The U.S. Secretary of Agriculture stopped at a Madera farm Sunday evening as part of his two-day visit to California, where Sonny Perdue talked about helping young people in the farming industry and about the challenges farmers in California face.
The former governor of Georgia also made an appearance at Modesto Junior College on Sunday and on Monday he was in Kern County for a round table with local producers at Grimmway Farm in Arvin.
In Madera, Perdue toured Cavallero Farm with owner Mark Cavallero, a 21-year-old Reedley College student who was a 2017 national FFA American Star Farmer finalist. Perdue was joined by Democratic congressmen Jim Costa of Fresno and Jimmy Panetta of Carmel Valley.
Cavallero’s family has owned the land since 1912, Cavallero said, and he began farming grapes at 10 years old. Now he farms 10 acres of Thompson seedless grapes and 42 acres of almonds.
Perdue said farmers are aging, and that’s a problem. According to the U.S. Census of Agriculture, the average age of a farmer in the U.S. is 58.3 years old.
“We’re looking at the challenges now in setting up young people in agriculture,” Perdue said. “How can we enable young producers like Mark to start and get a foothold in agriculture? There are huge barriers.”
He said the Trump administration is looking into removing impediments and overregulation to help young farmers operate and own their own farms.
“We’re working on a legal guest-worker program,” Perdue said. “There’s some real challenges between seasonal crops and the dairy business, because cows have to be milked everyday. … It’s a complex issue.”
Perdue said he was excited to drive by all the orchards and vineyards in the central San Joaquin Valley because California is much different than his home state of Georgia.
“I appreciate you showing me what an almond orchard looks like,” Perdue told Cavallero. “Come to Georgia and I’ll show you what a pecan grove looks like.”
Perdue added, “It’s just stunning to come here and see it on the ground. Just mile after mile, seeing the orchards and vineyards is amazing.”
Costa said he is working with Perdue on a bipartisan farm bill.
“He understands what the most important product is out there – the farmer,” Costa said.
Note: The original story had the wrong year for when the Cavallero family purchased their land.