Farm leader urges economic stimulus for rural regions


Issue Date: July 15, 2009
Dennis Pollock

The road to recovery from an economic slump must reserve lanes for California farmers, ranchers and rural residents. But building that road will require fixing the state's broken water delivery system.

That was the message from Doug Mosebar, president of the California Farm Bureau Federation, during a Road to Recovery Conference in Fresno.

The California Recovery Task Force is staging full-day conferences—including the one last week at Fresno State University—to explain how employers, government entities, communities and non-profit organizations can apply for and receive federal stimulus money.

Mosebar was part of a panel that focused on jobs, and he opened by pointing out "family farms and ranches, packinghouses, processing facilities, seed, feed and equipment suppliers already exist and can get people back to work right away."

Through the collapse of the dot-com sector and the housing market, "California family farms and ranches remained our one sure thing," he said.

Mosebar's comments on farming as an economic stalwart received support from a speaker who preceded him, Antonio Avalos, an economics professor and research director for the Center for Research and Economic Education at Fresno State. He displayed a chart showing that agriculture has been a consistent contributor to the San Joaquin Valley economy.

California's share of the federal stimulus package is estimated to be about $85 billion over three years, including an estimated $30.2 billion in federal tax relief and $55 in billion in spending for federally designated purposes.

A $1 billion apportionment to the San Joaquin Valley could generate 15,000 jobs and $70 million in tax revenue, Avalos said.

Mosebar said he favors investments in water development, food programs and education to stimulate rural economies and help revive hard-hit communities. He suggested three principal goals: "Get the water flowing again. Stimulate the dairy economy. And invest in reviving the technical education system."

Mosebar said there can be no recovery in rural communities "if we don't fix our water system."

"Road building, housing and other stimulus programs are all important but those new roads will be highways to nowhere if farms don't have reliable water supplies to grow the food that we all need," he said. He encouraged government leaders to "think big and think creatively" about how stimulus money could be used.

Mosebar said some stimulus money could be invested on construction of a proposed "Two Gates" project that would be used to protect fish in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and allow more flexibility in water operations.

"The Two Gates project is 'permit-ready' and could be installed within 90 days, a short-term stimulus project if ever there was one," he said.

He also said money could be used on a proposed "intertie" of the California Aqueduct and the Delta-Mendota Canal, which would link the State Water Project and the federal Central Valley Project, providing flexibility to the water system "at a time when it's desperately needed."

In response to Mosebar's comments, Pete Weber, a member of the board of the California Partnership for the San Joaquin Valley, cited a University of California study that detailed 80,000 jobs lost due to the drought and cutback in water deliveries.

"It's insane for all that to be lost in this economy," Weber said.

Weber added he supports the idea of looking for stimulus money for the projects "because they're shovel-ready and they fit the idea of job creation and prevention of huge job losses. They should be done to alleviate a man-made drought."

Mosebar referred to a town hall meeting in Fresno last month, at which U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar referred to the Two Gates project and announced appointment of his deputy secretary, David J. Hayes, to work with state and federal officials on the state's water delivery crisis.

He told Weber "there are several hurdles to get past" before the crisis can be solved.

Mosebar said farmers in the past six years have invested more than $1.5 billion in high-efficiency irrigation systems, and he would like to see the government match that investment by building projects to assure reliable water supplies for the Central Valley and for all of California, including farms in the delta.

He said dairy farmers, saddled with an oversupply of milk, could be helped if stimulus funds were used to buy fresh and dry milk and cheese for local food banks.

"Such expenditures would provide the dual benefits of providing high-energy, nutritional food products to low-income families, while helping dairy farmers pull out of their downward price spiral," Mosebar said.

And he recommended putting stimulus money into career technical education programs for professionals whose work links to farming.

Kurt Silva, program manager with the Merced County Employment Development Department, talked with Mosebar about declines he has seen in Los Banos in the number of equipment dealerships during the water crisis.

But, referring to the Fresno State economist's findings, Silva said the farming sector shows great resilience.

"Farming has weathered some economically tough years," he said.

As often as possible, Mosebar said, federal stimulus money should be directed to projects that provide multiple benefits for each dollar spent. Projects that encourage continued food and farm production in California, he said, "will generate economic activity in both our rural communities and our cities, and they will assure continued food security for our nation."

The conferences on the Recovery and Reinvestment Act are co-hosted by the California Jobs Commission. Two additional conferences are scheduled: one for Southern California on July 22 at the Anaheim Convention Center and one for Northern California on July 23 at San Jose State University. For more information, see www.recovery.ca.gov.

(Dennis Pollock is a reporter in Fresno. He may be reached at agcompollock@yahoo.com.)

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