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Ross, Johansson discuss key topics during webinar

Issue Date: April 21, 2021
By Kevin Hecteman
California Food and Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross talks with California Farm Bureau President Jamie Johansson during a Farm Bureau Extension session, webcast from the Farm Bureau building in Sacramento.
Photo/Charles Williams

Drought, climate policy, environmental regulation and research funding dominated the discussion as California Secretary of Food and Agriculture Karen Ross sat down with California Farm Bureau President Jamie Johansson for the first edition of Farm Bureau Extension, a new series of virtual presentations for Farm Bureau members.

The ongoing drought took center stage as Ross and Johansson discussed the present and future of farming in the Golden State.

"When you look at another drought situation, farmers do cringe and ranchers do cringe, because we see more of a burden placed on us," Johansson said, noting the 40,000 curtailment-warning notices sent by the State Water Resources Control Board and the shortage of water in reservoirs. (See story)

Ross described the Sierra Nevada snowpack as "the cheapest water storage any state can hope for," but with warming temperatures and earlier snowmelt, "we're in that situation again where we have to think through our systems around atmospheric rivers—those few times a year where we get massive amounts of what's increasingly going to be rain or temperatures that can cause faster snowmelt."

How to capture all of that is the question, she said, especially ways to recharge groundwater while preventing floods.

That led Johansson to bring up Proposition 1, the 2014 water bond overwhelmingly approved by California voters. Johansson noted that Farm Bureau and other agricultural organizations that campaigned to pass the measure "were very open that it was about more storage."

"The thing about drought, too, is it is an opportunity to raise public awareness," he said. "We deal with weather risks. The hallmark of successful agriculture is the ability to deal with climate risk. It changes, and we know that."

Johansson and Ross spoke of the importance of voluntary agreements for managing river flows, with Johansson noting that "a million acres potentially could be at risk."

Ross said she's optimistic the agreements will work, noting she wants to minimize the amount of acreage that might need to be fallowed.

"Agriculture is a renewable resource every year," Ross said. "There's money being invested in planting and harvesting. … I love to remind people, whether you work at the port or you work in downtown San Francisco, in marketing or packaging or regulatory compliance: That all started on a farm, in an orchard, in a pasture."

In discussing environmental regulation, Ross noted farming is a biological system.

"Just issuing mandates does not work when you're farming in a biological system," she said. "It's about incentives for voluntary practices (and) demonstration projects—funding those to collect data to show the research of what works and what doesn't."

Helping farmers and ranchers keep up with ever-changing regulations means technical assistance, Ross said.

"The one area that we need to continue to improve our track record is on research," she said. "I don't talk to any Central Valley farmer who feels really warm and fuzzy about cover-crop projects that were done in Iowa. Their water picture is different."

Johansson said his concern is who would deliver the assistance: University of California Cooperative Extension or a regulatory agency.

"We come back to that—that we need to adapt these programs to make sure that it works," he said. "It can't just be theoretical, but it has to be field-ready."

In response to a question from a viewer, Ross said one of her concerns involves how California agriculture can remain competitive with foreign farmers who can grow less expensively.

"I'm all about California-grown, for all of the reasons that consumers have told us—that we go to the highest environmental standards," she said. "But we also know that some of our own farm families, not because they really want to, but for resiliency—they're looking at other places to supplement what they're doing here."

Ross said she thinks California farmers can help by communicating about the standards they grow under and the importance of those standards to consumers.

She also noted the upcoming deadline for public comments on a report on farmer- and rancher-led climate solutions, which stems from public workshops held in February. Comments are due by April 30 and can be emailed to A link to the report can be found at

The webinar was held Monday afternoon from the California Farm Bureau building in Sacramento; a recording of the presentation will be available on the Farm Bureau website at

The next Farm Bureau Extension webinar, "Pesticide Compliance 101," will take place from 10 to 11 a.m. May 20. For more information and to register, go to

(Kevin Hecteman is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. He can be contacted at

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

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