CFBF president's message: Measured approaches are needed

Issue Date: March 21, 2012

There seems to be a lot of attention focused on agriculture these days. I wish it was because today's farmer feeds 150 people besides themselves and produces nearly twice as much food and fiber utilizing virtually the same amount of water agriculture consumed 45 years ago. Or because today's farmer efficiently fills the local store shelves with a cornucopia of products unparalleled anywhere in the world for freshness and quality.

Unfortunately, the focus seems to be only on negative stories about how the agricultural community grows our products and raises our livestock. I understand that most consumers have very limited connection to the rural areas from which their food is produced, as generations have sought their futures and fortunes by moving to cities. It is easy to assume the worst when negative stories arise from 24-hour news that tries to encapsulate very complicated issues in a few short segments on television, radio, newsprint lines or social media blogs. We need to do a better job about explaining why and how we grow your food and fiber. We are trying, but can clearly do it better.

The environmental issues we face as a society today did not occur overnight nor can they be cured instantly. We now have the technology to detect problems that have been developing for decades or longer. The question we face now as consumers of food and fiber and those who have the power to regulate the production of our food and fiber is whether we have the fortitude to take a reasonable approach to achieve sustainable solutions. If we instead allow kneejerk reactions, I believe we will fail to provide positive results and will undermine the food-producing fabric of our country.

Many of the livestock raising and food producing methods utilized by growers today result from food safety requirements and the need to produce more efficiently, thereby reducing overall inputs and environmental footprint. The technologies used in producing food and fiber products today are light-years ahead of where we were just 40 or 50 years ago. We have been using the best available scientific information as the basis of our agricultural practices for the past century and we will continue to do so. There will always be new breakthroughs and ways to improve our production methods that are good for the environment and economically viable.

The recent publication of a University of California study on nitrates in groundwater in the Tulare Basin and the Salinas Valley is an example. This study was able to shed some light on the problem faced by residents of those areas and the health threats they may face if corrective action isn't taken. But it will take a thoughtful and problem-specific approach to solve the problem.

The most important step is to make sure those residents who are dealing with drinking water quality issues have access to clean water. The most immediate solution is to have point-of-use filtration, which can be utilized while long-term solutions are developed that can remedy situations that were decades in the making. Some people will call for draconian actions that have little connection to the presence of the nitrates currently present in the groundwater. Farmers will be a part of the solution, but only if they can stay in business and be part of a comprehensive plan that will result in successful outcomes.

The technologies we use every day in our homes and in our personal lives, from computers to GPS navigation to smartphones, are helping us live better, more productive lives. These technologies were not even imagined in our parents' youth. Likewise, the farmers and ranchers in California who play a very integral part of feeding our state, nation and world are utilizing technologies today that will help increase their ability to feed a growing population while reducing the footprint they leave on the environment.

Only a measured and reasoned approach to solving problems like nitrates in groundwater will result in a solution that is effective, sustainable and affordable.

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