CFBF President's Message: Having a Presence, Taking a Stand


Issue Date: March 11, 2015
Paul Wenger

The other day, I had the opportunity to speak to the annual Young Farmers and Ranchers Leadership Conference. Its theme was "Having a Presence, Taking a Stand," and I don't mind telling you that I got a little fired up when I spoke to that group. Being with young agricultural leaders, and surrounded by the energy they bring, inspires everyone. And the conference theme got me to thinking about why I got involved in Farm Bureau and why it's important for all of us to have a presence and take a stand for agriculture.

For one thing, farmers and ranchers tend to be plain-spoken. We say what we mean and mean what we say. That can be a rare attribute these days, where we often see individuals and organizations define terms in a way that meets their particular needs.

Allow me a few minutes of your time to explain, using two of the top issues facing California farmers and ranchers these days.

First and foremost, our state needs to update and improve its water infrastructure. That's a given. It's disappointing yet interesting when you read the perspective of some "experts" who continue to espouse their belief that "new and additional" water storage will yield very little additional water. They continue to point out that we live in an arid climate and as such, should not expect the rain or snow necessary to fill new reservoirs. Many point to the current emptiness of our reservoirs as a vivid example of not enough precipitation to yield additional water supplies.

To their point, we certainly do live in an arid climate—yet we have been the beneficiaries of the investments made decades ago by previous generations of visionaries. We have been through droughts before without the dire circumstances in which we find ourselves today. Had new surface storage facilities been in existence just three years ago, when our current reservoirs were brim full, we would have more water available today. If we had had more water storage capacity available at that time, we would have had the surface supplies to help recharge our challenged underground aquifers.

As we advocate for more surface water storage, to be utilized for better water management, we must also address the potential to capture more water from heavy rainstorms such as those we've witnessed at times during the last three dry years. We must adapt to changing weather patterns.

This is where the divisive use of certain terms can get in the way of getting something done. Many find the term "climate change" a call to war, as they associate those words with the much more contentious term "global warming." Decades ago, our predecessors didn't get wrapped up with such dogma; they just took the necessary actions and made the necessary investments that propelled California to becoming one of the most significant economies in the world, with our agricultural production ranking as the sixth or seventh most productive on Earth.

We need to work together to build and better manage our water resources and not allow ourselves to fall into the chasm of divisiveness because of terms such as "climate change" or "global warming." We need to coalesce around adapting and providing for the needs of our state's residents, today and into the future.

Another divisive and manipulated political issue is immigration reform. Agricultural employers have provided the evidence to policy makers, time and time again, that the domestic labor force will not fill the labor needs of production agriculture. The seasonality as well as type of work is not what our domestic workforce wants to do, no matter what the pay. Yet lines of dissension and distrust have been drawn by those who interpret providing a viable means to get work documentation for immigrant workers as akin to "amnesty."

In 1986, when Congress passed and President Reagan signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act, there were an estimated 1.5 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. Today, that number is as many as 11 million. The reason is because the nation lacks an effective system to deal with jobs historically filled by immigrant workers.

The water and immigration issues cannot be dealt with in a vacuum, as they are interrelated. With many growers investing significant amounts of money in dealing with the drought and increased water costs, they can ill afford to have their crops not be harvested due to a limited or nonexistent labor force.

Farm Bureau is involved at all areas of government, dealing with many contentious issues including water and immigration. Those of us in agriculture must pull together and withstand the propensity to do what's best just for our commodity or region of the state. It is Farm Bureau's mission to get our members in front of legislators and congressional representatives so they can hear firsthand of the real-life challenges facing farmers and ranchers today.

We in agriculture can ill afford to allow others to talk for us. Because of Farm Bureau members like you, we do have a presence and we are taking a stand.

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