Time to Take Action
Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
Upholding rural Americans' rights to grow food,
own property, and caretake our wildlife and natural resources.
 

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2007/01/24/EDG56N75H21.DTL
California's stake in farm bill debate
 

Richard E. Rominger, Tom Nassif   January 24, 2007 SF Chronicle

California farmers do more than just feed the world. They hold the key to maintaining the state's environment.

That's why all Californians have a huge stake in the debate already taking place on farms and in our nation's capitol about the next federal farm bill.

Farmers own nearly 28 million acres in California. Their stewardship, more than the actions of any other group, will determine whether our children will have clean air to breathe, plentiful, clean water to drink, and whether many of the state's more than 200 imperiled species will return from the brink of extinction.

Most farmers want to be good stewards. But they need help, because the price we pay for food doesn't cover what we want them to do for the environment.

The market doesn't consider the value a farmer provides when he leaves a stream bank intact as habitat for native plants and wildlife; when he replaces an old almond harvester that still does the job, with a new one that produces less pollution; or when she puts water back in her rice field after harvest to provide a safe stopover for migrating snow geese. Indeed, the biggest market failure of all is that farmland is more valuable for development than agriculture, pressuring farmers to sell -- forever foreclosing the possibility of good land stewardship and its environmental benefits, and compromising the nation's ability to feed ourselves.

That's where the farm bill's conservation provisions come in. They correct the market's inability to recognize environmental stewardship and farmland preservation as valuable to all Californians.

The farm bill passed in 2002 introduced a number of voluntary incentive programs that help farmers implement environmentally beneficial practices. These programs are a good start, but they aren't enough.

More than two-thirds of California farmers who apply for these programs cannot participate simply because there isn't enough funding available. At the same time, some programs need changes to make them work better for Californians, encourage innovation and more effectively help farmers meet environmental challenges sooner.

As Congress prepares the 2007 farm bill, it has a chance to fix it; but only if California's 53 members get engaged and stick together. The California congressional delegation needs to ensure that the 2007 farm bill does at least three things.

First, money for the conservation, air quality and water quality programs needs to increase to fill unmet demand. For the next farm bill, California's delegation should work to double the amount of money being provided for conservation on working farms and ranches.

Second, the conservation programs need to reflect the differ ences among states and regions. California farmland is expensive and subject to development pressure. Crop values are the nation's highest, because among the 300 crops we grow are most of the nation's fruits, nuts and vegetables. The programs need to pay higher rates for higher cost areas to offset the cost of buying and renting land in parts of California suffering from increasing urban sprawl.

Third, farm bill conservation programs must encourage innovative practices and cooperation among farmers to address air and water pollution challenges, and keep the most fertile farmland from developers, so it can continue to produce food and environmental benefits for society. For example, dairy farmers are working together to capture the methane emitted from manure to produce energy and reduce emissions of a potent global warming gas. There must also be more money available to provide technical assistance to ensure real results from these innovations.

The two major agriculture bills introduced in Congress -- "The Eat Healthy for America Act" (introduced by California congressmen), and "The Healthy Farms, Foods and Fuel Act," would bring more benefits to Californians through conservation, nutrition, energy and research policies. Both have bipartisan support; both have proposals for more conservation program funding. Unfortunately, fewer than half of California's 53 members of Congress have signed on in support of either of these bills.

The 2007 farm bill debate will soon heat up. We need our state's congressional delegation to work for all of California next year. Signing on as co-sponsors of these bills when they're re-introduced early this year would be a strong first step.

Richard E. Rominger is a farmer in Yolo County and served as deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture during the Clinton administration and secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture. Tom Nassif is president of the Western Growers Association and served as the U.S. ambassador to Morocco during the Reagan administration.

 

Home Contact

 

              Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:14 AM  Pacific


             Copyright klamathbasincrisis.org, 2007, All Rights Reserved