CFBF president's message: Future of farming depends on advocacy

Issue Date: December 6, 2017
Paul Wenger

It's been my privilege to serve as an officer of the California Farm Bureau Federation for the last 20 years—the last eight as president. I originally got involved in Farm Bureau because I recognized that if we California farmers and ranchers don't make agricultural advocacy a part of our business plan, someone else who doesn't know or appreciate the unique challenges agricultural producers face will have significant impact on the future of our farms.

Like all growers, I'd rather be in my fields, tending my crops or livestock. But the days of locking the gate at the driveway and just getting on with your farming, outside of public view, are long gone.

After returning home from college and starting to take over our family farm, I was immediately faced with issues of overreaching and process-driven regulations that my father never faced during his years of farming. Most if not all these rules and regulations originated with laws passed in our state Legislature or Congress, and were being implemented by mostly well-intentioned agency personnel who had no real-world exposure to agriculture.

I knew right away that my ability to be successful in farming was going to require me and other farmers to directly engage in political advocacy, or else accept what was happening to us as inevitable. I was not willing to abdicate my success as a farmer to unbridled forces that would continue to run amok.

That is where Farm Bureau came in.

No other farm organization allowed a regular farmer or rancher the ability to become directly engaged in advocating for interests or had the ability to reach farmers in virtually every county or parish in the country. All I had to do was show up at a county Farm Bureau meeting, and the opportunity to fight back onerous regulations was provided to any and all who wanted to do so. This is why we call Farm Bureau a grassroots organization: Our best advocates are our farmers and our employees, who can get involved in any and all issues affecting their farm or ranch.

Early this year, a report listed the 100 top lobbyist employers in California. CFBF was No. 70. The only other agricultural organization on the list was the Wine Institute, which was a couple of spots further down. The situation is the same when you look at agricultural organizations that have formed political action committees: The California Farm Bureau Fund to Protect the Family Farm (FARM PAC®) is the largest agricultural association political action committee in assets and contributions.

It takes the time and financial commitment of Farm Bureau members all across our state and the dedication of our employees to be recognized as the most influential agricultural organization in California. It is critical that we continue to grow our membership and political influence, so we can reach urban legislators who have little or no agriculture in their districts. If we fail to reach out to urban representatives who make up the majority of the Legislature, we are failing our rural communities.

Just as in farming, there is no one perfect or set way to grow a particular crop or manage a farming operation. It's the diversity of California agriculture that makes us the envy of the world. But no matter the crop we grow or where in California we farm, our goals are the same: We all strive to be financially successful, provide for our families and the families of our employees, and provide an opportunity for the next generation to do the same if they so choose.

At the same time as it represents a strength, this diversity of crops, geographic locations and sometimes political ideologies can drive a wedge in agriculture—when we can least afford it.

In a state where less than one-half of 1 percent of the population is directly involved in farming or ranching, we must combine our resources and efforts to be the very best at fighting against the continuing barrage of counterproductive rules and regulations.

No matter if your farm is based in plant agriculture or livestock; whether it's located north, south or central; coastal or inland; organic or "conventional," we are all farmers and need to rally behind those willing to spend the time and resources to advocate on our behalf.

In a unique state that is our nation's most populous and environmentally diverse, it can get lost on some that California is also the sixth largest agricultural producer in the world by dollar value. Our farm products put millions of people to work and create huge economic stimulus through value-added products, yet California agriculture continues to be underappreciated and to face a constant onslaught of onerous regulations. Through the efforts of Farm Bureau advocates at the county, state and national levels, we have been able to stem the harm and, in some cases, improve many of the proposed regulations aimed our way.

The ability to continue to respond effectively to the challenges before us will depend upon our ability to unite our voice and consolidate our political influence to the maximum degree possible. We definitely need strong commodity and trade associations, but none can or will replace the influence of farmers and ranchers personally directing the policies and positions that guide the Farm Bureau organization.

It has been my honor to work alongside the volunteers who have provided leadership on our county and state Boards of Directors, and the dedicated staff at our county, state and national Farm Bureaus. Many of our county Farm Bureaus have already reached the milestone of celebrating their 100th anniversary, and the California and American Farm Bureaus will do so next year. It's critically important that we begin the next century of agricultural advocacy by strengthening our grassroots involvement and uniting our efforts to promote policies to improve agricultural profitability and fight the impacts of laws and regulations detrimental to California farmers and ranchers.

The time is now. We must seize the day.

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

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