Governor discusses issues with farm leaders

Issue Date: March 19, 2014
By Kate Campbell
Gov. Brown speaks during the California Farm Bureau Federation Leaders Conference, held in Sacramento last week.
Photo/Matt Salvo
Assembly Member Susan Talamantes Eggman, left, discusses agricultural issues with San Joaquin Farm Bureau members Bruce Fry, Brad Goehring and Jack Hamm.
Photo/Kate Campbell

In a speech to California farm and ranch leaders last week, Gov. Jerry Brown discussed the need for change—tempered by experience—and noted voters' desire for stability in government. Based on numerous references to the upcoming general election, Brown also was clearly focused on his campaign for an unprecedented fourth term as governor.

He said recent polls show more than 40 percent of Californians think the state is headed on the right path, but a few years ago he said that number was only 18 percent.

"I know that if you don't have enough water you may not feel that way," he told those attending the California Farm Bureau Federation Leaders Conference in Sacramento. "But overall, instability in state government, in terms of money, is not there right now."

Regarding water issues, Brown said his administration is "working through our drought task force to do everything we can to make sure the water we have is available for the most intelligent uses. Some of the regulatory agencies have made it a little easier to transfer water."

Over the long term, he said, "we have to better manage our water above and below ground and add more recycling." Brown said the administration is "prepared to do what is needed," and then called for questions from the audience.

Farm Bureau leaders asked about increasing water supplies, fisheries issues and prospects for restoring state funding for the Williamson Act, a farmland conservation program that had funds cut in 2009.

"I will certainly take a look at that," the governor said regarding Williamson Act funding. "I definitely would make sure we have a vigorous encouragement of keeping land in agriculture."

Asia Solano-Lim, a Future Farmers of America member from Sacramento County, asked Brown about agricultural education grant funding in the state budget, which the administration proposed to eliminate.

Brown responded that he preferred to end categorical programs and to leave the decisions up to local school districts.

The general session of the conference also included speeches by CFBF President Paul Wenger and by water and electricity regulators; see additional coverage.

Following the general session, more than 100 farmers and ranchers from throughout California traveled to the state Capitol to meet with state legislators and members of their staffs.

Among the top legislative priorities for farmers and ranchers are ensuring that any changes made to a pending state water bond include long-term solutions—at least $3 billion of continuously appropriated funds for increased storage—plus protections for area-of-origin water rights holders and funding for disadvantaged communities to address drinking water solutions.

During one of the legislative meetings, farmers from San Joaquin County asked Assembly Member Susan Talamantes Eggman, D-Stockton, how she sizes up the situation for the bond. Currently, there are about a dozen bond proposals being discussed.

"There has to be continuous appropriations if we're going to build storage facilities," said Eggman, who chairs the Assembly Agriculture Committee. "We're not going to get partners for projects without it."

Dairy farmer Jack Hamm of Lodi expressed concern about Assembly Bill 1437, which goes beyond federal restrictions on the use of medically important antibiotics in livestock. He and his group urged Eggman to oppose the legislation.

"We support the Food and Drug Administration's rule No. 213," Hamm said, referring to a guidance decision issued last December. "Let's give the ruling time to work. In my opinion, AB 1437 is trying to rewrite the rule before it has really had a chance to take effect."

FDA Guidance No. 213 creates a process for companies to relabel antimicrobials that are medically important for humans so they are not used for animal production or for growth promotion purposes in livestock. FDA has also released a proposed rule that would eliminate medically important antibiotics from livestock feed and water without veterinary oversight.

"Going further than federal requirements makes no sense," said Hamm, who is president of the San Joaquin Farm Bureau Federation. "Why do we need to outdo federal rules? It makes no sense when you consider what's already being done (to control livestock antibiotic use) in California."

During discussion of Senate Bill 25, which would substantially amend provisions of the Agricultural Labor Relations Act to allow a union to immediately force an employer into mandatory mediation, Eggman said she does not see much movement on the bill.

Farm Bureau opposes the bill, which in part would require employers to negotiate union contracts abandoned years earlier. Farm Bureau analysts say SB 25 would deny current employees the opportunity to choose or refrain from union representation because their union membership could have been decided decades earlier without their vote.

(Kate Campbell is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at Assistant Editor Ching Lee contributed to this story.)

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