Follow us on: Facebook Twitter YouTube

Commentary: Legislature recognizes UCANR’s value with funding

Issue Date: July 7, 2021
By Taylor Roschen
Taylor Roschen
University of California Cooperative Extension farm advisor Katherine Jarvis-Shean, left, works with Solano County farmer Daniel Garcia in this file photo.The 2021 state budget fully funds UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, which provides research and specialists for farmers.
Photo/Ching Lee

It feels trite at this point to call 2021 the "year of irregularity." There has not been one family, one business, one community that hasn't undergone profound and often concerning change. So, it's surprising to hear some in the Legislature and the governor celebrate the passage of the state budget.

On June 28, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill 128, the state budget bill that approves the overall framework for financing the state. During the following weeks, the Legislature will hammer out and present to the governor the final details for how to spend the remaining record revenues on items such as cap and trade, wildfire, drought and agriculture.

For those of us who work to persuade financial tides to turn in agriculture's favor, every budget year is a challenge. We take comfort in the familiarity of discomfort. Everyone recognizes that the budget drafting process is imperfect, with the hundreds of pages of text messily massaged until a final document—or documents, in this case—is presented in the last hours of the fiscal year.

But in a clear spot within the opaqueness, the Legislature has agreed to use its overwhelming resources this year and in future years to fully fund the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources.

Ag Alert® readers, UCANR supporters and staff, and the farm community surely recognize the critical role farm advisors, specialists and community education specialists serve to help farms identify pests and diseases; implement water use efficiency; improve soil health, biodiversity and crop efficiency; adapt to climate change; and promote agricultural education. But due to significant funding reductions over the last two decades, UCANR has lost almost 40% of its program staff, leaving them reliant on fees, inconsistent grant funding and perpetuating service area deficits.

Since 2019, the California Farm Bureau and a powerhouse coalition of county Farm Bureaus, agricultural, business and local government groups have petitioned the Legislature and the administration to rectify this wrong. This year, we collectively requested an ongoing commitment of an additional $30 million for UCANR. UCANR and the services it offers are clearly in the public's interest.

In his 2021 May budget revision, Newsom proposed to restore base funding for UCANR, which was cut during the COVID-19 pandemic, and provide only a 5% increase. His administration also proposed to delete the budget line item that specifically allowed the Legislature to direct revenues to UCANR out of reach of the UC Office of the President's control.

Through the budget committee process, the Legislature rejected the removal of the line item for UCANR. Under the guidance and deft skill of Sen. John Laird, D-Carmel, and the grassroots efforts of California's farmers and ranchers, Farm Bureau's request was honored. The Legislature has approved a $32.1 million budget increase to UCANR to be offered this year and every year.

This badly needed funding will allow UCANR to hire or fill more than 120 positions, offer important programmatic and business operations support, serve new regions and farms with science-based, practical field support and develop future leaders through 4-H.

As we muddle through the remainder of the budget process, as always, anything done can be undone. But amid chaos and consternation over other budget priorities, California agriculture should take a momentary pause and declare a small but important victory.

(Taylor Roschen is a policy advocate for the California Farm Bureau. She may be contacted at troschen@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