Young farmers stress ‘taking a stand’


Issue Date: March 4, 2015
By Steve Adler and Dave Kranz
Cliff Beumet, left, vice president of Sierra Gold Nurseries in Yuba City, describes the process used in producing bare-root trees to participants in a tour of his facility that was part of the annual California Young Farmers and Ranchers Leadership Conference.
Photo/Steve Adler
Julianne Phillips of San Joaquin County, standing, and other Young Farmers and Ranchers members participate in a team-building exercise during the annual YF&R Leadership Conference in Sacramento.
Photo/Dave Kranz

California's ongoing drought and dealing with onerous government regulations were the two main issues on the minds of attendees at last weekend's Young Farmers and Ranchers Leadership Conference in Sacramento.

The conference, which attracted some 200 YF&R members from throughout the state, kicked off with four tours. Three focused on farms in the Sacramento vicinity and a fourth tour visited the state Capitol and the California Farm Bureau Federation building.

Water was the recurring theme among YF&R members who were part of a tour of agricultural businesses in Yolo, Yuba and Sutter counties.

Symren Takher, who works at Farm Credit West in Yuba City and is a member of Yuba-Sutter YF&R, noted that membership in the organization provides her with insight on the issues that farmers face, both short-term and long-term.

"Water is our biggest issue right now," she said.

Derek Sanchez from Hanford, whose family grows corn, cotton, alfalfa and pistachios, said the drought has had a direct impact on the farm as well as Sanchez Feed & Seed Inc., where he works.

"We have already had one well go out on us last year that we haven't replaced," he said. "We left about 30 percent of our land fallow last year because of no water. It is tough but that is the business of farming. It is a big gamble, right?"

Water is an issue for all farmers in California, said Sarah Reynolds of Butte County. Her family grows organic rice in Colusa County, and last year they fallowed half of their operation.

"This year, we hope to plant half of it again. Water is an ever-evolving issue," she said. "Right now, we are working on attending water allocation meetings and figuring out what is going to be allocated in our district."

Grey Foster, who grows walnuts and is a member of Yuba-Sutter YF&R, observed that farming isn't very different, whether a person is young or old; the issues are the same.

"I have to devote so much more time to increasing regulations in the state of California. Changing public perception is also very important," he said.

Sanchez made the same point, maintaining that one of the most important roles YF&R members provide is education to nonfarmers.

"As agriculturalists, we know a great deal about where our food comes from, which is something the general population doesn't really know," he said. "So we are working hard to educate them about where their food comes from. Hopefully, when the kids grow up, they will have a different perception of farmers and ranchers. It is a big responsibility for us as agriculturalists to teach them about this, so it will be a brighter future for all of us."

CFBF President Paul Wenger addressed similar themes in a speech during an awards banquet at the YF&R conference.

"We need to let people know just how important agriculture is. We can only do that if we can work together and make our efforts as one," he said.

Wenger described how he became involved in Farm Bureau as a YF&R member during the 1980s, and how the YF&R program has developed Farm Bureau leaders through the years. He stressed the importance of political advocacy by Farm Bureau members of all ages and all types of agriculture.

"It is imperative for the folks like me, who have the gray hair, to be as engaged as we can, but it's also important for you young folks to be engaged, too," Wenger told the YF&R conference. "Because if we don't do the job right, it's going to be more challenging for you when you're standing in my boots 20, 30, 40 years down the road."

California agriculture has "a great future," Wenger said, pointing to the increasing role of technology on farms and ranches and telling the young farmers that their generation will make "some remarkable changes" in the future.

Noting the YF&R Leadership Conference theme—"Having a Presence, Taking a Stand"—Wenger said he expects Farm Bureau "to fight to protect our right to farm."

"We are the epitome of self-reliance if we can just figure out how to utilize our political might to make sure that what we can do every day on our farms and ranches is not challenged by the things that happen in Sacramento and Washington, D.C.," he said.

The conference featured a full day of seminars on topics including agritourism, food safety, small-farm business management, continuing education for pest control advisors, team building and fundraising. Other conference activities included the annual Collegiate Discussion Meet and the presentation of awards (see story).

(Steve Adler is associate editor and Dave Kranz is editor of Ag Alert. They may be contacted at agalert@cfbf.com.)

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