Newsom reiterates attention to rural issues

Issue Date: July 10, 2019
By Dave Kranz
California Farm Bureau Federation President Jamie Johansson, left, speaks during a meeting with Gov. Gavin Newsom, second from right. Participants in the meeting with the CFBF Board of Directors included CFBF Administrator Jim Houston, center, state Secretary of Food and Agriculture Karen Ross, third from right, Agriculture Liaison Bill Lyons, right, and other gubernatorial aides.
Photo/Ching Lee
Gov. Gavin Newsom, right, listens during a meeting with the CFBF Board of Directors in his state Capitol office.
Photo/Ching Lee

Renewing his pledge to focus on issues important to rural California, Gov. Gavin Newsom told California Farm Bureau Federation leaders he considers the success of the state's farmers and ranchers "a point of pride," and that he recognizes his "role and responsibility" in elevating issues that affect rural regions.

Newsom met with the CFBF Board of Directors in his state Capitol office, during a wide-ranging, hour-long meeting that featured discussion of water, environmental regulations and other topics that affect farmers' and ranchers' competitiveness.

CFBF President Jamie Johansson told Newsom that "farmers and ranchers want to be part of the solution" to problems in rural California, urging the governor to seek "farmer-led solutions and realistic expectations" in addressing those problems.

Accompanied by state Secretary of Food and Agriculture Karen Ross, Agriculture Liaison Bill Lyons and other aides, Newsom listened as CFBF leaders outlined a variety of issues affecting agriculture and rural California.

Johansson began by describing the impact of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2014, which requires local agencies to develop sustainability plans for critically overdrafted basins by next year and will likely reduce the availability of groundwater in key agricultural regions. At the same time, Johansson and other Farm Bureau leaders noted, the State Water Resources Control Board has adopted plans to redirect flows in Central Valley rivers, in an effort to boost fish populations.

"There's the water we need to address the overdraft," CFBF director Paul Sanguinetti of Stockton told the governor, noting that reductions in surface water availability limit opportunities to replenish aquifers.

Newsom's administration has worked with water agencies and other interested parties on voluntary agreements intended to achieve the same goals as the water board's flows plan, but using a wider-ranging set of strategies that include targeted river flows and habitat-enhancement projects including improvements to salmon spawning and rearing areas (see story).

"We know it isn't just about how much water you can put down a river, but it's the functional flows of when you (time) what is flowing through," Johansson said, telling the governor, "You've given us time to work those voluntary agreements and we would encourage you, let's have full discussion on those but also recognize there are some people who aren't in a (water) district" and wouldn't necessarily be covered by the agreements.

Newsom said he remains committed to seeking voluntary agreements.

"I want to give it a shot," he said. "It's better than 25 years of hell in litigation."

The governor referred to plans for aboveground and underground water storage, and said he also wants to "turn the page" on delta issues; in May, his administration withdrew permits for the planned "twin tunnels" project in favor of a smaller, single tunnel.

"I'm trying to figure out a more comprehensive world view of water that moves beyond this scarcity paradigm," Newsom said.

In response to a question from CFBF board member Ronnie Leimgruber of Holtville, Newsom said the state government would be "all in" on efforts to restore the Salton Sea—a key in addressing Colorado River water issues.

"We're re-engaged" on Salton Sea restoration, the governor said. "We're thinking outside the box."

Farm Bureau leaders expressed concern about state action to phase out registration of the insecticide chlorpyrifos, and about the time and difficulty of registering alternative pesticides in California.

When the state announced plans in May to cancel chlorpyrifos registrations, it also committed $5.7 million to fund research into alternatives and to assemble a working group to evaluate those alternatives.

CDFA Secretary Ross said the group will be formed now that the new state budget has been approved, and that the state would seek short-, intermediate- and long-term alternatives.

Several Farm Bureau leaders told Newsom their concerns about difficulty in complying with layers of government regulation.

"California is a great place to farm," Johansson said, "but we are also reaching a point where ... simply the regulations are becoming more and more difficult to keep up with."

CFBF director Blake Alexandre of Crescent City expressed frustration with bureaucracy and "old-school thinking that doesn't change."

"As farmers, we've had to change," Alexandre said. "We're hummingbirds, we're not dinosaurs. I don't farm the way my dad did."

Noting that farmers "are experts at problem-solving," he said, "We're the solution, not the problem."

Newsom noted that as a business owner himself, he's aware of the layers of federal, state and local regulations.

"I deeply get it," he said. "It's not one policy, it's just a stacking of so many things that have happened the last decade that have been tough."

Johansson noted that the governor had promised during his inaugural address in January not to leave rural California behind, and Newsom returned to that theme in closing remarks to the Farm Bureau delegation.

"I actually truly do (care) about your future and the fate of rural California and our farmers," he said.

"You're top of mind," Newsom said. "We're trying to work through these issues. For me, you're part of the DNA of this state."

(Dave Kranz is editor of Ag Alert. He may be contacted at

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.