California Farm Bureau Sues Water Board on Proposed Water Grab

Farm Bureau Sues to Block Flows Plan for Lower San Joaquin River

By David Kranz, Manager, Communications, California Farm Bureau Federation

A plan for lower San Joaquin River flows misrepresents and underestimates the harm it would cause to agricultural resources in the Central Valley, according to the California Farm Bureau Federation, which filed suit recently to block the plan.

Adopted last December by the State Water Resources Control Board, the plan would redirect 30 to 50 percent of “unimpaired flows” in three San Joaquin River tributaries—the Stanislaus, Tuolumne, and Merced rivers—in the name of increasing fish populations in the rivers. The flows plan would sharply reduce the amount of water available to irrigate crops in regions served by the rivers.

In its lawsuit, filed in Sacramento County Superior Court, the Farm Bureau said the flows plan would have “far-reaching environmental impacts to the agricultural landscape in the Central Valley,” and that those impacts had been “insufficiently analyzed, insufficiently avoided, and insufficiently mitigated” in the board’s final plan.Tuolumne River-Modesto Irrigation District

“The water board brushed off warnings about the significant damage its plan would cause to agricultural resources in the Central Valley, labeling it ‘unavoidable,’” CFBF President Jamie Johansson said. “But that damage can be avoided, by following a different approach that would be better for fish and people alike.”

The Farm Bureau lawsuit says the water board failed to consider reasonable alternatives to its flows-dominated approach, including non-flow measures such as predator control, food supply and habitat projects for protected fish, and said it ignored “overwhelming evidence” that ocean conditions, predation and lack of habitat—rather than river flows—have been chief contributors to reducing fish populations.

The water board’s analysis of impacts on agricultural resources “is inadequate in several respects,” the Farm Bureau said. The lawsuit says the board plan fails to appropriately analyze its impact on surface water supplies and, in turn, how cutting surface water would affect attempts to improve groundwater under the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act—all of which would cause direct, indirect, and cumulative effects on agricultural resources.

“California farmland is a significant environmental resource, providing food, farm products and jobs for people throughout the state, nation and world,” Johansson said. “Before cutting water to thousands of acres of farmland for dubious benefit, the state must do more to analyze alternatives that would avoid this environmental harm.”

The California Farm Bureau Federation works to protect family farms and ranches on behalf of nearly 36,000 members statewide and as part of a nationwide network of nearly 5.6 million Farm Bureau members.

Agriculture Grads in High Demand

Many Grads are Interested in Day-to-Day Farming

By Jessica Theisman, Associate Editor

There is a big demand for college graduates with agricultural degrees, especially in plant and crop sciences. California Ag Today spoke with Shannon Douglass, first vice president of the California Farm Bureau Federation and a recruiter for CalAJobs, about the need for agriculture grads.

CalAgJobs
Shannon Douglass, First VP of California Farm Bureau Federation and recruiter for CalAgJobs

“I often encourage people to minor in crop science,” Douglas said.

If you are a business major, having some background in crop science is beneficial. As a farm manager, understanding the crops are going to be vital.

“I encouraged animal science majors to think about getting a minor in crop science to understand what we are feeding those animals that they are studying, because that is a huge piece of California agriculture,” Douglass said.

Everything from agronomy and soil science to irrigation and pest control management are vital. Many college graduates are interested in being involved in the day-to-day farming operation.

“I talked to a class at Chico State a couple of weeks ago, and there are a lot of young people that they really want to be in the farming,” Douglass said.

Many students do not want to be in sales, but a large majority would like to be the farmers themselves.

“I really encourage them that you can absolutely be a day-to-day farmer and not necessarily a farm owner,” she said.

Douglass is also a recruiter for CalAgJobs.

“It is a private company, and we work with internships as a grant-funded project. In fact, it is completely free for both the employer and the student to use,” she explained.

These internships are a tool in helping to get those that are in college to look at these ag careers, particularly in specialty crops and crop science overall. Internships can be a wonderful gateway into long-term careers.

“The second part of our website is a classified type job-posting service,” she said.

CalAgJobs uses social media and targeting along with a weekly email.

“Another part of our business is the recruitment services that we offer. We work with employers who need more help on some of these really tough to fill jobs,” Douglass said.

CalAgJobs does their best to help fill those employment opportunities to help others run their farms.

For more information on internships or job postings, visit CalAgJobs.com.

Paul Wenger Says Stay Involved

Farmer Paul Wenger on His Past Role as Farm Bureau President

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Farm News Director

Paul Wenger is a third generation farmer producing almonds and walnuts in Stanislaus County, and he is the past president of the California Farm Bureau Federation. California Ag Today recently caught up with him and asked him about that tenure heading up the largest agricultural state’s farm bureau.

“It’s been a real honor and a privilege to represent California agriculture through the Farm Bureau,” Wenger said. “We are the largest general ag organization and certainly, we don’t replace any of our commodity groups or other organizations, but at times you need that organization that can consolidate the entire state.”

“The diversity of our crops, 250 different commodities north, south, central, east and west, and [to] be able to advocate in Sacramento and Washington, D.C., and bring everybody and consolidate that into a singular voice has been a challenge because sometimes we all like to look our own direction. However, we need to think holistically,” he said.

Wenger learned a lot on a trip to Australia.

