Wenger calls for more political involvement
By Kate Campbell
California Farm Bureau President Paul Wenger speaks to delegates during his address at the CFBF Annual Meeting in Pasadena.
The 94th California Farm Bureau Federation Annual Meeting is being held at the Pasadena Convention Center.
Calling on farmers and ranchers to help shape the future of agriculture through the same "dogged determination" they use in producing crops, California Farm Bureau Federation President Paul Wenger urged unified action to address the many issues facing California agriculture.
During his address Monday to delegates attending the CFBF Annual Meeting in Pasadena, Wenger urged farmers and ranchers to maintain and enhance their political activities at a time when markets for many California crops and commodities have been strong.
"While we have been so successful at producing more crops and more valuable crops, and doing it on a sustainable, renewable basis, it doesn't always translate that our bottom lines have gone up," he said, noting continued increases in production costs. "That's why there's never been a time that is so critical to work together through Farm Bureau and other allied organizations to advocate for our industry."
Anticipating a number of issues expected to affect family farmers and ranchers in the coming year, Wenger pointed to the immediate concern about the so-called "fiscal cliff" facing policymakers in Washington, D.C. A group of spending cuts and tax increases will take effect Jan. 1, unless Congress and the administration reach agreement before then.
Wenger called the impact of the fiscal cliff "very real for our farmers and ranchers, especially when you talk about the estate tax." Estate tax rates would be among those that would rise on Jan. 1.
"While we would like to see the estate tax eliminated in general, we will need to work hard to make sure there are changes that will allow farm families to remain in agriculture," he said. "We know there will be an estate tax, but we need some kind of exemption for agriculture as long as the land remains in farming."
Another important issue before Congress is immigration reform, Wenger said, noting that an online survey of Farm Bureau members showed many faced employee shortages during 2012 (see story, Page 1). He commended the American Farm Bureau Federation for providing leadership to develop "meaningful immigration reform" for agriculture.
"We need an ag immigration fix. We need to find a way to make people legal here who are working on our farms and ranches," he said.
The impacts of new federal health care programs remain unknown, Wenger said.
"They call it the Affordable Care Act, but my question is whether it will be affordable for small employers," he said.
At the state level, Wenger said he expects continued efforts to reintroduce anti-agriculture bills defeated in the Legislature in previous years. He called this year's election of two-thirds "supermajorities" of Democrats in both houses of the Legislature "not a matter of 'if,' but a matter of 'when,'" and said Farm Bureau would continue to establish relationships with legislators who represent urban and suburban districts.
With all the issues facing agriculture, Wenger also called increasing Farm Bureau membership critical. He advocated reaching out to neighbors and vendors to increase the ranks, and pointed to several Farm Bureau leaders who've made their employees Farm Bureau members.
"We have to get more politically active and we have to write the checks," Wenger said. "We have to get engaged, pool our resources and have a voice in Sacramento and Washington, D.C.
"If we are going to join in the political arena, we have to fight when we're strong, because who is going to defend us when we're weak?" he said. "If we don't lead the way, who will?"
(Kate Campbell is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.