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Commentary: Amid challenging times, Farm Bureau prevailed

Issue Date: October 13, 2021
By Jim Houston
Jim Houston
California Farm Bureau President Jamie Johansson speaks at a Capitol rally against the union-organizing bill AB 616. Farmers, ranchers and farm employees convinced the governor to veto it.
Photo/Kevin Hecteman

One of the hallmarks of any successful farmer or rancher is resilience. The fact is there are so many forces outside of your control. At the most difficult times, it is only faith, patience and determination that enable one to persevere through the season—but persevere we do. Here in Sacramento, we have legislative seasons and, recently, it seems that each season is stranger and more difficult than the next.

We faced a continuing pandemic, worsening wildfires, crumbling infrastructure, tightening markets, supply chain disruptions, drought and a government further and further detached from the reality of farming.

How does one persevere in the face of such obstacles? I often think of my dad and what he would say in these times. I know he would turn to me and say, "Son, what choice do you have but to rely on your family, work hard and have faith."

We are a family here at Farm Bureau and have been for over 100 years. At the county, regional, state and national level, we have been through it all and we are still standing strong. Even though each year presents new and unforeseen obstacles, we find a way to stick together, work hard and have faith that we will be successful.

This year was no different and I am so proud of our whole team—state and county—for being so diligent and determined to achieve success in the face of daunting circumstances. It was ultimately a very successful session for Farm Bureau. At the beginning of the year, we faced drought and conditions worsened by mismanagement at the state and federal levels. We had an uncertain economic future, with proposed workplace standards that would have been simply untenable.

One bill sought to declare all surface water in the state drinkable by 2050. Another set out to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 90% by 2045 and have net negative emissions thereafter. There were bills to phase out single-use packages and impose $90 million in increased taxes on pesticides. There was also an attempt to institute a mail-in card check election for unions, robbing our employees of their rights to secret ballot elections.

However, thanks to your membership, California Farm Bureau's Government Affairs Division was able to keep all those measures at bay.

We even managed to create a market for wildfire insurance where there previously was none. Senate Bill 11, by state Sen. Susan Rubio, D-Baldwin Park, was introduced by Farm Bureau in response to member complaints that California's insurer of last resort—the FAIR Plan—was not offering farm coverage. We offered a solution and worked with the insurer, Sen. Rubio, Gov. Gavin Newsom and Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara to bring the bill to fruition. Farmers and ranchers will soon be able to turn to the FAIR Plan to get coverage.

For several years, we have been working with local counties and their members on efforts to secure funding for the University of California Cooperative Extension and 4-H. And this year, we found a champion in state Sen. John Laird, D-Santa Cruz. Working together, we were able to secure not just the restoration of the funding gap but additional money, as well, for a total $33.2 million in ongoing funding.

In total, Farm Bureau helped deliver $2 billion for our members and their communities.

Programs to increase forest health, resiliency and private land ownership, help conservancies prevent wildfire and assist Cal-Fire received about $1 billion. We secured $855 million to assist with Sustainable Groundwater Management implementation, $3 million to compensate for livestock lost to wolves, $10 million for the California Nutrition Incentive Program, which pays for purchases of our products, and $25 million for the Healthy Soils Program.

Beyond that, we brought in $32 million for livestock methane reduction, $15 million for pollinator habitat, $30 million for the Fresno-Merced Food Innovation Initiative and $213 million for the FARMER program to help replace out-of-compliance tractors.

Farm Bureau worked with Assembly member Marc Levine and the California Department of Agriculture to expand opportunities for ranchers to utilize mobile slaughter operations. This idea came from a Farm Bureau member, who reached out to her county, which reached out to us. Together, we turned that idea into law.

Finally, the 2021 legislative session culminated in the veto of Assembly Bill 616, the union card-check measure. When it was introduced, it seemed like a done deal. After all, this was the United Farm Workers union's No. 1 priority. Given California's political dynamics, nobody gave us a chance.

But Farm Bureau was undaunted. We coalesced around a sound strategy and message and charged up the hill, always knowing our chance of success was slim. When the bill landed on the governor's desk, it was gut-check time, and what did we do? We rallied. In the midst of harvest, with everything going on, we rallied.

We stood on the steps of the Capitol, where Farm Bureau members, their employees, county staff and state staff called on the governor—in English and Spanish—to veto AB 616. Thirteen days later, he did. Despite all the challenges, we stuck together. We worked hard, had faith and, at the end of the day, we won.

That is the power of Farm Bureau.

(Jim Houston is the administrator for the California Farm Bureau. He may be contacted at jhouston@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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