Apr 6, 2023Farmers show “unified voice” at California capitol
California Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer, D-Los Angeles, knows he might not have been voters’ first guess to introduce agricultural legislation.
“I’m pretty sure they said, ‘Jones-Sawyer… Ag bill! What?’” the assemblyman joked with members of the California Farm Bureau during the March 27-29 Capitol Ag Conference in Sacramento.
Despite representing an urban district, Jones-Sawyer introduced a bill this year that could change the way people in California farm. The bill, authored by Farm Bureau, would pave the way for the state Department of Pesticide Regulation to create a program allowing farmers to use drones to apply pesticides.
These types of collaborations exemplify what the Farm Bureau aims to foster through its annual Legislative Day. Held on March 28, the event marked the start of the legislative advocacy year, as members from across the state converged on the state Capitol to speak face to face with lawmakers.
“This is an important time to engage with lawmakers and show that agriculture has a unified voice in terms of our position on bills and the direction we need to go in California,” said California Farm Bureau President Jamie Johansson.
The Legislature is considering dozens of bills that could impact agriculture. Legislation Farm Bureau is tracking include a state Senate bill that would simplify insurance options for many farm operations and an Assembly bill that would extend agriculture’s exemption from a provision of California’s Endangered Species Act that pertains to accidental takes.
Chris Reardon, California Farm Bureau director of government affairs, emphasized the importance of in-person interactions in policy advocacy. “Being here is a powerful statement,” he said. “It doesn’t hurt to have a bunch of people fill the hallways and elevators. It sends a message that we care about what we do, and our issues are important.”
Visits from farmers can be especially impactful for urban lawmakers such as Jones-Sawyer. “For a lot of urban legislators, these are going to be some of the few farmers and ranchers they meet with this year, but their vote counts just as much as the rural members,” Johansson said. “When it comes to legislators, the urban districts outnumber the rural areas, so they are very important to engage.”
During a visit with Jones-Sawyer, farmers from Stanislaus County explained the benefits of enabling farms to use drones for pesticide application. “This technology can improve efficiency,” said Mark Avilla, a Stanislaus County walnut grower. “Herbicides and pesticides are one of our biggest expenses. Any way we can cut down those expenses will help us stay in business and keep farming.”
The technology also has safety benefits. “When it comes to employees handling pesticides, it could give growers an opportunity to eliminate some of that personal contact with pesticides,” said Caitie Diemel, executive director of the Stanislaus County Farm Bureau.
The farmers also used the visit to discuss other issues, such as regulations from the California Air Resource Board that severely limit the use of older diesel trucks and a proposed rule that would phase out all diesel trucks in the coming years.
“We’ve seen a lot of trucks taken out of use and a lot of problems moving products on farms and ranches,” Diemel said.
Jones-Sawyer said he could relate to the challenges. “I used to work for the city, and we were trying change the trash trucks to electric. But then (the electric trucks) couldn’t get up the hill,” he said. “If you want to see something terrifying, there’s a trash truck, with all the trash in it.”
Jones-Sawyer emphasized the importance of bridging gaps between people in cities and rural farming communities.
“We’ve got to connect what you do on the farmland and what goes on in the city,” he said, mentioning urban agriculture-related businesses such as food processing centers. “People who have jobs in those processing centers are in my district. You supply them what they need to be able to feed their families and have a job every day.”
State Sen. Melissa Hurtado, D-Bakersfield, who is the daughter of farmworkers, spoke with Central Valley farmers about big-picture issues.
“I want us to start thinking about the near future and the challenges of having to meet the demand of feeding 10 billion people by 2050,” Hurtado said. “The resources are just becoming more limited, whether it’s floods or drought or hurricanes, whatever it may be, and those are impacting our food supply chain around the world.”
Martín Chávez, farmer relations director for Pacific Farm Management, a Central Valley labor contractor, encouraged Hurtado to invite other lawmakers to visit farms to understand “what we do day in and day out.”
Hurtado said she loved the idea of creating a farm day for lawmakers “just spending the day in the shoes of a farmer or farmworker.” She added, “We have to do more to educate those who live outside the rural areas.”