Event stresses need for agricultural unity


Issue Date: May 18, 2016
By Christine Souza
California Farm Bureau Federation President Paul Wenger speaks to the Ag Unite rally in Modesto, stressing the need for California farmers and ranchers to “be unified and speak with one voice.” The event was cosponsored by county Farm Bureaus in Stanislaus, Merced, Sacramento, San Joaquin and Tuolumne counties.
Photo/Dave Kranz
Sacramento County Farm Bureau Executive Director Charlotte Mitchell, discusses Farm Bureau advocacy with Denette Covarrubias of Modesto during the Ag Unite event.
Photo/Christine Souza

Faced with a profusion of regulations and mandates, California farmers, ranchers and agricultural businesses more than ever need to unify to make their collective voice heard in Sacramento and Washington, D.C.: That was the message of a rally that attracted an estimated 800 agriculturalists to Modesto.

The Ag Unite event, held last week in the agricultural pavilion at Modesto Junior College, described challenges facing family farmers and ranchers and outlined the need to overcome regional and commodity differences to work together on issues of common concern.

Speaking to attendees at the event, California Farm Bureau Federation President Paul Wenger discussed issues affecting the state's farmers, including drought and water-related issues, environmental regulations and the challenge of communicating the many benefits of agriculture to the food-purchasing public.

Ultimately, he said, "the state's farmers and ranchers should be unified and speaking with one voice. We've got to do something that is going to make a difference."

Wenger offered Farm Bureau membership and participation as a way to assure unified advocacy for California farmers and ranchers.

"We've got to unite. We've got to support our county Farm Bureaus and we've got to get politically active," said Wenger, a walnut and almond farmer from Modesto. "When it comes to fighting back against the onslaught that we have before us today, we have to work together and that is why we have Ag Unite."

Organized by county Farm Bureau leaders, Ag Unite focuses on enhancing agricultural advocacy by growing Farm Bureau membership; encouraging support of FARM PAC®, the California Farm Bureau Fund to Protect the Family Farm; and promoting the Ag Unite Legal Action Fund. The Modesto event was cosponsored by the county Farm Bureaus in Merced, San Joaquin, Sacramento, Stanislaus and Tuolumne counties.

During the Ag Unite rally, Tom Hart, who is based in Ceres and specializes in chemical sales for the dairy business, said he had decided to join several county Farm Bureaus.

"One of my customers down south became president of the Tulare County Farm Bureau and he asked me to join. He said, 'You should actually join every Farm Bureau where you sell products,'" said Hart, who is already a member of the Tulare County Farm Bureau. "It makes sense. Every area has different issues that they are fighting, so it is nice to know what is going on in every area."

Merced County Farm Bureau Executive Director Breanne Ramos, who was staffing a table for the county Farm Bureau at the event, said, "It is important that we bring agriculture together as a united voice and a united front."

Nut crop grower Eric Heinrich of Modesto, a Stanislaus County Farm Bureau board member, said all segments of California agriculture must come together because "agriculture is getting picked off one by one."

"Take Proposition 2," he said, referring to the 2008 ballot initiative on housing standards for egg-laying hens. "It was about the poultry guys, so it doesn't (directly) affect the hay guys or the dairymen, but ultimately it does. We've got to come and fight together and be more unified in agriculture."

Heinrich added that water is a continuous fight in California and farmers need to work together to protect their historic water rights.

Tuolumne County Farm Bureau President Shaun Crook, who staffed a table at Ag Unite, said "farmers and ranchers need to organize the way that the environmental movement has over the last 30 years."

Crook, a logging contractor who is also in the cattle business, said an issue for his family is forest management, which affects timber supply, water quality and cattle grazing. He said ineffective forest management contributes to wildfire danger, including the 2013 Rim Fire that burned more than a quarter-million acres of Sierra Nevada land.

"The Rim Fire alone took away over two and a half years of any benefits from AB 32 (legislation to reduce the state's greenhouse gas emissions), just in one month of a wildfire," Crook said.

Wenger reminded those at the event that it is important for people involved in agriculture to be actively engaged in electing business-friendly candidates to the Legislature from San Francisco, Oakland, Los Angeles, San Diego and other cities.

"We can explain to them that what is good for agriculture is good for the entire state of California," he said.

Following his talk, Wenger introduced nut grower Rich McGowan of Chico, one of the originators of the Ag Unite concept who helped organize the first Ag Unite rally in Butte County in 2013.

McGowan described a recent experience during which he and his son spent an entire day with a county environmental health official. He reminded his fellow farmers, "that's just one department, one agency," and said it provides an example of the day-to-day scrutiny farmers and ranchers face.

"I commit $2,500 to the FARM PAC program and $2,500 to the Ag Unite Legal Action Fund program and I challenge you to match that," McGowan said. "There's not a farmer out here that doesn't have a cultural budget that they operate on. I offer this: (create) a budget line item that says Ag Unite, a budget line item to preserve farming life."

McGowan added, "I'm here for the opportunity for the next 10, 20, 30 years for me, my son, my daughters, to continue farming—and I don't see that happening without Ag Unite."

For more information about Ag Unite, see agunite.net/why-ag-unite/.

(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.