuits citing the county’s endangered species protections or clean water laws, make life difficult for farmers.
“The result is yet another regulatory process,” California Strawberry Commission President Mark Murai said as he described new rules for pesticides. “For California, we now have three reviews of the same product.”
Strawberry growers are particularly concerned as the federal officials consider reviewing a pesticide already approved as a replacement for one that is being phased out.
“Now, after reducing the availability of methyl bromide,” a pesticide phased out under an international treaty, “the EPA is taking on the two alternatives,” Murai said.
Farmworkers’ advocates and environmental groups have filled a lawsuit to overturn the approval of an alternative pesticide, citing safety concerns.