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President's Message

Wildfire comes to San Joaquin County

By David Strecker, SJFB President

AUGUST IS TYPICALLY VERY PREDICTABLE in what will be happening in San Joaquin Counties agriculture community. Whether it is grapes being picked, nuts being shaken or tomato trucks rolling, things begin to get very busy. Another predictable thing is there is typically a large wildfire burning somewhere in the state. As the year 2020 continues to be the year of the unpredictable, it makes sense that one of the largest fires in the history of the state would encompass part of San Joaquin County.

At the time I’m writing this article, the SCU Lightning Complex Fire has burned over 368,000 acres through five counties and is only 35% contained. The loss of buildings has been minimal compared to fires in the past, however, the loss in grazable land will be tremendous. The number of animals lost will not be known for some time.

The sleepless nights and stress put on the ranchers impacted by this fire is never a good thing let alone in a year like this with so much going on. With a fire so close and several others buring in the region, the entire county became engulfed with smoke. As employers, we are required to monitor the air quality and provide proper face masks to our employees. Seems simple in a normal year, however, with a mask shortage approaching seven months and most likely into the new year, you can’t make this stuff up.

The year 2020 just keeps on giving! There is always the question of crop damage due to smoke, but the health of our families and workers is the most important. Any crop damage will most likely be a result of the heat that brought us the thunderstorms that created the fires. The weather has cooperated the past couple of days and the sky’s seem to be clearing. Hopefully we can get through the rest of the year fire free.

I have been continually writing about the unpredictably of 2020. One thing that is predictable in 2020 is if Proposition 15 passes, Prop 15 will impact agriculture!!! Whether it is a packing shed, your new irrigation system or a barn, your property taxes will go up.

San Joaquin Farm Bureau has already opposed Prop 15. We have contributed to CA Family Farmers Against Prop 15. This is a campaign put together by California Farm Bureau, Western Growers and the Agriculture Council of California. This will be a very important topic until the election in November.

Our local Farmers United PAC is now involved with this and you will start to see campaign material showing up in the mail opposed to Prop 15. Your help is needed. California Farm Bureau has already sent out mailers looking for donations to their PAC to fight this. We will be doing the same, but more importantly, we need you to talk to your families, your neighbors and anyone you can get through to. VOTE NO on PROP 15!

The next couple of months will be very busy for many of us. Please continue to work safely. Temporary testing sites will be popping up throughout the county for farm workers to be tested for COVID-19. We will be emailing and contacting you with these locations and times. In the meantime, if you experience any problems or have any questions regarding COVID-19 and agriculture, please contact the San Joaquin Farm Bureau office. We will help however we can.

Additionally the San Joaquin Agriculture Commissioner’s Office has been able to provide some N-95 masks. You should have received notice to contact the commissioner’s office to be able to receive some of these masks. We will continue to let membership know if these types of things become available. We also have masks at the SJFB office by appointment only, so give us a call.

Please be safe and Farm On!

Great Annual Meeting and more!

BY ANDREW WATKINS, SJFB PRESIDENT

JUNE HAS BEEN A BUSY MONTH at the San Joaquin Farm Bureau! We celebrated our 102nd Annual Meeting on June 3 at the Waterloo Gun & Bocce Club. At the Annual Meeting, the SJFB Foundation for Ag Education awarded over $38,000 to local students pursuing careers in agriculture.

It was great to see this younger generation accept these scholarships especially as some of our past recipients were actually elected to the SJFB Board of Directors that same night. If you take a look at the board list you might notice some new additions to several of the Farm Center representatives. Many of these new names are not only past scholarship recipients but also active members of the San Joaquin County Young Farmers & Ranchers.

Besides scholarships, the Young Farmers & Ranchers partnered with the board of directors to purchase animals at the AgFest Livestock Auction on June 18. We purchased two rabbits, four goats, one hog, two lambs, one steer and three turkeys. In addition to buying animals, volunteers from the board joined the SJFB staff to serve lunch to the buyers.

On the legislative side we celebrated a victory with the defeat of AB 2757; the ag overtime bill in the California Assembly on June 2. This victory was earned by farmers across the state who contacted their representatives and urged a defeat of the bill. At San Joaquin Farm Bureau, we not only reached out to our representatives but held multiple meetings with elected officials whom were able to hear directly from farm workers about this bill.

Despite the defeat, bill author Assembly Member Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) has reintroduced the bill using a tactic called “gut and amend.” She has taken AB 1066 which was idling in the Senate Education Committee and without their input inserted the contents of the defeated AB 2757.

San Joaquin Farm Bureau has been in communications with our elected officials and have meetings scheduled to reinforce the negative implications of this bill. I would also like to encourage each and every member to email, phone or write your representative to once again vote no on AB 1066. This is a bad bill that must once again be defeated.

With communication in mind, SJFB is also preparing for our annual Media Night. This event held at the end of July brings together the SJFB Board of Directors with not only elected officials but also members of the media.

This annual dinner provides a great opportunity to educate them on not only what we have been doing but more importantly build relationships. These relationships are vital so that when bad bills like AB 2757 and now AB 1066 come around, the SJFB board has built the contacts and relationships to make sure that agricultural’ s voice is not only heard but heard correctly.

