Commentary: Just as farmers reflect and adjust, so must government

Issue Date: December 11, 2013
By Paul Wenger
Farmers must constantly adjust to changing weather conditions, such as coating their trees with ice to protect them from freezing temperatures. Government at all levels should do a better job of adapting to changing conditions.
Photo/Kathy Coatney

This is the time of year for reflection. It begins with the Thanksgiving season, extending through Christmas, followed by saying bon voyage to the year ending and welcoming in a new year with anticipation. For all of us, it is a time to reflect upon those who are important in our lives and to show special appreciation—whether it's simply a phone call, card, letter or a small token of gratitude. As the new year begins, we have no way of knowing the circumstances that will confront and possibly confound our well-made plans, but we roll with the punches and adjust to the changing influences.

Farmers and ranchers constantly adjust to influences beyond their control, dominated first and foremost by weather. The intense, early December cold snap could not have been predicted more than a few days before it began, and growers needed to adjust quickly to accommodate the effects from the intense cold. The most critical impact faces those growers whose harvest and income potential can be devastated by Mother Nature so quickly and unexpectedly. We in agriculture have dealt with the influences of weather all our lives, and while we hope and pray that the potentially debilitating extremes will pass us by, we all know that at some point we will take our turn dealing with the challenges and oftentimes ravages brought by the whims of nature.

Farmers must also contend with the consequence of changing market conditions for their products, which can be just as volatile as weather—with similar impacts on profit or loss statements. Just as with any business, economic survival means farmers must evaluate the near- and longer-term implications of weather and markets and adapt to the conditions before them, in order to give themselves the best opportunity of success.

More and more, however, it is the impacts of man-made challenges that influence the success or failure of business in general and agriculture in particular. The constant barrage of regulations, focused more on "process" than "results," will continue to challenge the success of the family farmer and rancher—and the unabated continuation of rampant regulation will lead to an increased concentration of farming entities.

By combining our efforts to fight back against the onslaught of errant and egregious regulations, we can have real influence and success that could never be accomplished as individual growers. Farm Bureau is engaged at all levels of government intervention into our lives and businesses, from the county to state and national levels. As the largest general farm organization, Farm Bureau is not a replacement for your own individual commodity or trade organization, but rather a complement to them. Having the influence of an organization that encompasses all commodities and regions in our state has proven, time and time again, to have a positive influence on legislation and regulatory relief, even if affecting individual commodities and/or regions of California agriculture.

As I reflect upon the past four years and especially the last 12 months, I hope those who were elected to lead our state and nation will also reflect upon, and take seriously, the responsibilities before them.

The new year will usher in the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. While the desire to provide health insurance to an estimated 47 million uninsured Americans is understandable, the government's decision and actions to "uninsure" 5 million Americans—more than a million in California alone—unconscionable. To add to the disaster is the fact that the government did nothing to reign in runaway medical costs. Reforming our tort system would have been a plausible thing for the federal government to achieve in attempting to reduce medical costs, and they did nothing. The federal government threw responsible citizens—who had been paying for their own individual insurance—is out of a plane without a parachute. Unless a miracle happens, the landing will not be a good one for our country's taxpayers.

California's elected leaders must also evaluate their responsibility in adjusting to changing dynamics affecting our state. In 2008, voters narrowly passed Proposition 1A, the high-speed rail initiative, just as the economy made the turn from good times and went into a tailspin. Today, with our economy finally starting a delicate recovery, state authorities are adamantly pushing ahead with high-speed rail, even though the public support for it is less than the public vote that passed the initial proposition. Meanwhile, California's water infrastructure has not kept pace with the demands placed upon it by a growing population, regulatory and "environmental" fiat, as well as adapting to the anticipated effects of changing weather patterns.

To continue on a path to build high-speed rail in the relatively sparsely populated area from Merced to Hanford at this time is irresponsible. It is akin to saving money to paint your house, when a sudden wind comes up and blows off the roof. The first thing you do is repair your roof.

California NEEDS more water. To think we can conserve our way to prosperity is nothing short of insane. Californians can survive without high-speed rail but California's people, economy and environment will all suffer if our elected leaders fail to adapt to the anticipated challenges posed by climate changes. With less snow, more intense rainstorms and extended droughts, our state needs to begin new storage projects today.

There is some hope. This past year ushered in California's first elections utilizing the top-two primary system, as well as the new term limits allowing members to serve 12 years in the state Legislature. If this past election was an indicator of the future, it seems the newly elected legislators may have a longer view of California's future and what needs to be done today to make that future a good one.

For California to continue its preeminence in the United States and the world, it is imperative that our elected leaders adapt to changing conditions—just as the government expects citizens to adapt to changing conditions. If California's elected leaders fail to adapt to the water challenges before us, they will be pushing our children and grandchildren out of a plane with no parachute, leading to a devastating landing that will diminish our Golden State forever.

(Paul Wenger is president of the California Farm Bureau Federation.)

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