For agriculture to enjoy continued success, farmers and ranchers must carry their message to the general public and the elected officials who represent urban areas. California Farm Bureau Federation President Paul Wenger conveyed that message to a packed room of CFBF delegates and guests at the federation’s annual meeting today in Sparks, Nev.
“When you think about California and how little is rural, it is the folks who don’t have much agriculture in their districts, who don’t understand what their votes do to our industry, who we have to reach to make sure they understand,” he said.
Reflecting back on 2011, Wenger said many in agriculture assumed that policy issues would become more difficult with the change in governors. But, he said, that hasn’t turned out to be the case.
“Gov. Brown has really reached out to agriculture,” Wenger said, citing two examples.
The first concerned the state budget, where the governor reached out to agricultural organizations and asked for recommendations from them as to where to make cuts within the California Department of Food and Agriculture. The other example was “card check”—a form of union-organizing legislation that had been vetoed previously by former Gov. Schwarzenegger.
“The UFW assumed they would have card check signed but the governor vetoed card check, then went back to the drawing board and created his own plan to keep the secret-ballot election,” Wenger said. “What we got was pretty darn good. We don’t think agricultural producers are doing any of the egregious things that some people think we’re doing.”
Solar energy became a controversial subject in 2011, when some utility-scale solar sites were proposed on prime farmland in the San Joaquin Valley. Wenger said that CFBF supports solar energy, but not at the expense of losing productive farmland. He also questioned the wisdom of constructing a high-speed rail route through the heart of the San Joaquin Valley rather than building it in areas where it could be better utilized.
“If we’re going to do high-speed rail, let’s do it where people are. Let’s build it between Los Angeles and San Diego and San Francisco and San Jose. Why start building the train where no one will be able to ride the train?” he asked.
An important issue that needs to be addressed by Congress this year is immigration reform, Wenger said.
“Immigration is an issue that we’ve got to solve this year. A lot of people would say that nothing will happen with a controversial subject like immigration during an election year, but if Congress wants to show they can actually do something, this will be a key issue so our labor force doesn’t have to worry about being pulled over on their way to the fields and have families torn apart,” he said.
Wenger said that on many California farms and ranches, including his own, the bond between farm owners and longtime employees represents much more than a business relationship.
“I know when we think about our own family farming operation, for a time we were working 23-24-hour days and decided we had to hire someone. The Wenger family met the Ochoa family. They have worked side by side with us—they’re family,” he said.
The California Farm Bureau Federation works to protect family farms and ranches on behalf of more than 74,000 members statewide and as part of a nationwide network of nearly 6.3 million Farm Bureau members.
Monday, December 5, 2011
CFBF president urges outreach for ag
From the California Farm Bureau Federation: