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Commentary: Six factors will ensure California agriculture’s future

Issue Date: May 12, 2021
By Robert Rivas
Robert Rivas
Sonoma County dairy farmer Doug Beretta, right, talks with Assemblymembers Robert Rivas and Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, center, as part of Rivas’ tour of California agricultural facilities.
Photo/Courtesy Robert Rivas

I am proud to be a part of California agriculture. Our state has the impressive responsibility of feeding our country—and even the world. We have led the nation in agricultural production for the past 60 years due to our richly productive land and climate.

Yet, our agriculture industry now faces serious and urgent challenges, from recovering from last year's multiple crises to the ever-increasing competition in the global market.

As newly appointed chair of the Assembly Agriculture Committee, I recently took a two-month tour to survey our state's agricultural sector. I met with an array of farmers and ranchers, workers, industry and union leaders, scientists and academics, and elected officials. We visited more than 50 sites, from the Central Coast to the Central Valley, from the Bay Area to Los Angeles, the Inland Empire, San Diego and more.

After the tour, my office and I produced a report that summarized our findings from meetings with more than 70 stakeholders. The full report is available from my website at; you'll find a link in our March 30 news release about it.

The tour reaffirmed for me the extraordinary resilience of California agriculture in the face of COVID-19 and last year's devastating wildfires. And it provided key insights into how the agriculture industry can retain its competitive advantage and, importantly, how those of us in the Legislature can help.

Stakeholders told us that for California agriculture to remain a national leader, policymakers must promote and incentivize the following six hallmarks of the industry:

• Competitiveness: mitigating regulatory burdens, business costs and trade pressures.

• Resiliency: recovering from COVID-19 and wildfires.

• Diversity: supporting a diverse workforce, topography and crops.

• Worker protections: keeping laborers healthy, housed and fairly compensated.

• Food security: investing in food processing and distribution infrastructure; fighting hunger.

• Sustainability and innovation: promoting climate-smart and high-tech farming.

The tour helped guide my agenda for the 2021-22 legislative session. Two of my priority bills for this year include Assembly Bill 73, the Farmworker Wildfire Smoke Protections Act, and AB 125, the Equitable Economic Recovery, Healthy Food Access, Climate Resilient Farms and Worker Protection Bond Act.

AB 73 would require Cal/OSHA to establish a stockpile of N95 masks for farms, immediately deploy specialized strike teams during wildfires, and to distribute wildfire safety information in Spanish and English during a wildfire in the region. It would help ensure that the workers who harvest our food are protected from the harmful effects of wildfire smoke, and it would help farmers obtain this equipment quickly and without cost.

AB 125 would invest $3.12 billion over five years to spur the economy and invest in food and farming systems. It would earmark investments in four key areas: regional and local food processing and distribution; safety for farm and food system workers; combating hunger and improving healthy food access; and promoting sustainable agriculture and climate resilience. It would make significant investments to protect and enhance agricultural lands; invest in the Healthy Soils Program and State Water Efficiency and Enhancement Program; develop family housing for farmworkers; and enhance local processing, cooling and food storage infrastructure, to name just a few of the bond's specific components.

The agricultural industry generates $50 billion a year for our state economy, provides numerous jobs and supplies a critical proportion of our food supply. California cannot thrive unless its farms and ranches are thriving.

Traveling across our state, I was struck by the astonishing magnitude and diversity of our agricultural sector. There is much work to be done to ensure that farmers and ranchers can recover from last year's crises and prepare for the next ones, which will surely come. Yet despite these challenges, I am highly optimistic about the future of California's farms.

I encourage farmers and ranchers throughout the state to stay engaged with my committee. I plan to make additional visits throughout the state soon, and I hope we can work together to ensure California always remains an agricultural powerhouse.

(Assemblymember Robert Rivas, D-Hollister, chairs the Assembly Agriculture Committee.)

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

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