The Assembly Agriculture Committee held an informational hearing Wednesday to gather policy ideas for keeping farmers competitive. California Farm Bureau President Jamie Johansson ran through a litany of challenges facing farmers—from the high cost of running a business to the drought, labor expenses and lower yields from fewer permitted pesticides.

UC Davis Agricultural Economist Daniel Sumner agreed, but saluted farmers for remaining strong and resilient by adapting. That flexibility is demonstrated in how growers have transitioned from low-value commodities like cotton to tree nut crops, and how dairy farmers have maintained their market dominance through science and innovation despite escalating regulatory costs.

Sumner warned the lawmakers to give agriculture the space to continue to innovate and not get in the way.

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“If they're allowed to,” said Sumner, “California farmers and ranchers and the rest of the supply system will actually do better at supplying the world with food, fiber and other agricultural products than most other places that we compete against.”

He recognized that steep costs for fruits and vegetables is an issue for a lot of consumers but could offer no simple solution, since Californians want to pay workers higher wages.

“It's a really tough nut to crack,” said Sumner. “And it's one more place where innovation is needed.”