CFBF leaders urge ongoing advocacy


Issue Date: December 10, 2014
By Steve Adler
During a speech to the California Farm Bureau Federation Annual Meeting, CFBF President Paul Wenger said the state’s farmers and ranchers will “adjust, adapt and succeed” in the future.
Photo/Matt Salvo
California Farm Bureau Federation President Paul Wenger addressed more than 650 attendees to the 96th CFBF Annual Meeting held in Garden Grove.
Photo/Matt Salvo

Ongoing engagement with policymakers and customers will be critical for California farmers and ranchers to assure their place in the future, according to California Farm Bureau Federation officers who addressed the organization's 96th Annual Meeting Monday in Garden Grove.

CFBF President Paul Wenger, First Vice President Kenny Watkins and Second Vice President Jamie Johansson discussed the need for continuing advocacy and education, as they addressed farm and ranch leaders from around the state.

"We have become a victim of our own success," Wenger said, noting that California farmers and ranchers have been able to produce "more and more food and fiber with the same resources we've had for years."

But the three-year California drought, he said, has shown that the resources available for agricultural production need to be enhanced. Wenger pointed to a University of California study that predicted loss of 17,000 jobs and $2.2 billion in economic impact from agricultural water shortages this year.

"This has been an interesting year and it is going to lead into another interesting year in 2015," he said, "and it's all about water."

That's why passage of Proposition 1, the water bond on the November ballot, was "phenomenal," Wenger said.

"For the first time in four decades, the electorate has said we've got to do something about our water infrastructure," he said. "It sends a message well beyond whatever happens on the water bond. They are telling Sacramento, we need to do something to improve our water infrastructure, not only for the environment, not only for municipal and industrial uses, but most of all for agriculture, because we are feeding the world."

Watkins also focused on water issues, discussing the need for farmers and ranchers to talk to elected leaders, government officials and the news media to advocate for new water storage. Keying on the Annual Meeting theme "California Agriculture: Caught in the Crosshairs," Watkins said "agriculture is in the crosshairs and we need to deal with the issues."

Passage of two groundwater bills by the state Legislature last year will bring ongoing challenges for farmers and ranchers, Watkins said. Backers of the bills cited drought-related draw-downs of groundwater supplies to justify passing the legislation, he said.

"We don't have a groundwater problem; we have a surface water problem. What we need to do is capture the surface water," Watkins said, urging Farm Bureau members to "look back in history to find stories of solutions and look to the future for opportunities to solve our water needs and advocate for those solutions."

Johansson praised California farmers and ranchers for "establishing the golden age of food production."

"Let's be bold enough to say that in the history of farm to fork, at no time have there been more options available for consumers as to what they can put at the end of their fork than right now," he said.

Johansson said the creation of the diverse California farm economy "didn't arise from a groundbreaking session in an urban think tank or originate in a legislative body. It comes from decisions being made on our farms and in our fields and, more often than not, around the dinner table of a Farm Bureau family."

Americans increasingly want more information about where their food originates and how it is grown, and farmers and ranchers need to be prepared to answer those questions, he said, adding that it will have to be done on social media platforms that operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

"The challenge for California Farm Bureau for the foreseeable future is to explain to an engaged consumer not only what we farm and how we farm, but why we farm," Johansson said.

Wenger noted that the next generation of consumers is already here. Farmers and ranchers need to take the time to make certain that young people understand the dynamics of food and agricultural production.

"We have to engage," Wenger said. "If we don't define ourselves, others will take the liberty to define us, and we don't want that."

Some of the people who seek to define agriculture come from activist organizations that have an interest in creating and maintaining controversy, he said.

"We have to realize that not everyone is about solutions. We are about solutions, but there are a lot of advocacy groups that are not about finding solutions. They need to have their issues because it gives them a lifetime of employment," he said.

As a result, farmers and ranchers need to remain politically active, Wenger said, and expressed satisfaction in the role of the California Farm Bureau Fund to Protect the Family Farm, or FARM PAC, in the 2014 election cycle—but he said the next two election cycles will be just as important.

"2016 is going to be a huge election for us," Wenger said, "and 2018 will wrap up what will probably be the Legislature that we will live with, with the new term limits, through 2024, so folks, we have to invest now; we have to be involved."

Noting that the University of California Cooperative Extension and several county Farm Bureaus observed centennials this year, Wenger said he expects the next 100 years to be "even better," despite the challenges confronting California agriculture.

"The future is bright," he said. "It will be different. But we will adjust, we will adapt and we will succeed."

(Steve Adler is associate editor of Ag Alert. He may be contacted at sadler@cfbf.com.)

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