CFBF president: Farmers must remain united

Issue Date: March 21, 2012
By Steve Adler
Farm Bureau leaders from throughout California gathered for the annual Leaders Conference last week in Sacramento.
Photo/Matt Salvo

When it comes to agriculture, California is not a "one size fits all" state and it is important that farmers and ranchers work together to achieve common goals and ward off common foes.

That was the message delivered by California Farm Bureau Federation President Paul Wenger to the 450 agricultural leaders attending the CFBF Leaders Conference in Sacramento last week. Wenger kicked off the all-day session by appealing to those in attendance to stay active in standing up to the many challenges facing them—water, immigration, high-speed rail and the state's budget crisis, to name a few.

"We never have a shortage of issues. It seems like no matter how many problems we solve, there are new issues surfacing that need to be dealt with," he said. "We know that water is one of those key issues that will be before us for a long, long time—not only water storage, but the way that it relates to water quality."

He commented on the water bond slated to appear on the November statewide ballot unless an alternative course of action is taken by the Legislature.

"It is an area of discussion that is still going on in the state Legislature and among those of us that utilize water, not only for agricultural purposes, but also those that are looking for money for water recycling, stormwater capture and use, as well as other water-related issues," he said.

Wenger next turned to the controversial proposal to construct an 800-mile, California high-speed rail system connecting Los Angeles to San Francisco. Estimated cost over the 20-year construction period is nearly $100 billion.

"At a time when we look at our state budget and we talk about doing things that are infrastructure related that would have a positive effect on our economy, we're not sure we can successfully pass a water bond, yet we have people talking about high-speed rail," he said.

The CFBF president questioned the practicality of the proposed route through the San Joaquin Valley rather than another location that would provide service to the majority of urban travelers and commuters who would be more likely to use the service.

"There are tons of people who could be commuting on high-speed rail," he said, but it needs to be built where those people commute. Wenger said the focus should be where the greatest ridership is possible, perhaps from Santa Rosa to Gilroy or between San Diego and Los Angeles. Instead, he said, planners have focused on putting high-speed rail in the Central Valley, "where there are few commuters but land is relatively cheap."

Regarding the state government's fiscal crisis, Wenger said he is concerned that election-year politics could affect efforts to close the California budget gap.

"Nobody wants to talk about it; nobody wants to face the reality of what's before us," he said. "What should concern us all is how government is going to solve the budgetary problems. They cannot do it on the backs of business and industry."

When farmers and ranchers have financial problems, he said, they have to figure out a way to deal with it on their own, without putting the burden on others. Government is no different, Wenger said.

"It is interesting that nobody wants to talk about the hard decisions that need to be made. Today, if you listen to the rhetoric, it's almost as if we've come out the other side of this tunnel and the economy is doing really well. But what's different?" he asked.

Wenger said immigration reform continues to be a major issue both in California and nationally.

"No one wants to talk about immigration, and yet everybody is talking about it," he said, noting that at recent American Farm Bureau Federation commodity advisory committee meetings in Anaheim, "the one thing I kept hearing was immigration, immigration, immigration. It is one of those issues that we need to deal with, but because it is an election year we keep hearing that you can't deal with it," he said.

Wenger expressed frustration after hearing several members of Congress tell him that there will not be immigration reform this year because of the upcoming election. He suggested that such a course of action is just an excuse not to take action, noting that the last two significant immigration reform bills both passed during election years.

In wrapping up his presentation, Wenger again emphasized the importance of farmers and ranchers speaking out in a unified voice.

"We need to be united. If a farmer gets cut, we all need to bleed, and I don't care where you are from and what you do, we all have to work together," he said.

(Steve Adler is associate editor of Ag Alert. He may be contacted at

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