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Johansson outlines Farm Bureau priorities

Issue Date: December 9, 2020
By Christine Souza
California Farm Bureau President Jamie Johansson speaks at the beginning of the organization’s102nd Annual Meeting, which was conducted virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Photo/Ching Lee
California Farm Bureau President Jamie Johansson delivers his Annual Address in the lobby of the Farm Bureau building in Sacramento, which was converted to a studio for the webcast of the virtual Annual Meeting.
Photo/Ching Lee

Faced with a global pandemic, plus regulatory and political challenges, California Farm Bureau President Jamie Johansson says the state's farmers and ranchers continue to overcome barriers to success, while staying strong through Farm Bureau advocacy.

During the last century-plus, Johansson said, Farm Bureau has proven to be an organization like no other and, because of that, "we are still farming." He spoke to members Monday via webcast from the Farm Bureau building in Sacramento during the 102nd California Farm Bureau Annual Meeting.

"There are a lot of forces out there trying to divide us in agriculture, based on the size of our farm, what we grow, where our water comes from, how we water our fields, how we protect our crops and even our economic status," Johansson said. "We believe in the undeniable importance of our industry's success in the health and economic wellbeing of our country and its citizens. We know that together, we are stronger."

In discussing COVID-19, Johansson noted that early this year, Farm Bureau worked to ensure agriculture would be considered an "essential" sector under government pandemic regulations. He said farmers and ranchers acted quickly and responsibly to adjust working conditions and provide personal protective equipment to employees, and to assure a worried public about the continued availability and safety of food and farm products.

"Many of you, as well as your county Farm Bureaus, eased the panic that was in our communities and told the consumer that the shelves may be empty, but there's food in our fields and we'll get it there," Johansson said. "It should be a sense of pride that in times of panic, it was agriculture that calmed the consumer."

A political win for farmers and ranchers came with the defeat of Proposition 15 on the November ballot, which would have exposed a wide range of agricultural property to tax increases.

"Agriculture's message changed the debate," Johansson said, by describing the split-roll tax measure's likely impacts on food production and prices. "Even the proponents had to change their messages and deal with the fact that a tax on farmers is a tax on everyone."

Discussing the numerous executive orders by Gov. Gavin Newsom, Johansson said the most disturbing would have presumed that an employee contracted COVID-19 from work as opposed to elsewhere.

"We got that moved to a more tolerable presumption," he said, "but we're going to work and continue to ask the governor, when will those be lifted? Ultimately, we need liability protections just like the meatpacking plants in the Midwest."

With the state looking at a $50 billion budget deficit, he warned of potential new efforts to raise taxes and fees, saying people in agriculture "don't know how much more we can take, particularly those of us with commodities that have seen our regulatory costs go up 700% an acre over the last 10-12 years."

Johansson also discussed the potential impact of another gubernatorial executive order, calling for conservation of 30% of the state's lands and coastal waters by 2030.

What often is forgotten in Sacramento and Washington, D.C., he said, is conservation work by agriculture, as opposed to the concept of preservation, "which to date has only resulted in wildfires, water quality issues, water shortages, increased poverty rates and the housing crisis."

"The consequences of not managing our forests: Those resources become liabilities," Johansson said. "You had another horrific season of wildfires and for the third time in four years, my family had to be evacuated. It shouldn't become normal; we should be outraged."

In discussing climate policy, Johansson described agriculture as "the original green industry."

"Our success has been built on the ability to adapt to climate. Growing plants, trees and vines sucks carbon out of the air and California farmers do it better than anyone," he said. "At the same time, we create opportunities for wealth creation that supports jobs, communities and infrastructure."

Johansson welcomed finalization of a new federal waters of the U.S. rule, which replaced an Obama-era rule that would have redefined and expanded the scope of waters protected under the federal Clean Water Act.

"The waters of the U.S. rule is back to where it was and should be," he said. "When you go on your property, you should know which is waters of the U.S. and which isn't, and that when you put a plow on the ground, the next thing you will have to buy is seed and not bail money."

Another positive this year, he said, was "an amazing grassroots effort" in the Klamath Basin that included a 20-mile-long tractor rally by farmers opposed to losing much of their federal water allocation after the crop was planted. In response, federal agencies restored the water.

Saying the state's neglected water infrastructure should be a priority, Johansson emphasized the need for constructing storage projects such as Sites Reservoir and expanding Shasta and San Luis reservoirs. He said voters passed the 2014 water bond Proposition 1 "with the full intent that we would be moving forward on water storage. It is time to move forward."

In discussing the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, he said Farm Bureau will continue to ask the state Department of Water Resources for flexibility with deadlines.

Regarding the future of agriculture, Johansson said it is important to fund agricultural education programs such as 4-H, "setting that little spark in a young person's mind: 'Maybe I can be a farmer.'"

"Our purpose is clear: securing the future of California farmers," Johansson said. "The story we tell, the issues we cover and bills we introduce have gone from being just about commodities to being about water, clean air, our contribution to a healthy environment and a healthy and economically successful community.

"The answers are here for agriculture. We just have to be heard," he said.

(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.




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