BY ANDREW WATKINS, SJFB PRESIDENT

DESPITE THE FACT THAT CALIFORNIA is one of only four states that require overtime pay for farm workers; AB 2757 introduced by Assembly Member Gonzalez would drastically change the current wages, hours and working conditions for agricultural workers. In a nut shell it would require farmers to pay 1.5 times their regular rate after eight hours and two times their regular rate after twelve hours in a day.
    This would change the current agricultural exception in which time and a half takes affect after 10 hours of work; which of the four states requiring overtime is one of the most generous.
    This bill also comes on the heels of Gov. Brown’s $15 minimum wage increase. Should AB 2757 pass, the impacts would be far reaching. In order to stay competitive on a global market we wouldn’t be able to pass the skyrocketed labor costs to the consumers. The results would be more costs for us, meaning many labor intensive crops would no longer be grown not only in San Joaquin County but across the state. The alternative would be to cut employee’s hours and/or replace more of them with equipment. Which makes me question Assembly Member Gonzalez on who this bill is intended to help?
    Despite the logical negative implications of this bill, this is where the importance of your Farm Bureau membership comes in. Farm Bureau works to unite the voice of agriculture and advocate against bad legislation like this. Our office along with our board of directors have been busy sending letters to legislators encouraging them to oppose AB 2757.
    Besides letters, on May 9 we hosted an informative session with Assembly Member Susan Eggman at the Farm Bureau office in which farmers and farmworkers were provided an opportunity to speak with her about the far reaching negative implications of this bill.
    From the success of this session, the Farm Bureau office will be reaching out to other legislators including Sen. Cathleen Galgiani and Assembly Member Jim Cooper to organize more opportunities for our members to voice the far-reaching negative effects of AB 2757 legislation and encourage them to vote no.
    Beyond the legislative branch, our advocacy work will be extending to the California Department of Food and Agriculture. In cases of bad legislation like this there really isn’t enough you can do to stop this legislation and encourage our representatives to vote no.
    Even with these efforts, it is up to us to ensure that our voice is heard and more importantly understood. With that in mind, I would like to encourage every member to email, phone or write to your representative to vote no on AB 2757. Turn to page 17 in this issue for a list of our representatives addresses and telephone number.
    As always if you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact the SJFB office at (209) 931-4931.

BY ANDREW WATKINS, SJFB PRESIDENT

AS MANY OF YOU AWARE, two years ago the state Legislature passed a package of three bills to regulate groundwater extractions for the first time in California’s history. Together, these bills are known as SGMA, or the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act. The Farm Bureau at both the state and local level fought these bills very hard. Here at the San Joaquin Farm Bureau, we worked with the county and local districts to present a unified front against these bills that still passed despite bipartisan opposition in the entire Central Valley.
    Now that we are faced with this reality, the questions I hear most often from members are “How much is this going to cost?” “Will I still be able to pump?” and “Who is going to be in charge?”
    Here in San Joaquin County, we actually overlie three subbasins — the Cosumnes, the Eastern San Joaquin and the Tracy subbasins. All of them are unique. Currently, there is a process underway to revise the boundaries to eliminate the Cosumnes subbasin though we will still have to coordinate with them.
    In the Eastern San Joaquin subbasin, we have officially undertaken a SGMA workgroup to involve the interested agencies as well as the Farm Bureau. Many water districts and the county have filed to become GSA’s and because of that, no single agency is a GSA until they revise their boundaries. At the last SGMA workgroup meeting, the group was posed with the idea of an overarching body consisting of all of the GSA’s to coordinate and work under a single groundwater sustainability plan. The details of governance and financing would have to be discussed.
    Speaking of groundwater sustainability plans, the new regulations were just released and these are what the state regulators will be looking to in determining whether or not a basin is in compliance. Our main concern is making sure that these regulations are not so narrow that they eliminate the ability for locals to determine how to manage their groundwater.
    Even though we may not have all of the answers to the questions growers ask about how it will impact them and how much it will cost, we do know that this will undoubtedly impact every grower who uses a well. We also know that when it comes to trying to work out governance and soon management issues we are miles ahead of where some basins are with the data that is already collected and the recharge projects that are already in place.

By Andrew Watkins, SJFB PRESIDENT

This has been a particularly busy holiday season for me. December, began with the California Farm Bureau 97th Annual Meeting in Reno from the Dec. 5-9. I participated in the Farm tours on Sunday and really enjoyed experiencing some of Nevada’s agriculture. We visited the Frey Ranch Estate Winery & Distillery and Fagundes Dairy Goat operations. Frey Ranch grows all the grapes and grain that they use in their production. Fagundes is the largest dairy goat producer in Nevada and they milk 3,000 goats a day.

Also on Sunday was the Young Farmers & Ranchers discussion meet where our very own Brie Witt and Katie Veenstra competed. Both excelled in this competition and their success can be found in more detail in this edition. Sunday evening we celebrated the opening of the Trade Show and held a reception for the graduates of the 2015 Leadership Farm Bureau class.

Natalie Collins and Nick Ferrari both represented our county in this year’s class. They both learned a lot through the experience which included a policy trip to Washington, D.C., and an agriculture tour of Southern California.

This year’s annual meeting hosted numerous breakout sessions which were focused on issues that affect us all. This included a Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) update, Waters of the United States (WOTUS), Food Safety from a Buyer’s Perspective, Agricultural Labor Compliance, New Antibiotic Issues and a special discussion focused on the growing concerns of Marijuana Cultivation.

The keynote speaker this year was Major Brian Shul, a Vietnam-era pilot and a retired major in the United States Air Force. He overcame unbelievable odds after he was shot down and suffered extreme burns. Not only did he beat the odds to survive his ordeal but he returned to full flight status, flying the SR-71 Blackbird, which was the top airplane at the time.

The 97th Annual Meeting was held in conjunction with Nevada Farm Bureau’s annual meeting which proved to be a great way to meet with fellow farmers about the issues they face in their state.

In lieu of a board meeting in December, the board of directors enjoyed a Christmas celebration at Dave Wong’s Restaurant in Stockton. We were joined by Supervisors Chuck Winn and Bob Elliot who not only joined in the celebration but spoke briefly about agriculture in the county.  

Despite how busy the end of the year was, it was a great way to end the year and provided some great insight into policies and issues we will be facing this year.