Farm Bureau leaders meet with legislators


Issue Date: March 21, 2012
By Kate Campbell
Ana Rodrigues, left, legislative director for Assembly Member Susan Bonilla, D-Concord, talks with Contra Costa County Farm Bureau leader Tom Brumleve about top issues facing California farmers and ranchers.
Photo/Kate Campbell
Modesto almond and walnut farmer Eric Heinrich, left, provides background information to Kayla Williams, the press secretary for Sen. Bill Emmerson, R-Riverside, during a meeting at the state Capitol. Other Farm Bureau leaders participating in the meeting included, from left, Kathye Rietkerk, Gayle Covey, Jack Hamm and James Hopewell.
Photo/Kate Campbell

Armed with background information on the immediate issues facing family farmers and ranchers, more than 100 Farm Bureau leaders from California outlined how legislators can help address those issues during meetings at the state Capitol last week.

The key message the Farm Bureau representatives delivered is that improving the state's overall business climate will go a long way toward protecting family farms and ranches. They covered issues that included implications of fire protection fees in State Responsibility Areas, maintaining rural crime programs, the burdensome regulatory process and more.

For example, Farm Bureau discussed the organization's support for Assembly Bill 1506 by Assembly Member Kevin Jeffries, R-Murietta, that would repeal the imposition of fees on landowners in State Responsibility Areas. A new $150 fee per habitable dwelling will be assessed this year, unless repealed.

For Contra Costa County cattle rancher Tom Brumleve, the annual fee would be quadrupled because his family operation includes homes for family members.

"My experience over the years in meeting my legislators and members of their staff is that our visits are well received," Brumleve said. "This year was not different. We usually have a good rapport with our local legislators, but we also try to meet with legislators from urban areas."

Those meetings are interesting, Brumleve said, because "we're often talking with people who have a much different perspective."

"A legislator from midtown Los Angeles will see things differently from someone representing Modoc County," he said. "I always feel we're carefully listened to."

With metal theft from farms and ranches at epidemic levels, Farm Bureau representatives expressed support for AB 2289 by Assembly Members Katcho Achadjian, R-San Luis Obispo, and Fiona Ma, D-San Francisco. The bill adds deterrents to thieves trying to sell stolen metal.

"Rural crime is an issue that all lawmakers and staff seemed to relate to," said Eric Heinrich, a Modesto almond and walnut farmer. "I was able to share our story with them. Recently, we've had people taking metal tree stakes out of the field just when we need them. Replacement cost is four or five times more than they get from recycling. It's very expensive."

Heinrich said thieves have also been stealing brass irrigation valves from his farm.

"Maybe the thieves got a few hundred dollars for them, but it cost us close to $10,000 to replace them and repair the damage to our equipment and irrigation system," he said.

Heinrich, who is a Stanislaus County Farm Bureau director and member of the 2012 Leadership Farm Bureau class, said lawmakers easily related to the problem because it's a statewide issue.

During a visit with Kayla Williams, the press secretary for Sen. Bill Emmerson, R-Riverside, Heinrich said he found a real understanding of the seriousness of the issue and the need for effective solutions.

All Farm Bureau leaders discussed their ongoing concern about mounting regulation and how it hampers food production.

"The regulatory climate keeps getting more complex and costly," Heinrich said. "You can look up the road and see what's coming down. Just take environmental issues. I'm in favor of good environmental stewardship, but you also have to keep an eye on economics—is a change financially feasible?"

The regulatory climate has "a real impact" on his daily operation, Heinrich added.

"There's more paperwork, more hoops to jump through and more regulations coming down," he said.

To help ensure that farmers can grow and transport their produce or livestock, Farm Bureau leaders expressed support for AB 1516 by Luis Alejo, D-Watsonville; AB 1749 by Richard Pan, D-Sacramento; and AB 2111 by Nora Campos, D-San Jose. The legislation would help farmers and ranchers by amending the Vehicle Code to increase the gross vehicle weight rating of certain vehicles used in agriculture, and add several vehicles used in field work and to haul a specific crop to the first point of processing as implements of husbandry in the Vehicle Code.

"I found this year's meetings went more easily," said Gayle Covey, San Bernardino County Farm Bureau manager. "Partly that's because I'm more seasoned after having participated in these visits for the past several years."

Covey said that in addition to scheduled office visits, her group had an impromptu visit with Assembly Member Mike Morrell, R-Rancho Cucamonga, about issues related to the invasive, non-native Asian citrus psyllid, which has triggered quarantines in Southern California citrus growing areas.

"We had comfortable conversations with several legislators and requests for more information on the issues we brought up," Covey said. "I've already gotten emails from legislators thanking us for the visit. Overall, I consider this year's visits to be highly successful."

(Kate Campbell is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at kcampbell@cfbf.com.)

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