San Joaquin Farm Bureau Federation

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SJFB Second Vice President Ken Vogel, President Jim Ferrari and First Vice President David Strecker are ready to tackle the ag issues ahead of them and the Farm Bureau the next two years. Photo by Vicky Boyd.

By Vicky Boyd

Despite historic rain and snow this winter that caused flooding in parts of the county, the three incoming San Joaquin Farm Bureau officers spoke in unison when they said water remains the top issue.

"The standard answer is always water in this county," said Jim Ferrari, newly elected president. He is joined by First Vice President David Strecker and Second Vice President Ken Vogel.

In addition, labor, over-regulation, food safety, and the rebounding economy as it relates to land use also are top of mind among the Farm Bureau officers.

Ferrari said the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act and the 40 percent unimpaired San Joaquin River flows proposed by the State Water Board create a double whammy for the county. To reduce pressure on overdrafted groundwater basins, producers in the future may turn to surface water. But proposed flows for fish could reduce the amount of surface water available to agriculture.

Calling the Water Board's proposal a "water grab, Ferrari questioned the science behind the proposed flows. Instead, he said the state should consider other measures that could better enhance fish populations, such as developing spawning and rearing habitat within the streams.

A third-generation farmer, Ferrari grows cherries and walnuts with his two sons – Joe, 34, and Nick, 32 – near Linden. He also runs Ferrari Brothers Properties. 

Strecker echoed the sentiment about water remaining the top priority.

"Rather than utilizing what little we have correctly, it's now utilizing all that we have correctly," he said, referring to water supply changes seen during the past two years. "There's very little groundwater recharge taking place right now when we have the water to do it."

He said this season's near-record precipitation also points out a missed opportunity to capture the runoff and reinforces the need for new storage facilities. 

At the same time, Strecker said state and federal water providers continue to struggle to operate their respective water systems, especially in the Delta.

A former Young Farmer & Rancher chair, he is the fourth generation to farm Strecker Ranch and a fifth-generation Delta farmer. As ranch manager, Strecker grows a diversified row crop mix.

Vogel said the state has a history of "boom or bust" cycles as far as drought and flooding. To address that, he said California needs additional water storage that could include the proposed Sites Reservoir in Colusa and Glenn counties, Temperance Flat Dam northeast of Fresno and raising Shasta Dam.

Vogel, who grows cherries and walnuts in the Farmington and Linden areas, spent 36 years as a teacher, vice principal and principal for the Lodi Unified School District before retiring in 2004.

A long-time SJFB board member, Vogel served two terms as a San Joaquin County supervisor from 2006-2014. One of his main responsibilities was water issues, which he sees carrying over to his new role as a Farm Bureau officer. In addition to water storage projects that double as flood control, Vogel said the state needs to explore off-stream facilities that don't need to be emptied during the winter to provide space for anticipated snowmelt. "So we're losing all of that water that's been in storage," he said.

Vogel also views over-regulation and labor as pressing issues. He cited as an example the county's dairy industry and the myriad regulations producers must abide by. During his tenure as a supervisor, he said the county lost at least five to seven dairy operations – they either moved to Texas or Mexico or just sold out.

As an ag employer, Vogel is faced with rising minimum wages as well as pending overtime changes and the required day off every seven days worked.

Although neither Vogel nor Ferrari have had problems securing workers to pick their cherry crops this season, they said they are aware of continued concerns about labor shortages.

Ferrari said the county's producers have already begun to respond by changing cropping patterns, moving from more labor-intensive crops to mechanization and crops that require fewer workers. In his own operation, Ferrari said he has eliminated hand sorting of walnuts and instead runs the nuts twice through optical sorters.  As a grower of fresh produce, Ferrari said he is concerned about how the 2011 Food Safety Modernization Act will be implemented.

"There's a lot of confusion on what's required," he said. "They haven't been specific on the rules yet." Ferrari said he is all for producing a safe food supply. But he said the Food and Drug Administration, which will be responsible for enforcing FSMA, is using data not backed by science and inaccurate statistics on which to base its rules.

Land-use also could become a bigger issue in the coming years as the local economy recovers from the recession and building picks up, Ferrari said. "When (development) gets big, we start shrinking," he said.

Strecker said he also is concerned about Gov. Jerry Brown's proposed budget that cuts funding for FFA programs as well as related Career Technical Education and redirects it to community colleges. The programs had been supported by $15 million from the California Department of Education.

He said Farm Bureau will be working with other ag groups to impress upon lawmakers how cutting this funding hurts the industry and specifically the next generation of farmers and potential ag leaders.

This is not the first time Brown has targeted FFA funding. In his 2015 budget, the governor proposed eliminating the Ag Incentive Grant, which supported many FFA programs. After FFA members embarked on a whirlwind campaign to restore funding, the Assembly Budget Subcommittee did just that.