“The growers there allowed themselves to be divvied up by region and by commodity. They lost control of their water and it was separated from their land, and we certainly can’t have that happen here,” he said. “So just having the ability to bring people together for a singular focus to advocate for agriculture has been a real high spot.”

Wenger said, of course, he’s still a part of farm bureau, but when he left that presidency, he had a message.

“The biggest message is we don’t have to accept what’s happening to us as being inevitable, and a lot of people say we can’t change things, and that’s apathy. With farm bureau, we have elected boards of directors in 53 counties representing our 58 counties,” Wenger said. “Trust those folks to have the same vision that you would have if you were sitting there. Even better, why don’t you get involved and get out there? So my message to farmers and ranchers is we can make a difference to just sit back and do nothing. We should not do that. We cannot do that.”

And Wenger said not having to do the day-to-day duties of the president of the California Farm Bureau, it leaves more time to farming.

“We’ve got some opportunities to expand the farming operation, and we do a lot of custom work, so I’m looking forward to getting back on the farm, but I can’t just shut it off either,” he said.

“When I read the paper and see the news, it makes you want to go to battle with some of these other groups that are always countermanding what we do or the legislature that is just not getting it right. Sometimes it’s kind of hard to say you have a lot of wins, but if we can just keep ourselves in the battle, that gets us farther down the road and maybe it gets better next year.”

Access to water proves key factor in farmland value

Source: Kate Campbell; Ag Alert

With drought adding new constraints on the state’s water supplies and farmers and ranchers increasingly turning to groundwater to sustain food production, lawmakers now are contemplating bills requiring changes to how groundwater basins are managed. If adopted, opponents said, the bills have the potential to undermine food production, reduce agricultural land values and hamper the overall economy.

Two pieces of legislation were each amended twice last week and now have identical language, requiring assessment of impacts on local ecosystems from groundwater pumping. The measures will be heard in their respective Appropriations Committees this week. The California Farm Bureau Federation and other agricultural and water organizations oppose both measures.

Jack Rice, CFBF associate counsel, warned of unintended consequences from laws that are hastily passed and implemented.

“Figuring out how to improve groundwater management in California requires figuring out the best possible solution for a highly complex problem,” Rice said. “That doesn’t mean throwing legislation together and passing it before people even have a chance to understand the implications of how a new groundwater management framework will operate. Poorly conceived and executed changes to groundwater management would be very disruptive.”

Among the issues hanging in the balance, he said, are farm and ranch land values, which depend on property rights for access to groundwater supplies, particularly when surface water supplies are unreliable due to drought, plus regulatory and water-system constraints.

In summarizing current farm and ranch real estate trends, the California Chapter of the American Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers concluded in its 2014 trends assessment that acute drought threatens many growers this year, and long-term water policy will have long-term ramifications on the farm and ranch sector.

In a presentation to agricultural land appraisers this spring, the association said “property in areas with threatened ground and surface water is at risk, but property in areas with good water will continue to be attractive.”

Rice said discussions about potential changes to groundwater management raise questions about the ability of affected property to sustain anticipated cash flow.

“Those kinds of uncertainties can have an impact on the value of underlying assets, such as land values, property improvements and equipment,” he said.

The Salinas Valley, which produces much of the nation’s fresh produce, is in a unique situation, according to Monterey County Farm Bureau Executive Director Norm Groot.

“We’ve been working for the past 60 years to manage our water resources—addressing everything from groundwater management and saltwater intrusion to surface supplies and flood control,” he said.

Because landowners have been engaged on many issues at the local level, Groot said, “we think another layer of regulation from the state will only hinder what we’re doing. It’s a hindrance we don’t need.”

Tony Toso, a Mariposa County rancher and professional farm and ranch land appraiser, said land appraisal values are based “on what has occurred in the rearview mirror,” but that how well water is managed at the local level has an impact on values.

“The market is going to start telling me as an appraiser what’s happening to land values in specific irrigation districts and groundwater basins based on reliability and quality of water supplies,” said Toso, who is a CFBF director.

“We do know groundwater is essential to ensuring a consistent agricultural land value,” he said. “Everyone knows that land without water isn’t worth much.”

Overall, appraisers said California farm and ranch land prices have held steady. However, rangeland without access to water has seen a decline in recent years.

Experts warned that not getting groundwater regulation right has the potential to strip some of California’s best farmland of its productive use and set off a decline in asset values.

“It’s hard to prove something that could happen in the future,” Toso said, “but if you don’t analyze water supply problems right, if regulations aren’t implemented right, if it’s turned into an emotional issue, then asset values could start heading for zero.”

Changes to groundwater management regulations could have a “huge” effect on local economies, said Tod Kimmelshue, a senior lender with Northern California Farm Credit, who explained that agricultural lenders always take into account water quantity and reliability for farm operations.

The question lenders need to determine, he said, is what is the highest and best use of a piece of land.

“Farmers need to be heavily involved in deciding who determines beneficial use,” said Kimmelshue, who is a past CFBF director. “It’s important for groundwater users to start monitoring how much water they’re using so they can document how much water they need for beneficial use.”

He said lenders are requiring increasingly more information on a property’s wells and access to groundwater, adding, “It’s a huge part of the collateral we consider when making individual lending decisions. But the impact of poorly designed groundwater management regulations could extend beyond affecting agricultural land values; there could be a ripple effect that moves through local economies from reduced property and business tax revenue and local jobs.”