Wenger: Strong membership aids advocacy
By Ching Lee
CFBF President Paul Wenger tells delegates at the Farm Bureau Annual Meeting in Monterey that it is important for farmers and ranchers to stay relevant and have a presence in Sacramento and Washington, D.C., to help business-friendly candidates win elected office.
Saying the agriculture business appears to be as strong as at any point in his lifetime, California Farm Bureau Federation President Paul Wenger challenged farmers and ranchers to use that strength to bolster their political influence.
In his annual address during the organization's 95th Annual Meeting in Monterey Monday, Wenger said CFBF will refocus its efforts on advocacy and the work it does for California farmers and ranchers, noting that that work also drives membership in the organization.
Wenger said farmers and ranchers "have the opportunity to change Sacramento" as a result of changes in the Legislature brought by the "top-two" primary system that took effect in 2012. Under that system, the top two candidates in a primary election advance to the general election, regardless of party.
As a result, he said, newly elected legislators are "ethnically diverse, urban and open-minded," and that leaves him optimistic about the prospects for advancing legislation that benefits family farmers and ranchers.
Another recent change—allowing members of the Legislature to serve up to 12 years in the same office—means that elections to be held in 2014, 2016 and 2018 will be "extremely important for the political future of California," Wenger said.
"The challenge is: Are we going to step up and do something about it, or are we going to sit back and let somebody else determine who is in those seats?" Wenger asked.
That means Farm Bureau needs to continue to build its political fundraising, he said.
"It is what we have to do to make sure we are relevant, and that we have a presence in Sacramento and Washington, D.C.," to help business-friendly candidates win office, he said.
Wenger noted that in a Nielsen survey of Farm Bureau members across the nation, conducted a few years ago, CFBF was the only state Farm Bureau whose agricultural members resoundingly said advocacy was the No. 1 reason they joined Farm Bureau.
He said while there are other, more specific trade organizations and commodity groups that advocate effectively for farmers and ranchers, "we know our strength is in unity and working together." He noted Farm Bureau worked to assist other trade groups to win reforms of timber harvest planning, and with egg producers and their commodity groups to pass a law that requires out-of-state egg producers who want to sell their eggs in California to comply with Proposition 2.
He said Farm Bureau's strength is in its farmers and ranchers because they understand the work that the organization does for them, and praised specific efforts by county Farm Bureaus during the past year to enhance those advocacy efforts.
Wenger recognized continuing fundraising work by the Butte County Farm Bureau. This year, it banded together with county Farm Bureaus in Shasta, Tehama, Yuba-Sutter, Glenn and Colusa counties, and raised some $100,000 for political and legal advocacy through an effort known as Ag Unite.
"What they did was start a movement," he said. "Don't let Ag Unite die on the vine."
He also gave kudos to the San Joaquin Farm Bureau Federation, for working with county Farm Bureaus in Sacramento, Tuolumne, Calaveras and Solano counties to raise $50,000 for Farm Pac.
Wenger said creating political change must be a long-term effort—but noted that is something that farmers and ranchers understand.
"We don't harvest a good crop by showing up and starting to work that crop a week before we harvest," he said. "We start sometimes years before we harvest our first crop, and we know that everything we did leading up to that was going to give us a good harvest."
Concentrating on building the organization's base of agricultural memberships will enhance its advocacy work, Wenger said.
"As we refocus our membership efforts and intensity, we have to really think about what we do best, and that's agricultural memberships," he said.
Looking forward, Wenger said, 2014 will be about membership. Farm Bureau will be working on a new membership structure, he said, and a new ad hoc committee will come up with ideas for potential bylaw amendments that will be presented to Farm Bureau delegates at the next CFBF Annual Meeting, at which time delegates would be able to vote on them.
(Ching Lee is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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