A little predictability would go a long way for California agriculture and the consumers who depend on them for food.
With all of the ships parked outside of ports for Los Angeles and Long Beach, “The media often asks, ‘How is our food supply,’” says Jamie Johansson, president of the California Farm Bureau. Fortunately, he says the majority of the products that have been sitting and waiting to be unloaded are not our food supply at this time.”
But during his keynote convention speech, he outlined how things can change if members don’t stay involved and vigilant about protecting California agriculture and the over 400 crops grown across the Golden State. He reminded participants that, when California became the largest agricultural state in the nation in 1949, the biggest agricultural county was Los Angeles County.
“It can change very fast if we don't protect it,” he added. California farmers have faced more than their share of challenges in recent years, including drought, wildfires, the pandemic, labor issues, supply shortages and some of the most stringent regulatory pressures in the U.S.
During the pandemic, we learned that “Americans are not used to empty shelves and we reassured them…..take what you need, think of your neighbor and don't panic.”
“We think about what we overcame and what we produced, even in a drought situation….the resiliency and how you improvised to get the crop,” he told the CFBF members who gathered in Garden Grove. And yet, “we see the recommendations coming that would take our farms away,” he said about the potential for new legislation and regulations.
Johansson pushed back against those who criticize California farmers for using too much water and who want to take away historical water rights.
"If those go away, we know what comes next. We'll all be begging at the feet of bureaucracy to try to get our allotment."
Rather than criticizing those who produce food during water shortages, “we should be patting ourselves on the back because that water gets used on behalf of the people in California,” he emphasized.
“We have to farm in California. You can't replace it. If we don't farm in California, California is less essential to this country and this world. Agriculture makes California essential."
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He also punched back on pesticide regulations that take away crop protection tools and hinder climate-smart solutions.
When Agri-Pulse asked him what else farmers need to be successful in his state he cited the need for efficiency.
“We need to be allowed to be efficient as we deal with climate change impacts and legislation coming down the pike. It is not a climate solution if you make farmers less efficient. You can't take away the crop tools that we need such as pesticides and expect California agriculture to be efficient.”
Despite the challenges, Johansson pointed to a number of legislative wins in California, including the defeat of a measure to increase property taxes, Proposition 15, which he described as a “great victory for agriculture” and Gov. Gavin Newsom’s veto of Assembly Bill 616, a card check measure that would have taken away farmworkers’ ability to use a secret ballot when voting on union organizing and require worker contributions to the unions. In the U.S. Supreme Court, California Farm Bureau also submitted an amicus brief in support of Cedar Point Nursery, an operation that was fighting against farmworker unions who wanted “unfettered access” to recruit workers on the farm.
“It’s pretty exciting when one of the Supreme Court justices uses your argument to strike down this case in his remarks from the court,” Johansson added. In a 6-3 vote, the court ruled that the California regulation allowing union organizers to recruit agricultural workers at their workplaces violated the constitutional rights of their employers.
Still, Johansson doesn’t think the regulatory, legislative and legal challenges will be going away soon and asked his grassroots members to continue to be engaged. He cautioned that many of the same issues facing California agriculture will spread to other parts of the country because “we’re a bellwether state.”
“It's time that California Farm Bureau put the boots back on the ground in real time, walking the streets of Sacramento and in the hallways of Washington DC and making a difference.”
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