CFBF delegates tackle issues, fine-tune policies


Issue Date: December 16, 2009
Ching Lee

Finding broad solutions to the state's ongoing water problems drew plenty of discussion last week as delegates to the California Farm Bureau Federation Annual Meeting fine-tuned the organization's water policy.

Delegates representing 53 county Farm Bureaus tackled wide-ranging issues that captured news headlines this year—from the water crisis to the financial demise of dairies to climate change and food safety.

But it was clear that water was a key discussion topic for the delegation of farmers and ranchers, who struggled through another drought-stricken year in 2009 and water cutbacks that threatened the viability of their farms.

Prior to the policy discussion, delegates heard reports from around the state by participants of a "water summit" organized by county Farm Bureaus to seek comprehensive, long-term solutions.

"It reflects that our organization is trying to take a forward-looking approach to water needs," said Chris Scheuring, CFBF managing counsel for the Natural Resources and Environmental Division.

Most notable was the adoption of policy language to address the need for long-term conveyance improvements. Recognizing that the state's agricultural production would be in jeopardy without these options, delegates approved policy that says Farm Bureau supports "a water supply solution that improves conveyance of water through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta region."

In addition, the policy makes explicit that any conveyance improvements would need to mitigate for related project impacts, but not for other stressors that contribute to general ecological issues in the delta.

"Now that the House of Delegates has fine-tuned our water policy, CFBF staff will work to put that policy into action," Scheuring said. "We'll use all the tools we have and be present in all of the forums available to us, because we know how important it is to achieve a comprehensive solution to our state's water crisis."

In a year in which dairy farmers suffered catastrophic losses due to the drastic drop in milk prices, delegates also adopted policies to address the current dairy crisis and longer-term dairy policy to give dairy farmers better stability.

For example, language was added to CFBF policy to support "establishing a program to better manage milk supplies nationwide."

Delegates also passed CFBF policy to expand flexibility in the federal price support program and urged national adoption by AFBF. The change included deleting language that is no longer relevant in the current dairy economy where the cost of milk production far exceeds the price support for the finished product.

Concerned about future FDA actions on food safety, delegates adopted new policy language to address federal food safety legislation and regulations. Currently, legislation is moving through Congress to expand the authority of FDA to administer food safety regulations, with a bill expected to be signed into law next year.

The new policy outlines the "must haves" in federal legislation or regulation to improve Farm Bureau's ability to protect farmers' interests from onerous regulations. It specifies that federal food safety guidelines should be voluntary, science-based and not so burdensome that they impair production or limit a grower's ability to export their product overseas.

The policy also makes clear that no product should be identified as high risk; fees or fines should not be imposed on farmers as a way to raise money to enforce the regulations; and an indemnification program should be established "to properly compensate farmers when the government errs."

With climate change policy being discussed in Congress, delegates passed policy language on environmental carbon credit incentives to help CFBF staff provide input as legislators and regulators debate national climate change policies.

"The reason it is important to have guiding policy on this issue is because we already have a mandatory program here in California and we want to make sure that anything that gets established at the state level is in alignment with what's going on at the national level," said Cynthia Cory, CFBF director of environmental affairs. "We also want to ensure that we're not going to be put at a competitive disadvantage if there's something at the national level that's completely different from what we have here in California."

The CFBF policy makes clear that the U.S. Department of Agriculture should have the "primary role in developing agricultural and forestry greenhouse reduction or sequestration parameters for carbon offset protocols."

"What we're trying to do is make sure that we've got agricultural scientists, not EPA scientists, trying to decide what constitutes a carbon credit," Cory said. "We need the expertise that's there with folks who are familiar with our farms and ranches and utilize that experience, not get someone who's used to regulating an oil refinery trying to figure out how much carbon might be in an almond orchard."

The new language also pushes for recognition of the "important role that agriculture can play in carbon reduction plans" and specifies that any agricultural practices and improvements made on the farm that reduce greenhouse gas emissions be eligible for carbon credit incentives.

Consumer misunderstanding of the H1N1 flu virus led delegates to adopt policy to strengthen consumer education issues, urging AFBF to pursue an aggressive public information campaign. With repeated references to the flu strain as "swine flu," the misnomer adversely impacted pork producers because consumers thought they could catch the virus from eating pork.

The new policy urges AFBF to develop consumer education programs to raise awareness on issues such as food safety, pesticide use, water quality, invasive pests and diseases and other environmental issues. It also supports educating consumers about the challenges agriculture faces in the current business and regulatory environment, and encourages AFBF to "incorporate all available communication technologies and strategies" and partner with other organizations to reach diverse groups of consumers.

Delegates also sought better recognition of specialty crops in CFBF and AFBF policy. They adopted language to support the inclusion of a specialty crops title in future farm bills, funding to promote market development and additional research in fighting pests and diseases and harvest and cultural practices.

Among other actions, Farm Bureau delegates adopted policies that say:

  • Proper protections should be in place to ensure that crops for biofuels do not become invasive.
  • CFBF should pursue efficient national transportation policies by working with other interests.
  • Timely post-fire management and reforestation should be among the highest priorities on all government-owned lands.
  • When deciding on where to locate solar-energy projects, priority should be given to marginal federal lands.
  • When quarantines are established, county agricultural commissioners should provide timely inspections at nursery operations to avoid plant losses.

"The new policy actions reflect the challenges facing California farmers and ranchers—the need for short- and long-term solutions for our water supply problems, positioning Farm Bureau to respond to the pending food safety and climate legislation and seeking answers to pricing problems facing the dairy sector," said Jack King, CFBF national affairs manager.

Delegates to the American Farm Bureau Federation will meet in Seattle in early January, to develop AFBF policy.

(Ching Lee is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at clee@cfbf.com.)

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