Farmers, legislators discuss issues at Capitol


Issue Date: March 20, 2013
By Kate Campbell
Butte County farmers Jon Lavy, left, and Irv Leen sit down with Assemblymember Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, right, to discuss issues important to California agriculture and explore areas of common interest.
Photo/Kate Campbell
CFBF President Paul Wenger talks with Assembly Agriculture Committee Chair Susan Talamantes Eggman, during a legislative reception held as part of the Farm Bureau Leaders Conference.
Photo/Ching Lee

Armed with a list of issues important to agriculture, Farm Bureau leaders from throughout California briefed members of the state Legislature and their staff last week on ways they can help. The work of backgrounding officials during this legislative session is particularly important this year, Farm Bureau leaders said, because of the large number of newly elected representatives, many of whom may be unfamiliar with challenges facing farmers and ranchers.

Not since 1966 have as many new Assembly members taken seats for the first time—38 out of 80 this session. The proportion of party affiliations has shifted, as well, with Democrats achieving a two-thirds supermajority for the first time since 1883.

Key issues discussed by the Farm Bureau representatives included rural crime problems; extending the expiration date on provisions for accidental take under the state Endangered Species Act; protecting employers from having to negotiate abandoned union contracts; finding funding solutions to address problems related to nitrates in drinking water; repealing fire protection fees in State Responsibility Areas; preventing expansion of Coastal Commission authority; and opposing efforts to reduce the two-thirds majority voter threshold now required to pass local taxes.

More than 120 Farm Bureau leaders made group calls at 91 legislative offices at the state Capitol. A number of freshman legislators from urban districts were among those they visited. Legislators said they welcomed the opportunity to talk face-to-face and learn more about issues affecting farmers and ranchers.

"With redistricting, I'm now in an urban legislative district," said San Bernardino County greenhouse grower Kathye Rietkerk, who now needs to drive 100 miles round-trip from her home in Fontana to meet with her Assembly member, Chris Holden, D-Pasadena, in his home office.

"But this change in my district boundary also presents a real opportunity to further educate about agriculture and the role we play in California," said Rietkerk, who is a California Farm Bureau Federation director. "My Assembly member has already expressed an interest in California-grown produce and getting more fresh food into local schools."

Newly elected Assemblymember Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, asked a Farm Bureau delegation about farmers' decisions on whether to produce organic farm products and about ways to introduce more commercial-scale food production into cities. He also expressed interest in visiting farms and ranches to learn more about food production in California.

Members of the Butte County Farm Bureau met with state Senator Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber, and discussed a Farm Bureau-sponsored bill, Assembly Bill 909, which continues efforts to curb metal theft and crack down on illegal dumping.

Farmers said the continuing theft of copper wire from farm pumps costs $1,500 to $4,000 every time it occurs and, if the equipment is further damaged, pump repair costs can be in the tens of thousands of dollars.

"I just want to put $300 on the pump with a note telling the thieves to take it, and let the thieves take (the money)," said Butte County farmer Daniel Robinson. "It would be a whole lot cheaper."

The Butte County Farm Bureau is holding discussions with county and state officials about problems with walnut and almond theft, Executive Director Colleen Cecil said.

"Farmers are losing nuts by the truckload," she said. "It's cash buyers who set up roadside stands and buy nuts from anybody who rolls in—with truckloads, bins, bags, burlap sacks—and no one is tracking the sales."

Assemblymember Susan Talamantes Eggman, D-Stockton, addressed the morning session of the CFBF Leaders Conference and then met face-to-face with farmers and ranchers in her office in the afternoon. Eggman, whose family grows almonds and keeps bees on a farm near Turlock, is serving her first term in the Legislature and has been appointed to chair the Assembly Agriculture Committee.

She told CFBF leaders that she's committed to "making agriculture work" in California and she looks forward to getting out to the state's farms and ranches, as well as promoting the "California Grown" brand.

"Farmers know how to farm," Eggman told the Leaders Conference. "It's not up to the Legislature to tell you how to do it."

CFBF President Paul Wenger told conference attendees that legislative visits such as the Capitol meetings represent a key part of the Farm Bureau mission.

"If you think back to when Farm Bureau was started, it was to help develop better economics on the farm, to work with the University of California and Cooperative Extension to take what they learned in the laboratories and apply it out in the fields, so folks could have a better way of life," Wenger said. "In 2013, our economic survival depends on political advocacy."

(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.