A California perspective on challenges for agriculture in 2014

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On a flight from California to San Antonio to attend the American Farm Bureau Federation’s Annual Convention, I pondered the challenges that lie ahead for agriculture. I also looked forward to hearing about the concerns of other farmers and ranchers from across this great nation.

Now, some may wonder why I pondered this question when I am from California. Many people are unaware that California is the largest agriculture-producing state in the United States as well as one of the largest employers. Large enough that if California were its own country, we would be the third-largest ag producing country in the world. The fabulous weather, versatility of the state, access to water, and the fertile soils are some reasons why agriculture is successful. However, the roads to success doesn’t come without challenges.

WEATHER

Recently other parts of the nation have been experiencing inclement weather. Californians have been basking in the 60-80 degree weather the past few months. Although I have been enjoying working in the yard catching some rays, our state is in dire need of water. Farmers and ranchers are currently trying to plan for the upcoming season by budgeting for the drought that we will incur.  Many growers who have tree and nut crops are already seeing blooms on their trees and it’s only January. Now they are hoping that the cold weather doesn’t decide to visit us in the coming months otherwise they could be at a loss due the blooms freezing and not producing product.

IMMIGRATION

Another great challenge is immigration reform.  Being right on the border to Mexico we are heavily invested in pushing the federal government into creating a workable plan that allows access to employees and creates benefit for the employees as well as the industry.

Due to the fabulous weather in California we were able to harvest strawberries all the way into the beginning of December, which is rare. There was a vast amount of fruit that available however much of it was left on the vines due to the lack of employees to help harvest and get the product to market. Not only were we not able to fully meet the demand of the consumers but also saw a loss of profitability. Many times profitability for farmers only comes when you are able to extend your production and capture those rare moments when you can harvest more product than planned or extend production into a high demand market.

The industry now is trying to gamble on the accessibility of labor and the consumer demand for product for the coming year and trying to make production decisions based on speculation.  Many commodities and farmers are going to take a hit, thus decreasing supply and increasing food costs. This is not only a gamble that will affect production numbers but it will also affect the quality of production. Growers are having to make concessions with their employees just to keep them employed with their company.

FOOD SAFETY

Although many compromises are being made amongst employers and employees it is nice to know that California is fully vested into food safety is unwilling to waiver from their rules and requirements when it comes to production of a safe and healthy product.  In fact, California has been working with the Food and Drug Administration in the development of their federal food safety regulations (FSMA). In 2007 the leafy greens industry adopted the Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement (LGMA). Since its inception, the entire vegetable industry has been flowing the science based guidelines that has been set forth.  Despite the hesitation amongst the industry to implement certain practices farmers and producers have actually found the LGMA to be beneficial in assisting them with advancements and overall farming successes.  During the most recent comment period for the FSMA the LGMA proposed that growers who comply with the LGMA would be exempt to the FSMA rules due to its requirements being science based, doable and even above and beyond what the FDA is proposing.  You ask why would someone what to follow guidelines that are above and beyond what the FDA is proposing?  Well, the answer is simple.  The LGMA is DOABLE and SCIENCE BASED, unlike many requirements that are contained in the FSMA.  I am proud to say that the American Farm Bureau as well as the California Farm Bureau has played a critical role in commenting and working with the FDA to help implement ideas and changes.  This shows how the grassroots system of Farm Bureau pays off.

WATER QUALITY

I could not write this blog in regards to issues that are concerning in the coming year without bringing up water quality. This is also the main reason I decided to write about issues in 2014.  Yesterday before I could leave my office and head home to pack for my trip there was a HUGE pile of regulatory papers that I was working on completing. These regulatory papers were in regards to agriculture discharge. On January 15 the Regional Water Quality Control Board is requiring all growers on the Central Coast to report and monitor their fertilizer, irrigation, pesticide, and sediment management on each and every speck of land that they farm.  Along with this, they require Nitrate reporting, practice implementation, effectiveness reporting and GIS maps of all your ranches, nearby waterway and drainage systems.  So much for “private business”.  Now everyone’s business is public!  This is a prime example as to why it’s imperative for AFBF to be involved in lawsuits such as the recent one in regards to water issues with the Chesapeake Bay.

DON’T HATE US

After all this discussion I am afraid that there isn’t much good news to speculate in 2014.  As most of agriculture knows, many of these CRAZY rules and regulations that put farmers out of business and increase the cost of doing business begin on the west coast in California.  The good news is…..the farmers and ranchers in California are fighting with every ounce of passion and money that they have but many times it is out of our hands.  The problem is that once regulations are enacted in California, it isn’t long until those restrictions on business and farming creep across the States.  The only way that our industry will be able to continue to fight the battle is by working together, getting involved and staying engaged.  As Farm Bureau members we value the hard work of the American Farm Bureau, our State’s Farm Bureau’s and our local Farm Bureau’s in helping keep agriculture in business.  I challenge you all to be engaged!


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