CFBF president pledges sustained advocacy

Issue Date: December 11, 2019
By Kevin Hecteman
CFBF President Jamie Johansson reflects on past accomplishments by farmers and ranchers as he looks ahead to the future.
Photo/Christine Souza

In building the future, California Farm Bureau Federation President Jamie Johansson used the past as a foundation.

Noting the recent anniversaries of the Pearl Harbor attack that pulled the U.S. into World War II and the D-Day landings at Normandy, Johansson said America's farmers were called into service at the close of hostilities.

"When it came time to rebuild the world, re-establish stability, agriculture was where they turned," Johansson said Monday at the 101st CFBF Annual Meeting in Monterey. "There were two things they asked for in Europe. They asked for food, and they asked for fertilizer."

Delivering those under the Marshall Plan would prove to be revolutionary, he said.

"We had to remove trade barriers," Johansson said. "We had to remove restrictions on interstate commerce. We had to drop many government regulations. We had to encourage increased productivity."

Doing so meant developing the science to improve production, he added.

The result: By 1952, Johansson said, American agriculture "could lay claim to feeding the world."

The lesson for today's farmers and ranchers, he said, is "we have succeeded because agriculture has defended the change science has brought, and adopted it and adapted to it, in the last 75 years."

The challenge facing Farm Bureau now, he added, is "defending the use of science on our farms, our waterways and our air quality, and creating the next generation of farmers and ranchers."

It will take a sustained effort to make change happen, Johansson said, recalling the summer of 2018, when more than two dozen buses full of county Farm Bureau members traveled to Sacramento for a rally at the Capitol opposing a river-flows plan proposed by the State Water Resources Control Board.

While the issue ultimately led to a CFBF lawsuit against the flows plan, Farm Bureau activism got the attention of Gavin Newsom, who was elected governor in November 2018.

This year, Newsom vetoed Senate Bill 1, which sought to freeze state environmental regulations, and the science informing those regulations, as they were in January 2017.

"We're not going to freeze the science," Johansson said. "We're going to move our science forward."

Johansson mentioned the impending state phase-out of chlorpyrifos, use of which must end in California by the end of 2020, noting that Farm Bureau had a "teachable moment" with the $5.7 million and three years provided in the state budget for research into viable alternatives to the crop-protection tool.

"We know, and our industry partners know, that's not nearly enough time and money to get through the regulatory process—that has to change," he said. "But now we have an opportunity. We will be there at California Farm Bureau for those teachable moments of what it takes to take care of our crops and to continue to make a difference for our communities and feed the world."

On trade topics, Johansson said CFBF has partnered with Farmers for Free Trade and worked to encourage ratification of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, which would update and replace the North American Free Trade Agreement from 1994.

"Thank you for answering the call," Johansson told the audience. "You've showed up to our rallies, you have written letters, you've participated, and now we see progress made on the USMCA. Now it's time for the House to do their job and bring it to the floor for a vote before the end of the year."

The House of Representatives is scheduled this week to take up the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, which would benefit immigrant agricultural employees working in the U.S. and streamline the H-2A visa program for guestworkers. The bill's bipartisan support didn't escape Johansson's notice.

"It's been a long time since we've seen those parties come together for one cause, and that's fixing our labor supply in California," Johansson said.

With the first groundwater sustainability plans coming due under the state's Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, Johansson pledged CFBF and its legal experts would help to see that farmers are heard at the Department of Water Resources.

"One thing we're adamant about is that it should be local entities determining what happens with our sustainable groundwater," Johansson said.

He noted that CFBF, University of California Cooperative Extension and 4-H all came into existence at roughly the same time, and the latter two are dealing with funding and staffing shortfalls. Presentations to the CFBF board from Solano, Contra Costa and Monterey counties, plus the work of Fresno County members, led to a meeting with Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis, who sits on the UC Board of Regents, to discuss those concerns.

Noting the large numbers of 4-H and FFA students at the meeting, Johansson said Farm Bureau members will "hear more about what we're going to do to not only help train the next generation of farmers, but to introduce them to Farm Bureau and the responsibility that they have to agriculture once they get out of school, to give back to an industry and the opportunities that this industry has for them."

In all this, Johansson encouraged farmers and ranchers to lay aside disagreements in working to promote nutrition in schools.

"We have to resist, and we have to ask our commodity groups to resist, pitting one commodity against another," Johansson said. "It's not about whether you eat an organic carrot or a conventional carrot. It's about eating the carrot and not the Cheeto."

Johansson said today's California Farm Bureau Federation members are not so different from their forebears of 100 years ago.

"At the core of what makes a California Farm Bureau member," Johansson said, "is not an individual who accepts the current politics of our state and nation, but an individual who wants to change the politics and the direction of our state and our country."

(Kevin Hecteman is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. He may be contacted at khecteman@cfbf.com.)

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




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