Ag at Large: Farming involves broad interests

Photo courtesy of Metro Creative Services

By Don Curlee

Just in case you think farmers hold limited viewpoints, the policy manual of the California Farm Bureau Federation is a document that can change your mind.

Adopted at the annual meeting in December of the state’s largest farm organization, it establishes policy on 215 subjects and issues, possibly more than many state legislators have thought about. It is done every year to provide guidance for the organization’s leaders and background when they are asked for their opinions on vital farm issues.

Not only does it offer guidelines on the obvious agricultural issues such as water, immigration, taxes and private ownership, but it provides direction on many matters of broader interest. It establishes positions on welfare, economic productivity, youth employment, preservation of urban open space, education and unmanned aircraft systems.

Presenting the specific stances for so many subjects required a 28-page supplement in the organization’s January 13 publication Ag Alert. The policy section lifts out, so members can keep it handy and be informed as various subjects that are covered reach prominence in the year ahead.

To make the various issues immediately accessible the last page of the insert is an index. It tells readers that Farm Bureau policy on international trade, for instance, is found in policy number 47, that policy164 deals with the boycotting of agricultural products and that policy 186 covers the termination of government agencies.

Obviously the policy document serves Farm Bureau’s 53,324 California members well, encouraging them to study and review the organization’s positions, leading them to their own review, commitment and understanding. It also explains for non-members, the media, legislators, educators and other interested parties where and perhaps why the organization believes as it does.

Within the agricultural industry the policy document helps those in other organizations clarify their positions, leading to actions they may take. Those may parallel the Farm Bureau’s stance or they may not, but the presence of well defined policy statements helps bring clarity and understanding across the board.

Arriving at the stated policies every year requires serious and concentrated involvement by dedicated members who have special interests in and knowledge of the matters of which they speak. It’s a labor of love as they spend hours studying and discussing the various issues and formulating their own concrete opinions.

The process gets underway when a number of committees composed of Farm Bureau members from around the state meet to review existing policies. They recommend updates, revisions and additions, tabulated and maintained by a couple of staff members at the Sacramento headquarters.

The Farm Bureau in each county sends delegates to the statewide convention every December, where they debate, finalize and adopt the policies that will guide the organization in the year ahead.

Details are not overlooked. Water development, management, conveyance and sales are among the topics on which policy has been established for 2016. From policy items 68 through 90 positions regarding water are spelled out, including the recommendation for agricultural representation on state and regional water boards.

From that point the topics create a litany of the concerns, goals, fundamentals and hopes of all California farmers.. The policies are broad enough to span geographic divisions, but specific enough to provide encouragement to the smallest, remotest farm operator. They offer a canopy under which the nation’s richest and most productive agricultural state can operate profitably.

As independent owners and operators, the state’s farmers, even the 53.324 members of Farm Bureau, are not obligated to follow the policies blindly or to uphold them thoughtlessly. The policies are helpful guidance however for a pack of free thinkers with pickups and tractors. The seats of both have been known to develop astounding wisdom.