Farmers take key issues to Legislature


Issue Date: March 18, 2015
By Christine Souza
Brandon Fawaz, third from left, a hay grower from Siskiyou County, talks about the need for increased surface water storage with Assembly Member Henry Perea, D-Fresno, chair of the Assembly Agriculture Committee, right. Other members of a Farm Bureau delegation visiting Perea’s office include, left to right, Lee Heringer and Stacy Gore of Butte County, Tom Stewart of Modoc County and Mark Lathrop of Shasta County.
Photo/Christine Souza
California Farm Bureau Federation Administrator Rich Matteis, left, visits with Assembly Member Miguel Santiago, D-Los Angeles, during a legislative reception held as part of the CFBF Leaders Conference in Sacramento.
Photo/Ching Lee

Faced with a multiyear drought and increased cost of doing business amid numerous regulations, taxes and fees, Farm Bureau leaders from throughout California walked the halls of the state Capitol last week, informing members of the Legislature about issues important to farmers and ranchers.

Nearly 100 Farm Bureau leaders made group calls at 92 legislative offices as part of the annual California Farm Bureau Federation Leaders Conference in Sacramento. A number of new legislators from urban districts were among those they visited.

Among the key issues they discussed with legislators, Farm Bureau leaders stressed that California has a rare opportunity, through the Proposition 1 water bond, to invest $2.7 billion in new storage projects that would enhance the state's water system and provide ecosystem and water quality improvements.

"We have all of this water going down the rivers during the winter when we get these peak flows, and it all goes out to the ocean," Shasta County Farm Bureau President Mark Lathrop said. "We need to be capturing some of that, so that we have a buffer when we have these long droughts."

Lathrop was among Farm Bureau members who met with Assembly Member Henry Perea, D-Fresno, chair of the Assembly Agriculture Committee. The group emphasized the importance of using specified Proposition 1 funds for large, aboveground water storage projects such as Sites Reservoir in Colusa County and Temperance Flat in Fresno County.

During their meetings with legislators, Farm Bureau leaders asked for support of a groundwater-adjudication bill, Assembly Bill 1390 by Assembly Member Luis Alejo, D-Salinas, which would streamline the groundwater rights adjudication process, providing stability for farmers and ranchers.

When they met with state Sen. Cathleen Galgiani, D-Stockton, who chairs the Senate Agriculture Committee, San Joaquin County winegrape growers Joe Valente and Bruce Fry expressed support for her Senate Bill 313. The measure, sponsored by Farm Bureau, would require school districts to work with local governments before locating a school in an agricultural zone.

"Right now, school districts, wherever they want to put a school, they can go ahead and do it," Valente said. "This bill is saying they really need to work with the community. We farm next to a school and we know the challenges, but we take care to follow the school schedule and make applications of crop-protection materials at appropriate times. This bill would require more outreach to the community when siting a school in an agricultural zone."

Farm Bureau members expressed opposition to bills including SB 350, known as the Clean Energy and Pollution Reduction Act, which would raise the renewable-energy standard to require half the state's energy to come from renewable sources by 2030, up from the current 33 percent.

Karen Norene Mills, CFBF associate counsel and Public Utilities Department director, said requirements in the bill could increase electricity rates by as much as 25 percent, and that Farm Bureau members "were able to explain the impact of the potential increases to their electricity rates."

Following the legislative visits, Farm Bureau leaders described the meetings as successful, adding that many representatives expressed an interest in touring farms and ranches to learn more about issues affecting agriculture.

Shasta County Farm Bureau President Lathrop, who works for Sierra Pacific Industries, said he has seen the value of such visits.

"In the timber industry, we take people to the woods and show them the harvest and how it is done," he said. "For the vast majority of people, once you take them out and show them firsthand, there's no substitute."

Siskiyou County rancher Jeff Fowle said the Capitol meetings allowed Farm Bureau members to connect with legislators sitting on key committees, particularly those overseeing water and natural resources.

"As potential bills come up that may help agriculture, we were able to make those connections so that we can have communication when the time is right," Fowle said.

San Joaquin County farmer Valente noted that in a meeting with an urban legislator, common ground was reached after she explained that her interests include small business and education.

"I said the majority of farms are small farms and many are family farms. When you are talking about small business, they go together," Valente said. "She also expressed an interest in education, so we talked about what the Farm Bureau does to educate youth. We walked out of that feeling like this was one of our better meetings of the day."

(Christine Souza is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at csouza@cfbf.com.)

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