By Kevin Hecteman, Assistant Editor, Ag Alert
Reprinted with Permission from California Farm Bureau Federation
At the top of Jamie Johansson’s Christmas wish list is a functioning crystal ball.
Addressing an in-person Annual Meeting for the first time in two years, the California Farm Bureau president said that when people ask him what farmers and ranchers need, he says, “First and foremost, we need predictability.” He said that is especially true in an age where, as with everything else, predictability is in short supply.
“This past year has been anything but predictable—with pandemics, wildfires, trade disputes,” Johansson said in his address at the 103rd Annual Meeting in Garden Grove.
A large part of that uncertainty has been wildfires, which in many cases have cost farmers and ranchers their insurance. At the beginning of the year, farm structures and equipment could not be insured under the California FAIR Plan, the state’s insurer of last resort.
A bill changing this was signed into law in June; meanwhile, Farm Bureau and state Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara have been conducting a listening tour around the state, hearing directly from affected farmers. Lara attended the Annual Meeting to discuss the issue further.
While adding farms to the FAIR Plan is a help, Johansson said, more needs to be done.
“We thank our partners at Nationwide who have had some difficult conversations and decisions to make; they’ve been very open,” he said. “And we haven’t held back when we’re talking with Commissioner Lara in terms of what farmers need and how we get this market back into California so our farmers and ranchers can get affordable coverage.”
Johansson noted that when California became the largest agricultural state in the union in 1949, the top farming county in the state and nation was Los Angeles County.
“It can change very fast if we don’t protect it,” Johansson said. “I’m proud to say, with your support as members, your county’s support, we are protecting agriculture like never before. We have risen to the challenge.”
Johansson emphasized the point with a favorite quote from the late Norman Borlaug, the Nobel Prize-winning agronomist who helped usher in the “Green Revolution” after World War II that led to massive increases in agricultural production.
“Don’t tell me what I can’t do,” Johansson quoted Borlaug. “Tell me what needs to be done, and let me do it.”
Johansson said California agriculture is built on the foundations of the generations that preceded today’s farmers and ranchers, even if in many cases the present generation doesn’t farm the same way or even grow the same crops.
“There’s going to be change, but it has to be directed by the experts,” Johansson said. “That is us, in agriculture. That’s the voice of Farm Bureau, and American Farm Bureau. We need to direct our paths and stand up, because the whole country is taking notice now.”
Johansson ticked off a list of 2021 achievements in that realm, two of which involved efforts to organize agricultural employees.
One was the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision over the summer in Cedar Point v. Hassid, in which the court invalidated a longstanding state rule allowing union organizers access to farm property to recruit new union members. Johansson noted that Farm Bureau Senior Counsel Carl Borden wrote a friend-of-the-court brief in support of the plaintiffs, which one justice cited in his remarks on the case.
“When one of the Supreme Court justices uses your argument, your case that you bring up, to strike down this case and his remarks from the court—that’s why California Farm Bureau was put together,” Johansson said.
In California, this year’s Assembly Bill 616 would have effectively replaced secret-ballot union elections with a “card check” system allowing union organizers to collect and return signed ballot cards. When the bill reached the desk of Gov. Gavin Newsom, Farm Bureau called a rally on short notice in early September to encourage the governor to veto it.
“I know it was a quick call,” Johansson said. “It was quickly organized. I know we were in the middle of harvest and we had things to do on the farm, but we responded.” As a result, the bill was vetoed. However, he cautioned, these and other challenges will be back, and Farm Bureau will need to remain vigilant.
Johansson said that while farmers and ranchers are willing to do their part for the climate, it must be done in a way that doesn’t compromise their ability to bring a crop to market.
“We need to be allowed to be efficient,” Johansson said. “As we deal with climate change impacts and legislation coming down the pike, make no mistake. It is not a climate solution if you make farmers less efficient. It simply won’t happen.”
Key to this will be more water storage, he added. He urged California to protect reliable supplies for farming by building major water storage facilities overwhelmingly approved by California voters who passed the Proposition 1 ballot initiative in 2014.
“As we see perhaps changes happening with our snowpack and larger rain events, it’s beyond time—after all these years of Prop. 1 being passed in 2014 by 68% of the people—that action be taken in building more storage,” Johansson said. “It’s time to take action, to look towards the future, just like the generations before us did.”