Wenger says farmers ‘can change our future’

Issue Date: December 7, 2016
By Steve Adler
California Farm Bureau Federation President Paul Wenger tells delegates at the 98th Farm Bureau Annual Meeting in Monterey that they have the ability to change their future, if they commit the time and resources to the effort.
Photo/Christine Souza
California Farm Bureau Federation President Paul Wenger addresses a packed auditorium Monday at the 98th Farm Bureau Annual Meeting in Monterey.
Photo/Christine Souza

In his address to a packed auditorium at the 98th California Farm Bureau Federation Annual Meeting in Monterey, CFBF President Paul Wenger emphasized the importance of unity in agriculture.

"We in California know that we have some big challenges. So what are we going to do? Are we going to point at each other, or are we going to work together?" he asked.

When working on the challenges they face, Wenger said, farmers and ranchers must commit to invest in the future of agriculture, "for our kids and our grandkids."

Noting that CFBF would soon commemorate its centennial, Wenger asked those in attendance to compare what things were like 100 years ago to what things are like now.

"Sometimes we think that we have it pretty tough and we forget about those folks that came before us, who came to this country sometimes with nothing in their pockets. They staked out a part of this country and they fought on," he said. "We are in a place today that we can change our future if we want to. It was those people who came before us who gave us this opportunity, and the big question is whether we are going to answer that bell."

Wenger praised the earlier generations of Californians who had the foresight to build the reservoirs and infrastructure that provided the ability to store and move water to allow farmers and ranchers to make California the greatest agricultural region in the world.

"Today we are in an equal fight, not to develop what we have, but to defend it, to protect it. We have to defend the technology and our ability to use it," he said. "We are asked to squeeze more crop per drop, so we send our kids to college so they can get educated and come back and develop new things like biotechnology, and then you have people out there who are saying that biotechnology isn't good and that we can't do it."

Wenger said no organization is better equipped than Farm Bureau to answer agricultural critics.

"When you think about how it started nearly 100 years ago, it was started right there with our county Farm Bureaus. It is critically important that we have the help and support of our county Farm Bureaus around the state," he said.

Wenger used the example of Trinity County in the North State and San Diego County at the southern edge of the state.

"Trinity County might not have as many members, but believe me, when it comes to some of the issues, they are going to start in Trinity and spread throughout this state. We have to fight the fight together to make sure that at the end of the day, we can all remain in agriculture," he said.

The CFBF leader went on to say that it is important for Farm Bureau to work closely with other agricultural organizations and partners so that "we don't hand over control to those entities that don't have our best interests in mind."

Wenger also discussed the election of Donald Trump as president and the implications of the incoming administration. He acknowledged some areas of concern, such as foreign trade agreements and immigration policy, but noted potentially beneficial developments as well, such as the withdrawal of a "waters of the United States" rule unpopular with farmers and ranchers.

Wenger said the Trump administration might also move to ease the burden of other federal regulations, and the Republican-controlled Congress could act to ease the impact of federal estate-tax laws on family farms and ranches.

"We can look to the federal level to help us, but folks, all politics is local. We have to be involved, we have to be engaged and we have to invest," he said.

Wenger acknowledged Farm Bureau and other agricultural organizations had suffered losses in the state Legislature during the past year, but added that "a loss is not a defeat unless you let it be."

"When you think about the people in the Revolutionary War that were decimated; when you think about the young men who were coming out of the landing crafts on the beaches in Normandy and who never even made it to engage the enemy, of course it was a loss to be mourned, but it was a loss that helped to cement the basic freedoms in this country. There are many battles that we lost, but they didn't lead to defeat."

At the end of his speech, Wenger returned to the theme of sacrifices made by previous generations of California farmers and ranchers to allow current generations to live a better life.

"What do we give back to make sure our children and grandchildren have that same opportunity?" he asked. "The baton is in our hands. What are we going to do with it?"

(Steve Adler is associate editor of Ag Alert. He may be contacted at sadler@cfbf.com.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.