From This Crisis May Come Creativity
By John Moore
President, Kern County Farm Bureau
Farmers are natural creatives. This may come as a shock to those whose main idea of a farmer is a plaid shirt and jean pant wearing, dusty pickup truck driving, and wheat head chewing simpleton (although I will admit the majority of us do two of those three things). Over the past few decades agricultural creatives in this valley sculpted a water distribution system with the state and federal projects that awed and fed the world. They mastered efficiencies in crop protection materials, irrigation systems, food processing, land cultivation, and specific rootstocks/cultivars/seedstock ideal for various soil types and climates. These innovations were the product of crises both large and small. As of June 2020, stating that the agricultural industry faces an on-going crisis on various items, including labor and water, would not be an understatement.
Looking forward to this upcoming harvest season, the availability of a workforce will be of utmost concern for our labor-intensive industries. Producers need a skilled workforce tasked with harvesting our bounty, and they will be saddled with doing so at a higher cost. The services provided by our labor contractors and/or full-time employees must correlate with the increased costs. No longer can our producers afford the same product with regulatory driven price escalations; at least not until the end user pays more for their product. This is where our creatives in the labor space may shine, and where we can expect to see the next great innovations in California agriculture. As our services evolve and the employee-employer relationship changes, we can expect the labor crisis to illuminate efficiencies for both employee and employer benefit. It is the responsibility of producers to keep eyes open for these opportunities.
The creative minds of our forefathers will need to influence the current generation’s efforts as we deal with an ever-complex California water situation. It’s been stated and overstated: state and federal water distribution philosophies are at odds, the existing conveyance systems are deteriorating, and the management actions as written in our Groundwater Sustainability Plans will likely increase the long-term cost of water. For decades, farmers and ranchers have depended on the government capital for the development of water infrastructure projects. Water users were and are expected to repay the government as water is transferred from Northern California to agricultural and urban communities to the South. As we advocate and educate the governmental powers that be of the importance in investing in our existing infrastructure, now is the time to look for alternate sources of capital both private and institutional. It’s been said that as long as the sun shines on California soils, they will have value. And though property values are stabilizing, if not cycling downward, the greater value lies in the affordable water supply that allows our valley to be the most productive agricultural region in the world. Depending on the government to recognize this reality is no longer tenable or time efficient.
There is no doubt that from crisis may come creativity. The responsibility to exercise that imagination lies with agriculture’s stakeholders, and I would bet that our potential is far from exhausted.