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U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack stressed the need for innovation and collaboration during his visit to Terranova Ranch Thursday, Aug. 5, 2021 near Helm.


President Joe Biden’s agriculture secretary touched down in Fresno. Here’s what he saw

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack stressed innovation and collaboration Thursday as he visited a Fresno County farm dealing with California’s drought.

He toured the Terranova Ranch accompanied by Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, and Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford, whose districts divide the grower of vegetables and nuts along Highway 145 in Helm.

Vilsack’s visit comes the same week the State Water Resources Control Board imposed an “emergency curtailment” order covering the rivers of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta watershed — essentially the entire Central Valley.

The order is a greater restriction on surface water than state regulators made in the state’s previous drought, and the most dramatic step since the drought was officially declared in most of California.

The state is seeing rising temperatures, increased forest fires, faster melting snowpack and little rain fall as a product of climate change. Beating climate change will take innovation, Vilsack said.

“We need to figure out ways to adapt to that reality,” he said. “That adaptation requires a change in thinking. It requires us to think anew.”

Some funding for research is available in the $1 trillion federal infrastructure bill, Vilsack said. California stands to gain at least $39.4 billion in federal funding over the next five years to help rebuild roads, expand the state’s electric vehicle network, improve public transportation and more under the infrastructure bill now moving through the Senate.

“Those who’ve been on different sides of issues understand that action’s required now,” Vilsack said. “If we don’t have the luxury of disagreement in the face of what mother nature’s challenging us with, then we have got to figure out how to get to the table.”


Fresno County’s agricultural and livestock production of $7.7 billion for 2019 fell short of the record-breaking previous year, but the county still topped all others in production, according to the annual report from the county.

But this year offers a difficult outlook on water. “We’re truly struggling and to be able to bring attention is obviously important,” Valadao said.

Farmers also face difficulty in recruiting a workforce and challenges in transporting crops for export, he said.

Costa said growers are not only important to the food supply but also to many workers.

“Food is a national security issue,” Costa said. “With around 4% of America’s population is directly involved in the production of food and fiber. It isn’t often viewed in that fashion by the majority of Americans.”

Costa and Vilsack both voiced support for the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, which would make changes to visa programs and provide legal status to the men and women who have been working on farms and living in local communities for many years. Valadao has also expressed support for the legislation.

The act has passed the House.

“This is another one of those issues where people found common ground to solve an issue,” Vilsack said on Thursday.

CORRECTION: Some photo captions incorrectly referred to Reps. Jim Costa and David Valadao as assemblymen. They are congressmen.

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