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California State Capitol
<p>The capitol building in Sacramento, Calif.</p>

American agriculture needs more allies

California Food and Ag Secretary Karen Ross writes in a blog that was carried by the Modesto Bee newspaper of the unique nature the state’s soil and climate plays in food production.

She ends her column by calling on California farmers and ranchers to “tell their stories of water efficiency and conservation and continue with their unparalleled record of innovation…”

They are. They could use some well-placed voices of encouragement and agreement however.

An organization called The Center For Food Integrity suggests that the oft-used message “Farmers Feed the World” does not matter to consumers. If that’s the case then what’s agriculture’s message going to be moving forward?

Not having the answer to that question forces me to keep looking and keep asking.

The Center for Food Integrity says only 25 percent of consumers believe that the U.S. has a responsibility to provide food for the rest of the world. What does that say about us as a nation? Is that too short-sighted? Are the 75 percent who think otherwise right?

Aside from California, Ross says only Chile and Pakistan have locations with similar soil conditions to those we have here in the San Joaquin Valley. She quotes Pulitzer Prize-winning author John McPhee in reporting that of the 10 soil types on the planet, nine exist in California’s Central Valley and that each type is suited to different crops.

Perhaps that’s why California can grow upwards of 400 different commodities, and do it quite well.

Even that bit of news does not resonate with consumers.

So what does?

How does agriculture attract allies as we go forward? We’re going to need them in various segments of society to affect the kind of change necessary to ensure agriculture is as sustainable geographically as it is financially.

Ross recently defended California agriculture to an antagonistic group of journalists like I’ve not heard her defend it. I wrote here and praised her and some of her colleagues in state government for their words.

While Ross is right that agriculture can do more, the burden does not rest solely on the backs of farmers. Government can do much more by fostering a climate that does not stand in the way of good science and the entrepreneurial spirit that built this state.

Government leaders can also lighten the load by eliminating onerous regulations and changing long-standing law that serve as roadblocks to the kind of change necessary for human success to continue. It could very well mean seismic changes to laws like the Endangered Species Act and Central Valley Project Improvement Act, which have been used to block human access to the water we paid to control and convey.

Private enterprise will naturally seek opportunities that benefit people.

Consumers must also roll up their sleeves and commit the kinds of public capital necessary for public projects that have a utilitarian benefit. That means water projects must happen quickly. It also means we must prioritize spending on costly projects that are unnecessary during times of drought and human suffering.

Those of us who support agriculture must enlist our neighbors in this battle by helping them understand why losing food production in California is not in their best interest.

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