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Online update: Drought worries surface at Farm Bureau Capitol AG Day

Issue Date: March 24, 2021

On a day when state and federal water projects announced reductions or delays in deliveries, speakers at the California Farm Bureau Capitol AG Day conference discussed drought and other challenges facing the state's farmers and ranchers.

The conference, held virtually on National Agriculture Day, featured California Farm Bureau President Jamie Johansson speaking via video conference with leaders from the state Legislature and Newsom administration.

During the conference, Johansson discussed the likelihood of cutbacks by the water projects. Later in the day, the State Water Project announced it would reduce its water allocation to 5%, down from an initial allocation of 10%, and the federal Central Valley Project said it would delay "until further notice" delivery of its 5% allocation to agricultural customers south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta (see related story).

"We know, every so often, nature throws us a drought," Johansson said. "Lack of planning for drought is our fault."

He expressed disappointment with the slow progress of funding water storage projects via the Proposition 1 water bond, which voters overwhelmingly approved during a previous drought in 2014.

"Where's the money allocated by the voters? Why aren't we moving forward?" Johansson asked. "There's farmers and ranchers working hard on committees to get it to move forward, but we should point out that we should be moving quicker."

In addition, progress has stalled on voluntary flow agreements to benefit fish in rivers feeding the delta. Johansson mentioned the lack of progress on the agreements, coupled with a state court challenge of a Trump administration plan to manage the delta.

"It's time that California moves forward with real solutions," he said.

During a presentation to the conference, Jared Blumenfeld, secretary for the California Environmental Protection Agency, said the State Water Resources Control Board sent early-warning notices yesterday to some 40,000 water rights holders, urging them to plan for potential shortages by reducing water use and adopting conservation measures.

Though Blumenfeld said it's too early to tell whether the state will require curtailment actions similar to those enacted in the 2014-15 drought years, he said "early planning and preparation by diverters will help minimize potential drought impacts."

Johansson made the point that the California Environmental Quality Act is often used as a "blunt-force weapon" to delay and kill projects important to farmers, including water storage, and that state agencies are so compartmentalized that their policies often conflict with those set by other departments.

Blumenfeld acknowledged "how siloed government has become and how complex and interrelated the issues are," adding that he would like to spend more time working with farmers on ways to cut through administrative burdens.

Frustration about government regulation also arose when Johansson spoke with Assembly Agriculture Committee Chairman Robert Rivas, D-Hollister.

"On our ag tour, one of the main concerns I heard about was stifling regulation, red tape, at the state level and how that's impacting the ability for this industry to compete with other states that don't face those same regulations," Rivas said. "I think that certainly a lot needs to go into exploring how we can improve the situation."

One of those ideas, he said, is an online portal where farmers and ranchers could file necessary paperwork without having to repetitively fill out the same information on multiple forms.

State Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Andreas Borgeas, R-Fresno, said the COVID-19 pandemic "demonstrates just how crucial agriculture is to our national security."

"Even more crucial to our national security, we must ensure the next generation of food producers are set up for success," Borgeas said. "California should support educational and career technical programs for young people seeking to enter the field. California should also support pathways for new farmers to get into the industry."

Johansson said beginning farmers need research and help from the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources division and school agriculture programs.

"UC ANR and 4-H programs need to be fully funded," he said. "We cannot have a state government that tells us that they want to keep more people in agriculture, while eliminating those tools that are so necessary to get the next generation and our young people into agriculture."

(Ag Alert assistant editors Christine Souza, Kevin Hecteman and Ching Lee contributed to this report.)

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

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