By Kevin Hecteman
California Farm Bureau
SACRAMENTO – The halls of the Capitol can be fertile ground for nurturing relationships, and some of the participants in this year’s California Farm Bureau Federation Leaders Conference had their first opportunity at it.
“This is my first time in Sacramento,” said Sara Prechtl, who grows strawberries and green beans in Orange County and serves on the Young Farmers and Ranchers State Committee. “This is my first time for the legislative rounds, and it was quite interesting.”
Prechtl said the experience enhanced her knowledge about the legislative process.
“Actually being in the process and going and talking to the people, and having that one-on-one communication, I think, was the best part of me understanding this whole process,” she said.
Mike Zimmerman, CFBF political affairs manager, said 151 Farm Bureau members visited with 75 legislators or their staff, and made contact with every other legislative office.
“Events like this are always a good opportunity for Farm Bureau to put a face with what we produce and what our value is in California,” Zimmerman said. “The importance of constituents, farmers and ranchers, meeting with their legislators cannot be overstated. It’s one of the most important events that we do every year.”
Javi Higuera, a Kern County farm labor contractor, pronounced his first Legislative Day “amazing.” His said his group spent nearly an hour with Assemblyman Vince Fong, R-Bakersfield.
“He listened to us,” Higuera said. “He made me feel positive. He made me feel good about the concerns that I had in regards to what’s affecting us in the Central Valley—labor, the high-speed train, water. He talked on those topics, and he was very positive in the manner that he responded.”
Jocelyn Anderson, whose family grows almonds and walnuts in Glenn County, also made her first legislative visits.
“It was really neat to be able to help them understand what we’re working on as Farm Bureau, and the issues that we have and how they can help us,” said Anderson, also a member of the YF&R State Committee.
Water was a frequent topic in the legislative visits, she said.
“We talked about the unimpaired flows a little bit,” Anderson said, “and how we can move forward with that and work on compromises with the state.”
Wildfire, forestry management and rural prosperity were also on the top of Farm Bureau members’ minds, as was the FARMER program: Funding Agricultural Replacement Measures for Emission Reduction, which helps farms and ranches switch to lower-emission tractors and other equipment.
“The FARMER Act is huge for us, because all over the state we’re replacing these diesel engines,” Anderson said. “With the funding that we get for that, we still have to pay a partial cost when we apply for that grant funding.”
Siskiyou County rancher Jeff Fowle said his top issue was the specter of budget cuts that could affect 4-H programs statewide.
“I was in 4-H for nine years,” Fowle said. “I’ve been either a project leader or a club leader for 18 years. I take kids to the state field day every year, and what I have seen to be the biggest benefit of 4-H is how it affects kids from the urban areas and the cities,” because, he added, 4-H often becomes the first connection urban children have with where their food originates.
Fowle has 12 years of experience working the halls of the Legislature, and said the key to being effective is to find the positive.
“Oftentimes, when we go meet with a legislator, we are talking about issues that we don’t like, that are going to hurt us, hinder us, set us back, place more onerous regulations on us, etc.,” he said. “Every legislator who I have shared a success story with, even if I’ve had to really reach and stretch to find what that success was associated with legislation or a regulation, every legislator or staffer that I have done it with has continued to contact me in the future.”
Higuera said he wants to come back.
“Not only that, but I highly recommend it to any person involved in agriculture,” he said. “Come support your local Farm Bureau. Support your local farmers, your local farm labor contractors, your local pesticide salesmen—anyone involved with ag.”
Prechtl said she also wants to stay involved.
“I would like to return next year and continue working with Young Farmers and Ranchers,” she said. “We need more young people pushing for agriculture, and pushing for agriculture in places where you might not find a typical ag setting.”
Earlier in the day, prior to visiting the Capitol, Leaders Conference attendees heard from Assemblywoman Susan Talamantes Eggman, D-Stockton, who chairs the Assembly Agriculture Committee.
“I come to you as somebody who has worked, growing up on a farm, know what it’s like not to know if you’re going to be able to take your vacation every year, because it depends on if the sun shines or the sun doesn’t shine, or when it rains or when it doesn’t rain,” Eggman told the crowd.
Noting that she’d recently sworn in Future Farmers of America officers on the Assembly floor, Eggman encouraged her audience to nurture their heirs.
“The average age of the farmer is climbing up,” she said, “and as that climbs up, we need that new and young generation.”
Afterward, Eggman said effective advocacy comes down to relationships, and to ensuring legislators see agriculture firsthand.
“It’s bringing them out,” she said. “It’s doing farm tours and it’s just introducing them to what it is and helping them understand that the idea of a farm and the reality of a farm are two different things.”
– Kevin Hecteman is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. He may be reached at [email protected].