CFBF president calls for activism
Rising costs threaten state's agricultural productivity
By TIM HEARDEN
The leader of the Golden State's largest farm organization renewed his call for more political activism in opening remarks Dec. 3 at the group's annual meeting in Pasadena.
California Farm Bureau Federation president Paul Wenger urged growers to help shape the future of agriculture through the same "dogged determination" with which they produce crops.
The almond grower from Modesto reiterated that farm productivity has made California the nation's No. 1 agricultural state while acknowledging that growers' input costs have also gone up.
"While we have been so successful at producing more crops and more valuable crops and doing so on a sustainable, renewable basis, it doesn't always translate that our bottom lines have gone up," Wenger said in prepared remarks to meeting delegates at the Pasadena Convention Center.
"That's why there's never been a time that is so critical to work together through Farm Bureau and other allied organizations to advocate for our industry," he said.
Wenger noted that immigration reform and the implementation of health care reform will be key issues that farmers and ranchers will need to weigh in on in 2013, according to a CFBF news release. Even before then, negotiations on avoiding the so-called "fiscal cliff" could have a big impact on growers when it comes to the estate tax, he argued.
Wenger has often spoken of a need to increase farmers' clout in Sacramento and Washington, D.C., during his three years as the CFBF's president.
He sent a letter in January to the group's 30,000 members asking for more donations, noting the CFBF wants to create a political action committee that raises $30 million a year to keep up with labor unions and other powerful interests. In an interview last month, he said the PAC is still in the planning stages.
"It's slow but sure," he told the Capital Press. "We are getting farmers to be a little more politically engaged."
His speech at the state Farm Bureau's 94th meeting continued a theme that has dominated previous conventions -- the need for ag to use outreach and activism to prevent laws and regulations that could harm the industry.
Held in a different location each year, the conference includes two days of legislative-type sessions in which delegates develop policies on dozens of topics, from livestock grazing to flood prevention. This year's meeting began Dec. 1 with preliminary activities and was set to conclude Dec. 5.
In other business in Pasadena:
* Californian Ann Veneman, who was the nation's first female U.S. secretary of agriculture under then-President George W. Bush and later led the United Nations children's agency UNICEF, spoke during an evening awards banquet Dec. 3.
* Ten ag professionals from throughout the state were recognized as graduates of the Leadership Farm Bureau program, a year-long course in issues related to agriculture.
* Hanford dairyman Dino Giacomazzi was honored as the statewide 2012 Leopold Conservation Award winner, earning $10,000 after participating in one of the first conservation tillage projects in California and teaching others about the practice.
California Farm Bureau Federation: http://www.cfbf.com/
CFBF 94th Annual Meeting: http://www.cfbf.com/am2012/default.aspx