Well everyone…it is decision time again. In a little more than a month from now the election season will have been completed for another two years. Do I hear some cheering? Hopefully, everyone will exercise their right as United States citizens and either show up on November 8th at the polls or have returned their vote by mail ballot. A request for a vote by mail ballot needs to be received by the county by the November 1st deadline. Either way, please be a part of the process as I am sure someone elder in your family most likely has offered, “If you do not vote, you have no reason to complain.”
Sonoma County Farm Bureau is fast approaching its 100th year as an authority representing local agriculture interests as a general farm and ranch membership organization. Over these years and into the future, Farm Bureau leaders in our county listen to members’ concerns and work to find solutions to problems. We accept and promote the whole of agriculture and strive to find balance among all viewpoints, always attempting to emphasize the necessity of having all viable tools available to keep agriculture strongly positioned as a major contributor to the economy.
The 2016 election is important in that nationally a new President will move into office along with an unknown partisan makeup in Congress. In California, the Assembly and Senate could effectively become single party decision-making bodies if super majorities are elected, which is not necessarily a good thing. Locally, the future policy-making direction of a moderate or progressively leaning county board of supervisors will be decided. And we all will be able to weigh in on a multitude of ballot measures, both at the state and county level.
Sonoma County Farm Bureau leaders have met to review and discuss issues and interview candidates over the past several months. Throughout this month’s issue we hope to offer some insight and information to assist voters with their decisions when they cast their ballots. Endorsement of candidates and position recommendations on key ballot measures will be presented for state and local government levels.
Measure M – Sonoma County Farm Bureau leadership was heavily involved and invested in the first attempt by advocates to totally ban genetically modified organisms in Sonoma County in 2005. This attempt was labeled a “genetically engineered organism nuisance abatement ordinance” and would have stopped nearly all use of products in the county that were modified through genetic engineering. Hundreds of thousands of dollars were expended on both sides of the issue, environmental activists and organic food interests on one side versus conventional farmers and some grape growers on the other. The vote on this ballot measure failed with 90,658 votes against (55.2%) to 73,670 votes for the measure (44.8%).
In late 2014, a small group of proponents approached Sonoma County supervisors about supporting a ban again and were instructed to work through a process seeking consensus with those most affected, forge a broad coalition hearing the desires of the entire agricultural community and all involved stakeholders before moving forward. The leader of the group met one time with Farm Bureau leaders. Word began to spread late last year that this group was pursuing another ban on the use of biotechnology in agriculture. The group learned from the defeat of their effort 10 years ago and returned this past spring collecting enough signatures on a new version of a ballot measure for an ordinance that, as drafted, focuses only on a ban on the growing and propagating of genetically engineered crops in the county.
When presented with the proposed ordinance the county board of supervisors responded responsibly by requiring a report about the impacts to the county from the proposed ordinance. The report was prepared by the University of California Cooperative Extension in consultation with the Sonoma County Agriculture Commissioner. There are numerous cautions in this report that identify why this measure should not be passed. This report is publicly available through accessing the Board of Supervisors meeting agenda of May 24, 2016 here.
Inconsistencies with definitions are key concerns as it would be very difficult for a grower to know whether they have purchased prohibited seeds and thus violating the ban. And perhaps as concerning is the scope of the wording to cover future developments. Some emerging genetic engineering technologies have the potential to create novel plant varieties that are hard to distinguish genetically from plants produced through conventional breeding or processes that occur in nature. Arbitrary restrictions on the use of genetic engineering will result in long-term limitations to innovation and prevent potentially useful genetically-engineered products from being used by Sonoma County family farmers in improving farming techniques to be more environmentally-friendly over time.
At the end of the day the only thing farmers and ranchers want is the ability to grow food, earn a good living for their efforts and leave their land in better shape for the generations that follow to continue the work. Whether this can be accomplished by long-used conventional practices, more restrictive organic methods or even the latest marketing fad of GMO-free products, consumers will express what they want and our farmers and ranchers will respond. This is the way our free market economy should perform. What this does require is family farmers having the ability to choose and use all viable available tools to deliver safe, nutritious food as the market changes over time. Farm Bureau supports all methods of responsible, sustainable farming practices and recognizes that it is entirely feasible for all methods to co-exist.
Finding your voice in the political process, showing up to vote and encouraging your friends and neighbors to do the same can influence elections in favor of agriculture-friendly candidates and ballot measures. Please take the time to learn about candidates and issues and be a part of the solution. Remember, government is done by those who show up.