Ag at Large: California ag needs a survey

By Don Curlee | Contributed

A lot of farmers in California feel they are being squeezed by elements beyond their control. It might help if they can identify them, and start converting some of them as friends.

For example, they are surer than ever that the current state legislature is an enemy since it passed the bill in September establishing overtime pay for farm workers after they work eight hours.  Agriculture’s plea that the measure will cut actual worker pay by billions every year fell on deaf, but electable ears.

Farmers also suspect avowed environmentalists, and view most of their efforts akin to a drunken automobile racing fan trying to teach a veteran driver how to steer. They seem sure that millennials and generations on either side simply don’t understand the importance or even the necessity of producing food.

It won’t answer or correct all their suspicions, but a well-designed public opinion survey of their neighbors in the state might help them identify their real enemies. Chances are it will reveal many unexpected friends as well, and taking a well-designed survey would not be a new experience for California’s agricultural industry. 

As early as 1976, a comprehensive survey and vigorous political campaign resulted in the defeat of an initiative identified as Proposition 14, which threatened the property rights of farmers and urban homeowners as well.      

In the campaign that followed, the farm community learned that it had many more urban friends than it suspected, and it was largely their votes that defeated the threatening measure placed on the ballot by the United Farm Workers union.

It may be about time to renew and strengthen that relationship between urban and rural Californians for the benefit of both. If a survey can be designed to reveal just what urban dwellers like and don’t like about the state’s agriculture and its farmers, the path to building broader and stronger relations can begin.

Properly designed and conducted such a survey can emphasize the issues that farmers and their urban friends share, and provide some idea of the strength in numbers represented in urban communities. 

Without the irrefutable data a survey develops, it can only be a guess, but it’s a good bet that most urban citizens resent the growth of regulations on their lives and their freedom as much or more than farmers do. Sharing that can be the foundation for a continuing conversation and lasting friendship.

No doubt, city dwellers enjoy food as much as their farmer friends do, something that has been confirmed by the expanded interest and growth of the farmers market movement. Those marketplaces are excellent sites for the exchange of information between urban and rural dwellers on hundreds of issues. 

Following the completion and professional analysis of the results of a competent opinion survey, farmer representatives can begin to organize the means to maintain communication with their new found friends, and even with confirmed opponents. It can be the key to a continuing conversation.    

California farmers, individually and through their well-established organizations, have no trouble expressing themselves and making their positions known. They just need to make sure their messages reach the largest number of people, their friends and their detractors as well. A professionally directed public opinion survey can be the key to determining that.

The follow-up conversation – even with California’s 42 million people – might be easier to initiate and maintain than we might think.  Perhaps it requires more coordination of existing messages than origination of new ones.

Whatever it takes, a serious public opinion survey can be the key to continuing conversation.  Everybody’s help is needed. Stay close to your phone, or whatever device transmits information accurately, and when contacted, speak up.