Commentary: Let's reject politics of scarcity and help our California farms thrive
By Jamie Johansson
California Farm Bureau gathers for its 104th Annual Meeting in Monterey beginning this weekend. In a year with extraordinary challenges, California farmers and ranchers persevered—through historic drought, unprecedented water curtailments, supply-chain disruptions and rising input costs—to feed America and the world.
This year’s immense contributions and sacrifices by Farm Bureau members may never be adequately acknowledged by our elected representatives in the California Capitol or on Capitol Hill. But our concerns going forward are now shared with their constituents in all districts.
At family dinner tables in rural and urban communities alike, people are talking about scarcity. Many are worried about scarcities in our fields and on our grocery shelves. Some are focused on rising costs to produce our fertilizers or to heat our homes. Others are worried about the price of a home and how our forests are being managed for lumber needed for new construction to resolve California’s housing shortages.
The rural and urban divide may well be diminishing with a shared dinner-table conversation expression: “It shouldn’t have to be this way.” Indeed, our multidecade regulatory practice of choosing scarcity management over abundance and families’ desires to live their best lives has never been more apparent.
California’s continued failure to ensure adequate water supplies and infrastructure, to ease burdensome regulations and support its farming sector has had severe consequences. According to a recent drought study from the University of California, Merced, fallowed farmland this year increased by 750,000 acres compared to 2019. The impacts on food processing industries, which rely on farm products, were roughly $845 million this year, up from $590 million in 2021. Altogether, these consequences total $2 billion in value-added losses and a loss of 19,420 jobs.
California is long overdue on delivering on its water promises to secure supplies for farms and communities, including in dry years. The science behind dams, groundwater recharge and stormwater capture, temperature control and adaptive management for our fisheries should be embraced by regulators as part of drought management—not met with constant resistance.
These ideas were understood by voters in 2014, who overwhelmingly approved the Proposition 1 water bond. The consequences we now face are no different from what motivated the state of California to begin water developments in the 1960s.
“We can move forward with a thriving economy by pursuing a vigorous and progressive water development planning and construction program or we can allow our economy to stagnate, perhaps even retrogress,” the California Water Plan blueprint for ensuing developments, including the California Aqueduct, declared in 1957.
In the generation since, California’s neglect in water management by ignoring increased water storage has helped impose the nation’s highest energy costs on all families and businesses. While hydropower in California accounts for 15% of all energy production under normal circumstances (8% this year with drought conditions), expanding and recognizing hydropower as a clean energy would be the equivalent of replacing 1.9 million barrels of oil-fired energy per 1 billion kilowatt-hours.
In 2019, the Modesto Irrigation District said the agency has spent $85 million on renewable energy sources to meet state mandated clean energy standards for nearly a decade. That money would not have been needed if the electricity from Don Pedro Dam counted toward the state’s goals. The MID estimated this would save the utility’s customers $14 million over the next decade, 33% of whom live in disadvantaged communities.
Faced with a political agenda of carbon-free energy that ignores the science of hydro and nuclear power, many California residents have seen their utility bills increase by 50% in the past five years. The California Public Utilities Commission projects they will continue to rise about 9% every year.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
The theme for our annual meeting this year is “Leading Through Solutions.” That’s because California Farm Bureau will not settle for an unacceptable status quo. We will reject politics of scarcity so that California can capture water in wet years and grow food in abundance, curbing spiraling energy costs and keeping food affordable for families. We will also protect and enhance our environment for the next generation.
Our agricultural communities can no longer afford the price of farming under a politically driven policy agenda. They should be allowed to farm based on science and markets. That is what makes California the Golden State.
California Farm Bureau, our 53 county Farm Bureaus and our nearly than 29,000 members are determined to preserve and grow America’s most important agricultural economy. We will work for a prosperous future, a stronger and more resilient California and an ever-bountiful food supply.
(Jamie Johansson is president of the California Farm Bureau.)