By Jamie Johansson
President, California Farm Bureau Federation
Reprinted with permission from California Farm Bureau Federation
During this challenging time, the strong values that power California agriculture will help farmers and ranchers endure. Those values include the commitment we all have to our families, our employees and our neighbors.
There’s no better example than the Farm to Family program, established by the state Department of Food and Agriculture and the California Association of Food Banks to simplify food donations to food banks from farmers and ranchers.
Even before the state announced expansion of the program last month, more than 120 farmers and ranchers donated to the program, and another 200 had inquired about how to do so. In March, the program distributed 14.5 million pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables; in the first three weeks of April, another 18 million pounds. Average donations previously had been 12 million pounds a month. No doubt, donations will increase.
Throughout California, farmers and ranchers demonstrate that ongoing commitment. We continue to show up on the farm, putting into place measures needed to take care of our employees, working closely with the multiple regulatory agencies that monitor food safety, employee safety and workplace regulations.
It’s a commitment to a set of values that don’t get placed on hold based on “current situations,” even though in a recent CFBF survey 57% of farmers who responded reported losing customers or sales and 42% lost income from off-farm jobs due to shelter-in-place orders.
To honor that commitment, Farm Bureau continues to represent its members in local, state and federal governmental forums, including hearings and meetings held via video conference. Whenever the state Legislature or Congress meets, Farm Bureau is there to raise our voice for farmers, ranchers, their employees and for rural residents.
There’s a lot of uneasiness in rural California right now. That’s because, in the aftermath of previous recessions, rural California has tended to recover slower each time.
With the state facing an epic $54.3 billion budget deficit, economic recovery isn’t going to be state funded. Economic recovery for California business will come in one of three areas: consumption-led, export-led or investment-led. Agriculture is one of the only sectors that stands ready to contribute in all three areas. Farm Bureau is working to make our elected and appointed government officials aware of that, to be sure they focus on helping rural California keep up with recovery efforts.
Even though the impacts of the pandemic have been tough, most farms, ranches and agricultural businesses have at least been allowed to continue operating, because of California’s definition of essential infrastructure. In part, that’s due to groundwork Farm Bureau laid several years ago with state and federal agencies to make sure agriculture—broadly defined—could continue to operate in circumstances such as those we face now.
Where local governments have imposed restrictions on farmers markets and other agricultural activities, county Farm Bureaus and CFBF have worked to clarify rules to allow farmers and ranchers the ability to continue to meet their customers, safely, wherever possible.
Farm Bureau underlined the impact of the pandemic on rural California with the release of our farmer survey. The survey also showed the logistical problems farmers and ranchers face: shortages of personal protective equipment, concerns about employee health, how absences could worsen already chronic trouble in hiring enough people for on-farm jobs.
Thank you to all of you who responded to the survey. Your collective responses will help us make the case with legislators and agencies that agriculture, while considered essential, has been broadly affected by the pandemic. The information from the survey will support Farm Bureau advocacy for policies that ease the strain on rural California while assuring the health and safety of farmers, ranchers, their employees, families and customers.
Farm Bureau advocates for rural California in the media as well as with government and the courts. During the pandemic, CFBF has responded to close to 100 media inquiries on the topic, and many county Farm Bureaus have been actively telling the story to reporters and their audiences, as well.
At the same time, we know COVID-19 is not the only critical concern for California farmers and ranchers. Just as the pandemic struck, the state has been plunged back into drought.
Joining other agricultural organizations from California and the West, Farm Bureau has made the case with state and federal administrations that farms and ranches must have adequate, reliable water supplies if they’re to continue providing plentiful and safe food and farm products. Water is the essential element for the essential business of farming.
As the pandemic has caused more people to focus on the critical importance of the food supply, we have also seen more focus on what it takes to assure that supply: the people, the resources, the infrastructure.
That has put us in the spotlight in new ways. But we do not shrink from the spotlight. We welcome the opportunity to tell our neighbors and representatives: We’re here for you, as we always have been—and here’s what’s needed to make sure that continues.
Thank you for your commitment to the future of California agriculture.