After passing the first bill of the year for the Senate Ag Committee, Sen. Bill Dodd, D-Napa, spoke with Agri-Pulse about his top priorities related to ag.

Dodd explained why he proposed an environmental incentives program for farmers in SB 253, his failed effort to form an integrated water data platform with AB 1755, and the controversial SB 901 bill that now insulates PG&E from further additional costs for wildfires.

What was the inspiration behind AB 253?

Farmers have done a good job in providing habitat for birds and trying to do the best job they can for the environment. Over time they’ve done an amazing job when you look at the flooding rice fields for salmon and migrating birds. But to sustain them over time, they need more money and more technical help.

There’s no doubt in my mind that farmers take a disproportionate hit from our policies on water, our policies on clean air and our policies on climate. It’s just really important to have an ag conservation incentive for farmers who do the right thing and provide these critical habitats to birds and fish and wildlife.

Explain the water issues you are working on.

Well over the years, California has had a nice inventory of stream gauges to measure flow. You can’t measure what you don’t know. This is something that’s real important. It comes on the heels of my AB 1755 on transparent water data back in 2015. So getting these stream gauges back online is real important so that we know what the flows are, particularly with these atmospheric rivers and climatic changes. It’s more important now than it ever has been.

With climate programs for agriculture taking a hit this year and more funding going towards fighting wildfires, are we starting to see a new trend?

We all have to realize right now that there are some winners and losers in these situations. Even the Sierra Club opposed my bill SB 901, which was really unfortunate because the crisis of our time is wildfires in the state of California. You talk about the total gross dollar value of almost any crop compared to what the losses have been in the state of California from the wildfires and it’s shocking.

Will the PG&E bankruptcy impact farmers further down the road?

I don’t think so. Except that some of the mitigation measures we’re doing to reduce fuels and minimize the risk of wildfires ahead of time ultimately help farmers. When you have these big wildfires, as we’ve had now for two successive years, you have a pretty uncertain labor market during those 30-day events. Kids aren’t in school and the air quality is bad. With what the labor laws are these days, they might not even be able to let farm workers go out in the fields. I think there is a nexus there.

Let’s face it. A lot of the ag guys were against SB 901 because they were concerned about the rates going up. The reality is they didn’t think it all the way through and were very short sighted. If PG&E had gone to bankruptcy, as it is now, or junk bond status and you didn’t have a strong financially viable utility, your rates are going to go up and they’re going to go up a hell of a lot higher than in the type of programs that we had suggested.

What do you hope to see from the new governor?

Well this governor is in tune. During his State of the State, he made a strong point to reach out to members in the Central Valley to tell them that the valley is not going to be forgotten. That tells me that this governor has the back of agriculture. And I intend to support him.