California Farm Bureau Federation President Jamie Johansson said there is no better time than now for agriculture leaders to engage the public about the importance of promoting family farms and ranches and finding solutions to problems facing rural communities.
Johansson, who just finished his first year at the helm of the state organization, which turns 100 years old later this year, spoke at the annual meeting of the Colusa County Farm Bureau (CCFB) in Rocco’s Banquet Room, on Jan. 25.
He joined CCFB President Chris Torres, State Director of USDA Rural Development Kim Dolbow Vann, and California Farm Bureau Senior Legal Counsel Chris Scheuring in stressing the importance of making the public aware of the difficulties farmers face, largely because of government regulation and the reduction of a domestic food supply.
“At the time when farm bureaus were forming a century ago, about 30 percent of America was involved in production agriculture,” said Johansson, a Butte County olive grower. “We’re now – in California – less than 1 percent, and 2 percent nationally.”
Johansson said the need to engage legislators and the public has never been more important, especially after losing three Central Valley farmers in the U.S. House of Representatives in the 2018 midterm election.
The CFBF pledges to be more involved in the future, and Johansson encouraged county farm bureaus to do the same.
“We’re going answer the call in the next election cycle in 2020, which is going to be crazy because it’s a presidential election, but we are going to answer the call with the largest political action committee in California agriculture farm PACS,” he said.
Johansson said Farm Bureau members need to step out of the comforts of their homes and engage people, especially since those who oppose farming have used social media, the media, the Farm Bill, water, and regional issues to drive a wedge between growers by separating them by commodity.
“At Farm Bureau, our strength is founded in our diversity, which we can bring together for unity,” he said. “If you are just one commodity, that unity doesn’t look as genuine. When you are 300 different commodities, coming under one roof to vote to engage at the Farm Bureau level demonstrates unity. That is going to be more important going forward than ever before.”
Vann echoed Johansson in stressing the importance of farmers becoming engaged at the local, state and federal level, especially given the changes in the House of Representatives and Senate committees, and the number of new, largely urban members of Congress who now represent agriculture interests and have oversight over the USDA.
Vann said it was not necessarily a political issue, but a reeducation process that must occur anytime new members are elected to Congress.
“I think we need to make sure we are communicating in a positive way, and letting them know why we matter collectively, why agriculture matters, why USDA matters, and why our future in California matters,” Vann said.
Vann oversees the operation of about 40 USDA programs in the state, with about 300 people in the field working to make rural communities successful.
“Last year, I’m happy to say, we broke a record investing in California,” Vann said. “We invested, for the first time, over $1 billion in rural California.”
Vann said USDA priorities for this year include groundwater recharge, irrigation district improvements, rail spurs, port improvements, road improvements, bridge improvements, deep-water channels, airports, water dams, and all water conveyance systems.
“We’re going to bring rural development back to supporting agriculture in every way but planting and propagating,” she said. ■