Politicians May Be Taking Ag For Granted [Opinion]

Politicians May Be Taking Ag For Granted [Opinion]

First, a confession: Yes, I promised not to write about the election. But a couple things have happened since I made that promise. The first got me thinking, and the second frankly ticked me off.

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First, back in August I posted a news item at our website, GrowingProduce.com, noting that Donald Trump had formed an Agriculture Advisory Committee. The committee consisted of a whopping 64 members, but I found only a few were involved in fruit and vegetable production.

My intent was certainly not to criticize Trump, I just thought you would find it interesting that specialty crop folks were in such a minority. Not surprising at all, because if you asked the average U.S. citizen — who has no connection to ag — where most food was produced, you’d almost exclusively hear about the Midwest.

Then I got a comment from a woman in Michigan who said at least Trump was recognizing ag was important. I realized I couldn’t agree with her more. In fact, I think Trump’s naming of his Agriculture Advisory Committee has been the only acknowledgement of ag in the presidential campaign, at least as of this writing in mid-September.

Of course, who has time for substantive issues like ensuring a reliable food supply when you’re busy slinging mud?

The second incident occurred just the other day. Here in California, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law making farmworkers eligible for the same overtime pay after an 8-hour day or 40-hour week other workers receive.

The law was scorned by grower groups, who said it wasn’t rooted in the real, seasonal world of agriculture. Furthermore, to compete growers would be forced to adjust workforce levels to keep prices down, and farmworkers could potentially suffer the economic consequences.

I was only mildly surprised at the governor’s action. Though he is more sympathetic to ag in his second go-round in Sacramento than he was in his “Moonbeam” years back in the ’70s and ’80s, he’s still a politician, and this law would no doubt be favored by a majority of the state’s voters.

But when I went to write a story about the law’s approval, I got some unexpected, and disturbing, responses from grower groups. They were shocked — not so much by what the governor did, though they were of course troubled by the law’s ramifications — but when he did it. Many were expecting to meet with the governor in mid-September before he took action, which wasn’t required until the end of the month.

Calling around, I heard the governor didn’t take a meeting with any ag groups at all. I tried querying the California Department of Food and Agriculture, and received the following reply: “As you know this took place outside of CDFA’s jurisdiction. At this point we have nothing to add.”

The only logical conclusion to draw from these two examples is that at both state and federal levels, decision-makers are increasingly taking their food supply for granted. That’s not just a simple-minded approach, it’s downright reckless.

A reliable domestic food supply is a national security issue, and when it comes to such matters, you have to take the long view. As one wise industry statesman told me this week: “Once that food production infrastructure goes, you’re not just going to get it back.”

It might be too late to get through to the jaded decision-makers of today, but it’s not too late for all of us who realize ag’s value to educate those Millennials who will inherit the reins of power. Our nation’s future is at stake.