Ag board stresses need for improved coordination
American Farmland Trust to oversee final recommendations
By WES SANDER
SACRAMENTO -- In the effort to shape agriculture over the next two decades, the State Board of Food and Agriculture is recommending that California coordinate with industry and experts to address water and labor supplies, nutrition, environmental stewardship and invasive species, among other topics.
The board has released for public comment its set of recommendations for the California Agricultural Vision project. Ag Vision's intended result is a document to guide lawmakers, agencies and industry toward an agreed-upon vision of how the state's food production will look in 2030.
The recommendations "are the first steps towards a brighter future for California's food system," Agriculture Secretary A.G. Kawamura said in a statement.
The state contracted American Farmland Trust last year to manage Ag Vision. The nonprofit will assemble an advisory committee to sift comments and suggest final recommendations to the board by autumn.
"The Ag Vision process encourages policy alignments which will combine our efforts of growing food, protecting the environment, supporting a healthy population and strengthening local communities in a sustainable way," said board President Al Montna.
The board recommended that the state:
* Create an agricultural ombudsman, who would help minimize regulatory impacts to farmers while ensuring that laws fill their intended function. The ombudsman would chair an advisory committee of state and federal officials.
* Create a panel of nutritionists, farmers, public officials and others to write a plan for boosting health by improving food-assistance programs, expanding markets for fresh produce and educating the public on nutrition.
* Convene a group to address invasive species by writing a definitive strategy, which could call for support from the state's general fund.
* Create a "California Agricultural Land and Natural Resources Policy" asserting the state's view that agriculture is essential to its economy and environment.
* Work toward branding agriculture as a source of environmental stewardship, in part by standardizing measurements for environmental credentials, creating incentives for adopting environmental practices and helping farmers to market stewardship credentials.
* Address water security by assembling an emergency task force, studying how to better facilitate transfers and working toward passage of the $11.1 billion water bond on the November ballot -- which Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and many farm and water interests have agreed should be delayed until 2012.
* Work toward stabilizing agriculture's labor supply by backing the AgJOBS legislation currently in Congress, creating networks to connect workers with employers and housing and avoiding enforcement of federal immigration law -- an arena into which Arizona ventured earlier this year, resulting in a lawsuit by the feds.
The board also pointed out a need to address other topics, including food safety, development of local-food systems, climate change, farm succession and aid to beginning farmers.
The recommendations and comment forms are posted at www.cdfa.ca.gov/agvision