San Joaquin Farm Bureau Federation

By Vicky Boyd

Gov. Jerry Brown released a draft 2018-19 general budget of about $132 billion in early January that included increasing the state’s reserves as well as raising the voter-mandated Rainy Day fund.

California Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross praised the governor’s effort and pointed out that even her department’s proposed budget of $488.6 million was more robust than it was during the height of the recession seven years ago.

“It’s really remarkable the fiscal differences the state is in and the stability the state has created,” she said.

But Ross reiterated the governor’s mantra of avoiding the temptation to overspend or make commitments the state won’t be able to keep.

San Joaquin Farm Bureau Executive Director Bruce Blodgett agreed with the sentiment about not overspending. But he said he was frustrated by the governor’s unwillingness to tap a small amount of the budget surplus to restore some of the programs cut during the deep recession.

“What about the Williamson Act subvention program?” he said. “That’s something that helped out the counties and protected their tax base. The amount of money it would take to do that is so small when you compare it to the entire budget.”

Under the Williamson Act, producers in key areas sign 10- or 20-year contracts to keep their land in farming. In return, they would be taxed on the production value of the land and not the speculative value.

In return, the state would make subvention payments to counties to partially replace the foregone property tax revenue. 

Between 1972 and 2008, the historic average subvention payment totaled $23.3 million annually, according to figures from the Rural County Representatives of California. San Joaquin County received about $1.9 million in subvention payments in 2007.

For the 2009-10 budget, the Schwarzenegger administration reduced payments to $1,000 annually, with no funding in subsequent years. If counties wanted to continue the Williamson Act, they would have to shoulder all of the financial burden.

Blodgett said improving pest detection and exclusion programs in San Joaquin County and throughout the state also would be money well spent. Preventing pests and catching them early makes more fiscal sense then having to conduct widespread and costly eradication programs once they were established.

San Joaquin County Agricultural Commission Tim Pelican agreed, adding that his pest exclusion funding from the state was cut significantly in 2008 and hasn’t returned to previous levels. 

“We still provide that service, but it’s not at the level we’d like it to be,” he said. Much of the funding for pest trapping comes from the 2012 Farm Bill, with the California Department of Food and Agriculture simply passing along that money to the counties.

Pelican said the state also reduced funding for the Fruit and Vegetable Quality Inspection Program during the recession, and that hasn’t been restored either. The program ensures produce meets quality and grade standards. 

In a tele-conference shortly after Brown’s state budget’s release, Ross highlighted some of the CDFA programs and their associated budget requests. She also pointed out that the department’s financial proposal may be a bit misleading because it includes $21.1 million of new funding for cannabis programs and implementation of the voter-passed measure legalizing recreational use of pot.

Excluding those funds, Ross said the department’s proposed 2018-19 budget is only slightly larger than the 2017-18 budget.

What is yet unknown is how much money the department will receive from the state Cap and Trade Fund that in the past was used to underwrite climate smart agriculture programs. Brown was expected to include that funding in his state-of-the-state speech Jan. 25.

Recent changes in Washington, D.C., including the president’s new tax plan, also have created “significant uncertainty” for the department, Ross said. Through cooperative agreements with federal agencies, such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Food and Drug Administration, CDFA receives about one third of its budget.

Here are a few of the programs Ross singled out:

  • A capital outlay of $9.348 million to purchase 25 acres of land to expand the Whitehaven inspection station in the southeast corner of the state. “It’s very, very important to our pest-prevention system because of the truck volume that goes through there, particularly the through traffic from the southeast and southwest,” Ross said.
  • $5 million for the Citrus Pest and Disease Prevention Program. Of that, $2.5 million will come from the state general fund and $2.5 million will come from the ag fund, which comprises grower assessments.

The program is designed to slow the spread of the bacterial citrus disease, huanglongbing – also known as citrus greening, as well as the Asian citrus psyllid that spreads it.

“The program is at a crossroads,” she said. “We have significant finds of huanglongbing in the residential areas of Los Angeles – we’re keeping the disease out of the commercial production areas. But we’ve had a continued proliferation of the insect that spreads it.” 

University of Florida researchers estimate that huanglongbing has caused more than $4.3 billion in losses to that state’s citrus industry between 2012 and 2016.

  • $2.668 million for full implementation of Senate Bill 27, which limits antibiotic use in livestock and promotes antibiotic stewardship to reduce antimicrobial resistance.
  • Bee Safe Program, $1.853 million from the general fund. “We want to make sure we’re doing all we can in California to improve the health and survival of honeybees,” Ross said. The program involves increasing the amount of forage available to bees. It also includes a database of locations where managed bee hives are sited. The goal is to reduce complaints, particularly from urbanites, about places that aren’t appropriate for bee hives. In addition, it is designed to reduce hive thefts. At the same time, the database can be used to minimize the incidence of hives being accidently sprayed with pesticides.

Pelican said he expected his department would see some of those funds, considering the importance of bees and pollination to the county’s ag industry.

“One of the programs that would be new to us is the Bee Safe Program,” he said. “Currently there really is no money available for apiary work and that’s getting to be a big issue these days.”

  • SB 5, the legislation behind the voter-approved “California Drought, Water, Parks, Climate, Coastal Protection and Outdoor Access For All Act of 2018” bond measure. Bond funding will provide $18 million for SWEEP – State Water Efficiency and Enhancement Program; $9 million for the Healthy Soils program; and $4 million for fairs deferred maintenance.
  • SB 623, or the Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Fund. The proposed CDFA budget includes $1.4 million to cover seven positions that will collect information and establish a database. The moneys are from an advance from the Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Fund, Ross said.

Under the legislation, the state will begin assessing fees on fertilizer manufacturers and distributors and dairy processors July 1, 2020. Fertilizer manufacturers and distributors will be assessed 0.5 cent per dollar of sales through Jan. 1, 2033. This assessment is on top of the existing 0.2 cent per dollar of sales that help fund the state fertilizer program and the 0.1 cent per dollar of sales that fund fertilizer research.

At the same time, each dairy handler will deduct 1.355 cents per hundredweight from producers of market and manufacturing milk. 

Any entity or person who buys water from a public water system also will be subjected to an assessment of at least 95 cents per month, depending on diameter of the water meter, beginning July 1, 2020.

CDFA will collect the funds from fertilizer manufacturers and dairy processors and forward them to the state drinking water fund, which will be administered by the State Water Resources Control Board.

Under the state’s budget timeline, the governor unveils his spending proposal each January, with a revised version released in May. The Legislature debates the budget proposal and must pass the budget bills on a majority vote by June 15. The governor then has until June 30 to sign the budget for the fiscal year, which begins July 1.