By Doug Mosebar
California Farm Bureau President
September 2, 2009 --Our nation may be focused on the health care debate, but here in California the focus is centered on how farmers can survive economically without water and with depressed prices. Our challenges are clearly visible to the world as acreage is fallowed, rural farm communities are devastated and dairies have lost $2 billion to $3 billion in farm equity due to unstable milk prices in the past year alone.
Acknowledging the fact that California family farms and ranches play a critical role in maintaining a domestic food supply, high-ranking officials visited California last week to see the situation in person and to attend meetings where Farm Bureau was represented on all fronts. In discussions, family farmers and ranchers stressed that the problems are real and that officials must go back to Washington more determined to find answers.
Officials came to get a firsthand look and to listen and talk to those most impacted. Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Reps. Jim Costa and Dennis Cardoza organized meetings and tours for visitors including House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Kathleen Merrigan and Deputy Secretary of the Interior David Hayes.
In the series of meetings in the Central Valley, all stated that the Obama administration needs to do more to get water flowing in the valley, short- and long-term, by revisiting the biological opinions on protected fish that have worsened water shortages, and by taking into account the human and economic crises that have been created in the process.
At a special meeting hosted by Sen. Feinstein, participants stated that it's not only the Westside that is suffering. There are avocado trees being stumped in Southern California and productive fields being idled north of Sacramento, raising fear amongst all farmers that water shortages will erode their ability to ensure a domestic food supply for our nation.
In providing comment, participating farmers and ranchers stressed that any water solution needs to be comprehensive with short- and long-term strategies—solutions that take a balanced approach to the health of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and meaningful water development, while also addressing the needs of depressed rural communities and the environment. In that vein, parties should not be fighting with one another over a shrinking pot of water, but should be looking for ways that everyone can thrive.
Most acknowledged that the elements of a water solution must include continued improvements in water efficiency, water recycling and desalination. Also critical are rapid progress on the Two Gates and intertie projects, new water storage aboveground and water storage underground, as well as improved water conveyance.
Speakers reminded officials that a healthy farming sector generates economic activity in both our rural communities and our cities, while assuring continued food security for the entire nation. Solutions must then balance food production and jobs with environmental protection.
In separate meetings with Secretary Vilsack, he heard loud and clear that dairy farmers can't wait another few months for milk prices to improve. Vilsack stated that while he did not have immediate answers, he will go back more determined to find solutions.
Congressman Hoyer was told jobs and operations are moving to Mexico because of excessive regulations, and that California agriculture needs to be seen as a national treasure—you can't just be concerned about meeting Endangered Species Act environmental regulations when entire communities are without jobs, food production is halted and revenues are lost.
We are confident that these visits will give our challenges a stronger voice in Washington. It is up to all of us to create awareness, tell our stories and work toward collaborative solutions with our state and federal legislators. We are Farm Bureau and our strength and persistence in working toward positive and productive outcomes is critical. Stay active and stay involved.
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