One of the most successful events for SJFB each year is Taste of San Joaquin, which brings together SJFB board members, media representatives, and elected officials and their staff. The event helps build relationships and provides the opportunity to educate them about agricultural issues in a fun atmosphere. Photo by Goff Photography

By Craig W. Anderson

The staff of San Joaquin Farm Bureau and its board of directors are constantly at work ensuring that agriculture remains viable in San Joaquin County, and that its voice is heard at the county, state and national levels. 

"Farm Bureau is truly a year-round operation," said Rachael Fleming, SJFB's program director. "Our committees and board meet to discuss their various programs and/or work on ongoing issues affecting agriculture."

Meeting with and explaining agricultural issues to the media is perhaps the one aspect of Farm Bureau's outreach that is proven to be ongoing throughout the year, Fleming said. "Our goal at SJFB is to protect and promote agriculture in the county. Staff and board members provide interviews and comments to various media and networks on ag related issues." 

"Executive Director Bruce Blodgett is neck-deep in local, state and national issues," said SJFB President Jim Ferrari. "Farm Bureau's job is staying in the trenches, going to bat for our members."

Blodgett's cell phone is "never off," he said, adding, "after-hours meetings afford lots of opportunities to get out and represent members. Farm Bureau is the only entity in the county representing the entire agricultural industry." There are many issues on SJFB's plate, including minimizing the damage PG&E tree trimmers do to orchards and working with members of the state legislature and other elected officials on a number of issues.  

Many Ag Education programs

"Educationally speaking, we became more engaged with the FFA and 4-H programs," said Joe Valente, past SJFB president and currently CFBF District 12 director and Foundation president. "We established a new series of summer camps for local youth centered on technology and leadership in agriculture."

"It's so vital for children and adults to learn more about how agriculture is integrated into their lives," said Ken Vogel, SJFB second-vice president. "Too many people have the wrong assumptions about ag. It's our duty to remove them from assumptions and move them to reality."

"The Foundation held a very successful 27th Annual Wine Tasting ‘A Taste of San Joaquin,'" Valente said, "which raised more than $60,000 for agricultural education programs and scholarships." $45,000 in scholarships were awarded to local students at SJFB's 104th Annual Meeting at Gill Lake in Acampo.

Part of that youth-centered orientation is Natalie the Cow and she plays an integral role in educating school children about ag and the benefits it brings to their lives. Fleming said, "Natalie the Cow was seen by more than 2,800 third grade students who attended Lodi AgVenture."

The Rural Health and Safety Committee, chaired by Amy Blagg, held a well-attended CPR/First Aid training class, heat illness prevention and a Hazmat and rural crime seminar. SJFB staff helped coordinate the annual, informative and important Spray Safe program.

Blagg commented, "The committee will be very active over the coming months. We have 10 seminars planned between now and March that will cover various topics." She said the estate planning seminar – Nationwide's " Land is Your Legacy" – and a new tax law seminar were well attended.

SJFB's educational sweep contained "The ‘Tunnels Are Just Nuts' promotion [packages of almonds emblazoned with the slogan] "that got us in front of issues such as the tunnels and unimpaired flows and speaking to the State Water Board at the hearings," noted Blodgett. 

The Foundation also held a full four-day Ag in the Classroom conference to educate 30 teachers about San Joaquin County's unique agriculture that's valued at more than $2.7 billion.

The Leadership Farm Bureau program helps ensure a solid future for the organization and board member Joe Ferrari and staff member Rachael Fleming were accepted into this year's class.

And on the community college education front, SJFB worked with Delta College on holding an industry meeting to support their Ag Department's expansion efforts and improvements in course offerings to local students. Farm Bureau offered to take the trustees and school leaders on agricultural tours. 

Making sure news about agriculture reaches the public Farm Bureau hosted more than 100 members, elected officials and media at the annual VIP/Media Night event, which was, said Ferrari, "One of the best I've attended with a perhaps the largest media group in attendance in quite a while. It's a positive when so many media are so interested in coming to the event."

Endorsement Committee made many endorsements for candidates and ballot measures

It was candidate endorsement time and Kenny Watkins, chair of the Endorsement Committee, said, "We interview candidates whenever possible with the viewpoint that the candidate should benefit Farm Bureau members. It requires at least a two-thirds majority vote from the board for the candidate or measure to receive the SJFB endorsement."

Watkins said nominated candidates need to have a chance of winning and there were good candidates in the past who had little chance of winning. "We recommend those who can truly make a difference and have a chance of winning," he said. "Candidate for governor, John Cox, could possibly be elected if backed by the agricultural community. We don't take this lightly. The candidates we endorse are those best for SJFB."

Major water rally at State Capitol

SJFB hosted bus transportation to the water rally at the State Capitol where 1,500 farmers, water agencies, agricultural groups, water experts, supportive politicians and concerned members of the public gathered on the Capitol steps to express their collective viewpoint. Which is: the unimpaired flow idea is not a good one.

Blodgett spoke to the State Water Resource Control Board criticizing the unimpaired flow criteria. "The science is flawed, there would be billions in negative economic impact, 90 percent of the salmon fingerlings are predated by other fish within their first mile of travel in the water. It's not a balanced solution and we are the only ag group who asked the board to not degrade Delta water quality," Blodgett said. "This would be a bad hit upstream and for the Delta too. If the state board wants more fish in the rivers, facilities are needed that capture water."

"It's starting on the Stanislaus and it's going to move up through our county and the water they're going to force us to put down the river isn't going to be replaced by groundwater, " Ferrari said.

Strecker, who farms in the Delta said, "This is about the future of my family's ablity to farm. We have to stand up to them for our water."

SJFB representatives met with the Delta Caucus to discuss comments on the Delta tunnels, unimpaired flows and glyphosate. SJFB Water Committee chair Dave Simpson said, "We're on the same side and we have to stick together and keep working together on Delta issues."

Meetings with U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke and U.S. Congressman Jeff Denham.

President Jim Ferrari was a member of the "One-Voice" contingent that journeyed to Washington, D.C., to "basically develop relationships with our representatives in D.C. Some issues we have in common, some not, but it's good to develop mutual respect with them. And our board of supervisors members who went worked hard back there."

Ferrari and Blodgett attended a meeting with Secretary Perdue and several Farm Bureau representatives met with Assembly member Heath Flora to discuss taxation, regulation and tree trimming issues.

"With taxes, it's one thing after another and we've had enough," Blodgett said.  "And it's good having the initiative on the ballot to reject the exorbitant gas tax."

Blodgett and Ferrari met with Congressman Jeff Denham and Tom McClintock along with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. Blodgett said, "There was a lot of discussion on water storage and the positive effects that would create. Another positive is that the feds are showing resistance to the unimpaired flows proposed by the state."

SJFB hosted a congressional debate that became a town hall meeting for Congressman Denham when the opposing candidate declined the invitation. "Denham answered all of the written questions in what had become a relaxed, comfortable setting at the Cabral Ag Center which was an excellent venue," said Ferrari.

"The opposition's representative called and wanted to choose the venue and moderator," Blodgett said. "I told him the questions would be written and that a panel of local farmers would act as moderators. I never heard from him again."'

Stopped the proposed drastic fuel fee increase for underground tanks

Blodgett spoke at a hearing on proposed fee increases for underground storage tanks in the county which would, he said, "Have had significant negative long-term impacts that would have affected all of our fuel suppliers. We were happy to convince the board of supervisors to reject it."

And there's much more

These are just some of the highlights of what San Joaquin Farm Bureau accomplished this year. Read more in the Year in Review in the following pages.