Dec 9, 2022California Farm Bureau president calls for restoring farm bounty
California Farm Bureau President Jamie Johansson on Monday urged lawmakers and society at large to adopt a new mindset in their approach to agriculture.
Addressing the 104th California Farm Bureau Annual Meeting in Monterey, Johansson took issue with any notion that farmers facing historic challenges of drought and water shortages should just accept a sustained new era of limitations.
He insisted California’s agricultural producers can do more than just survive—if only state policymakers reject their prevailing mindset and embrace one that is geared toward abundance.
“The management of scarcity is failing,” he said. “It’s time now to reimplement the management of bounty.”
Over the past year, farmers faced water delivery curtailments, supply-chain disruptions, labor shortages and rising costs. It was “a year that went by quickly, but a year that had challenges like no other,” Johansson said, noting that none of those challenges have gone away.
This year, fallowed farmland increased by 750,000 acres compared to 2019, according to a recent study from the University of California, Merced. The knock-on effects on food processing industries amounted to losses of roughly $845 million, up from $590 million in 2021. All told, the consequences of diminished agricultural production totaled $2 billion in value-added losses and a loss of nearly 20,000 jobs.
The problems are worsened and the consequences are aggravated, Johansson said, by policies that stem from a mindset of working within the limits of scarcity—of adapting to a changing environment by paring down California’s agricultural potential.
“Change is inevitable,” Johansson said. “We understand change in agriculture. But what we struggle with is a state that doesn’t have a plan of how we make those changes based on principles.”
The Farm Bureau president said there is a clear way forward. “It doesn’t have to be this way,” he said. “There needs to be an urgency because there is a solution, and California Farm Bureau has it.”
When it comes to drought, instead of asking farmers to manage with increasingly less water, California can embrace solutions such as building water-storage infrastructure and supporting groundwater recharge to capture and store water in wet years and use it in drier ones. To curb rising energy costs, it can look to hydropower and nuclear power, he said.
The historic challenges have brought a historic opportunity, Johansson said. With rising food costs and inflation, urban neighbors and legislators are waking up to the need to support farmers, he said, declaring that the time is ripe to push for changes that recognize the importance of an abundant agricultural sector.
“We’re all concerned about what our farms are going to look like this year with the prices that we face in some of our commodities and the rising interest rates,” Johansson said. “What I haven’t seen before is the discussion we are having at our dinner table is pretty much the same as what they’re having in urban America right now.”
Johansson called on California farmers to take advantage of the political opportunities at hand, including the state Legislature’s election of Assemblyman Robert Rivas, D-Hollister, as the next speaker of the California Assembly.
“For the first time in many decades, in June, we’ll have a speaker in the Assembly who represents Monterey County, who actually comes from a rural area, raised in farmworker housing—someone who at least is answerable to rural California and also lives in rural California,” Johansson said. “There’s opportunity there.”
There are also broader political opportunities. With rising grocery bills, lawmakers in Washington, D.C., are paying attention to farming and food security. “As we meet with urban legislators and congressional members, they ask, ‘What do you need as farmers?’” Johansson said. “Now they get the reality.”
When the country looks for answers in agriculture, he added, it looks to California farmers, who have demonstrated an ability to overcome challenges and feed the nation and beyond.
“We have a perfect opportunity to tell a very powerful message that, based on principles, we can continue in agriculture to make a difference, feed the world and, more importantly, prosper our communities,” Johansson said.
He highlighted the role young agriculturalists can play in shaping the future of farming.
“Young farmers and ranchers are being increasingly focused on when it comes to the electorate,” Johansson said. “They will be the voice of this organization.”
He encouraged all farmers to raise their voices and assured them that Farm Bureau will continue working to empower them.
“It’s a hundred-year-old organization. It’s changed quite a bit, but we’ll hold onto the traditions, and we’ll focus on change that makes a difference for our members,” Johansson said. “Ultimately, our first obligation as California Farm Bureau is to maintain that grassroots organization and to grow this membership and to continue to be the voice for agriculture.
“Our biggest principle is to ensure the success of all farmers and ranchers,” he said.
– Caleb Hampton, California Farm Bureau Federation
Photo: California Farm Bureau Federation