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Agriculture now in fight for survival

No more Mr. Nice Guy. Compromise is out the window.

It is now all about survival.

It is time for California agriculture to draw a line in the sand and proclaim, “NO MORE,” according to California Cotton Growers and Ginners Associations president Earl Williams.

A frustrated and harried Williams delivered a fire and brimstone call to arms at the annual California Cotton Growers Association annual meeting that is seldom heard today. It was delivered to the cotton industry, but the message was for all agriculture.

The robust U.S. and California economies have been built on the backs of agriculture. As a political lightweight, agriculture has had an uphill pull for every inch of political progress. Politics “used to be about compromise” to achieve progress — now it has to be about survival.” Agriculture has been painted in a corner and “all we've got left now is to fight. We've got to change to an ‘in your face approach’ to get politicians and bureaucrats to listen and provide relief.

Specifically agriculture “cannot and will not accept any increases related to energy rates.”

California does not have, but needs a sound energy policy for not only electricity, but for diesel, natural gas and propane.

California farmers pay 27 cents per gallon more than the nationwide average diesel price and 30 cents more than other cotton producing states.

“California is the most expensive place in the nation to farm,” according to association lobbyist George Soares. And most of that added expense comes from government regulations and oversight.

Williams said this new “in your face” approach to politically solving agriculture's serious problems may not set well with some.

Something different

“If you are happy with where you are today, you stay there, but we are moving on,” he said. “We've got to do something different…because we cannot be pushed any farther.”

Williams is very effective association leader and realizes cotton producers cannot go it alone. “We must build coalitions between individual commodity groups that know and understand their membership's position on the issues.”

Williams said for “too long” farmers have been represented by groups with “political agendas that give into pressure and to compromise their member positions to satisfy a political agenda.”

In most cases, this representation is “too broad” and sends the signal that agriculture is willing to “give in to political pressure and to compromise the positions of many of their member with their actions.”

“We must restore credibility and integrity to the representation of our industry,” he said.

Williams' frustration comes on the heels of one of the best years ever for California cotton producers; an average yield of 1,370 pounds short staple cotton. If that holds, it will be a record. Pima yielded a respectable 1,175 pounds. And, Williams is predicting California would exceed one million acres this season, something he predicted several years ago would not happen again.

However, the satisfaction from 2000 that should be there is being overshadowed by serious concerns about the industry's current economic viability because of depressed prices not only for cotton, but for most major field crops in the state.

The frustration, he said, is that the industry is on the brink of disaster and no one in the federal or state government understands that and therefore offers no help to producers.

The federal government continues to fail to provide a “safety net that allows farmers to survive in time of low prices.” Instead it has thrown billions of dollars of emergency relief at the problem, said Williams.

While the money provided welcome relief, there is still no definitive, permanent safety net in place. Therefore, producers are left hanging on the eve of planting this 2001 crop and no idea what the income will be. It certainly will not come from the marketplace where cotton prices are the lowest in decades.

Answers now

Growers need answers now, not after Congress debates the next farm bill.

He is optimist that California's views will be heard in the long run in Washington with Californian Ann Veneman as secretary of Agriculture and Bakersfield, Calif., Rep. Bill Thomas sitting as chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee.

Williams had hoped a new pilot cost of production insurance program would get off the ground this year. Unfortunately, “typical government delays and politics have all but pushed this possibility to the 2002 crop year” only adding to the frustration to producers trying to get financing for this crop.

It may even be worse on the state level where the association's unsuccessful efforts to get relief from increases in energy costs. “It's not only frustrating; it's alarming,” he said.

Clueless on problems

He called many state officials clueless about agriculture's problem; the impact it is having on the state's No. 1 industry, and the domino effect that could come from farmers and ranchers reaching the brink of “total economic collapse” in the midst of an overall brisk state economy.

Williams said, however, California's current economic boom is not the result of government action. It happened “in spite of everything they could do to seemingly keep it from happening.”

If they are so smart, Williams asks how did the sixth largest economy in the world reach the brink of collapse because of the current electricity crisis.

“Could it be that the sixth largest economy is in the world is being run by third world minds,” Williams bristled.

Term limits have replaced proven experienced leaders with a “revolving door group of folks that basically mark time for a few years, taking care of their urban social agendas and moving on.”

These legislators must be convinced that agriculture is an important part of the economy and must be respected and protected if it is to remain the foundation of society.

“I know that that's a long shot, but it's a shot that has been and must continue to be fired with the hopes of eventually being heard,” said Williams.

Cavaiani chairs Farm Credit Bank

The Board of Directors of Sacramento-based Western Farm Credit Bank recently elected Carl A. Cavaiani of Turlock, Calif., chairman of the board.

Cavaiani is a third generation peach farmer, a former member of the California Cling Peach Association, past chairman of the California Freestone Peach Association and the California Cling Peach Advisory Board.

Cavaiani is also a member of the Board of Directors of the Walnut Bargaining Association, past chairman of the Western Farm Credit District Council, and past president and director of the Cortez Growers Association.


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