No looking back, only looking forward. That is what 2021 means for the Sonoma County Farm Bureau, our board, and staff. Where 2020 was a year of a pandemic, protocols, and rude awakenings, 2021 will be a year of resolve, tenacity, and perseverance. There is a light at the end of the tunnel and with every dose of vaccine that light shines brighter.
In the early stages of this world crisis, in my monthly editorial I suggested that history has proven that with every plague, epidemic, and natural disaster, there have been game changing programs or policy shifts that have made it better for humanity. At the time of my editorial, I didn’t have a clue what the silver lining was going to be from the COVID-19 pandemic, but after ten months of social distancing, mask-wearing, and shuttered businesses; there are a few that I believe we can point to. The one I find the most inspiring and supportive of our industry, is the heightened appreciation for farmers and our ag stakeholders.
In early fall, a 2020 a Gallup poll announced that for the first time in twenty years, agriculture and farming was one of the most favorable U.S. industry sectors. Further, 69 percent of Americans view agriculture in a positive light – an 11-point increase from the previous year. This renewed appreciation of agriculture is an opportunity for our industry to recruit consumers to support overdue regulatory relief, policy development, and food security efforts that we have been clamoring for.
The need to retool policies and programs for agriculture and to stabilize our food chain is vast, but even here in a County of half a million people, we can do our part at Farm Bureau to capitalize off this appreciation for locally grown, nutritious food products. And even after we have taken down the door signs requiring social distancing and we have burned our facial coverings, the importance of a self-reliant, more regional food system will still be top of mind for the American family.
Springboarding off this long coming and much needed public support for all folks who work in the food industry, Sonoma County Farm Bureau will join with the California Farm Bureau in further educating consumers about the complex food system and the needs of our farmers. With less than 2% of our Country’s population engaged in agriculture, we need to do a better job educating people about the regulatory overreach that threatens the ability for producers and businesses to stay viable in our industry where stakeholders tend to be price takers versus price-setters and Mother Nature is an unmanageable partner.
Our local effort to shore up our food supply will be focused on the development and retention of food processing facilities that are missing from our food chain. Northern California has some of the most sustainable and dedicated food producers in the country, but the value-added, protein, vegetable, and fruit raw products grown locally are sometimes trucked hundreds of miles away to get processed into a consumer-ready commodity. Not only is this undesirable for our environment and in the case of animal agriculture, harder on the animal; but it also makes us reliable on processing facilities that are serving many other counties and are not our neighbors.
We are fortunate to have long-term food processing facilities such as Clover Sonoma, Petaluma Creamery, Straus Family Creamery, and Manzana Products Company that have been in business for decades supporting our farmers, but the cost of doing business and regulatory requirements put on these businesses to continue operations or even upgrade their facilities is onerous. Even before COVID-19, we had started conversations with our local, state, and federal representatives about the need for public resources to close the open links in our food chain caused by the lack of processing plants. These elected officials are listening and are engaged in the effort. It will take political influence, the support of the consumers, and the willingness to ignore NIMBYism to get northern California to a point of being self-reliant when it comes to food security.
The second goal of 2020 for your SCFB team will be around water security for our farmers and ranchers. Regulatory oversight on all sources of water continues to expand and the cost to use and manage water is likely to soar over the next five years. What was once an easily obtained, free natural resource is now a high-priced, highly demanded commodity. At Farm Bureau, we plan to connect the dots by hosting a summit and formalizing our advocacy around all things water which includes reclaimed water, groundwater, surface water, and water recharge.
These primary goals for the new year are lofty and will not be the only work we do for our members in 2021. We will continue to work on land-use issues, employment regulations, combatting animal rights fanatics, and the many other advocacy and policy projects we work on. Also, we will continue our efforts around ag education, training, and the various fundraisers we produce to keep the doors open.
The beginning of the third decade of our 21st century will also welcome a new slate of officers lead by Jennifer Beretta. Jennifer’s passion for Farm Bureau goes beyond our county lines and I do not doubt that she will continue in President Carlton’s footsteps and lead our County farm bureau into even greater successes.