Follow us on: Facebook Twitter YouTube

Assembly agriculture chair reports on farm tour results

Issue Date: April 7, 2021
By Kevin Hecteman

Following visits to more than 50 sites around the state, the chairman of the Assembly Agriculture Committee has issued a report with recommendations for legislative and regulatory actions he said would help farmers and ranchers remain competitive and recover from recent crises.

Assemblyman Robert Rivas, D-Hollister, became agriculture committee chair last September. He and other legislators took part in farm visits around the state last fall; some scheduled stops had to be postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The tour led to the report, issued late last month, with recommendations in half a dozen categories—competitiveness, resiliency, diversity, worker protections, food security, and sustainability and innovation.

California Farm Bureau policy advocate Taylor Roschen noted Rivas' support for improvements to "Buy California" requirements for state agencies and an overtime tax credit, as well as efforts to prioritize agricultural employees in ongoing efforts to distribute vaccines against COVID-19.

Farm Bureau members who met with Rivas and his delegation during the tour said they emphasized common issues while emphasizing those of regional importance.

In Sonoma County, ravaged by numerous fires during the past several years, county Farm Bureau leaders spoke of wildfire mitigation—"and not just when the fire happens," said Jennifer Beretta, a dairy farmer and Sonoma County Farm Bureau president. She described to Rivas how grazing by sheep, goats and cattle can help reduce fire fuels.

Rivas called mitigation efforts "critical" and said farmers could play a role in terms of grazing opportunities. One of the report's recommendations is to expand grazing as a means of controlling fire fuels.

"As a state, the Legislature, the governor, we have invested in recent years historic amounts of money to ensure that we're doing everything we can to be prepared for the next wildfire season, but it just seems like it hasn't been enough," Rivas said.

The oncoming drought, reservoir storage and the below-average snowpack are a concern, he added. Last week, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced he was allocating $80 million in emergency funds to hire about 1,400 firefighters in anticipation of wildfire season.

"It seems like we are definitely in for another very difficult wildfire season," Rivas said. "One would hope not, but when you look at these conditions, it is ripe for another tough wildfire season."

Fire insurance is "the huge piece," Roschen said, and a topic covered frequently during legislative visits as part of the Farm Bureau Capitol AG Day program (see story). She said a bill in the Legislature, Senate Bill 11, would help agricultural properties qualify for fire insurance under the FAIR plan, "where private coverage has been pulled because of a fire risk." The FAIR, or Fair Access to Insurance Requirements, plan is state-mandated insurance of last resort to cover properties otherwise considered high risk.

Doug Beretta, Jennifer's father, led the Rivas delegation on a tour of the family's organic dairy near Santa Rosa, which is using an Alternative Manure Management Program grant to install scrapers and separators.

"I thought it was really good, because he was very interested in what we were doing, very interested in how the program was working," Doug Beretta said, adding that the visit led to an invitation to Sacramento to speak as part of a panel testifying to the committee. "We talked about a lot of different issues."

One of them, he said, concerned rising fees from regulatory agencies and their effect on a farmer's bottom line.

"The hardest thing from a dairy that I really made sure I got through to them was, we don't get to set our price," he said. "We are in a federal order. It all depends on what milk and the other products are trading, and that's how our price is set. When they continue to make these fees to cover their costs, these increases, it really starts to put a burden on us."

John Moore III, president of the Kern County Farm Bureau, said when the delegation came to his county, "a lot of the conversations were based around water and really what the partnership between the agricultural community and the legislative branch should look like."

Moore, whose family grows row and tree crops, said water is "always top of mind for us," adding that, without it, "lands are stripped of their most valuable component, and we're unable to provide a safe and stable food supply without that input."

Though the meeting went well, he said, he's since been disappointed in some of the legislation introduced. Moore said he recommended Rivas treat farmers and ranchers as "a partner in crafting legislation that could really help the industry, rather than the harmful legislation we've seen over the past 10-15 years."

Farmers and Rivas agreed on the need for legislators to visit farms and ranches up and down the state.

"I think it's extremely important that we can get them out on tours," Jennifer Beretta said, noting that with COVID-19, virtual tours and visits have often had to suffice. She added she sees value in legislators "really talking to the farmers and ranchers and really hearing what we need and our concerns, and things that have been passed and how they're going to affect us."

Moore said more such visits will be "critically important," adding that elected officials "need to understand actually the boots-on-the-ground activities and the way we utilize this resource—the resource being land, water and our crop-protection materials."

Rivas said more tours are planned when the time is right, noting that he hopes to visit the Coachella and Imperial valleys in the near future.

"I view our tours as being an ongoing part of my responsibility of being chair of agriculture in the state Assembly," Rivas said. "Agriculture is not just a concern for rural residents or the rural areas of this state. Agriculture is vital for our entire state, and it's vital for our urban areas as well."

The report may be read at a30.asmdc.org; select Press Releases and the March 25 release that includes a link to the report.

(Kevin Hecteman is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. He can be contacted at khecteman@cfbf.com.)

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




Special Reports

Features

Series

Special Issues

Special Sections