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Now what for California farming with new governor?

The Terminator is now California's Governator. Now what?

For agriculture, it means Gray Davis Cabinet member Bill Lyons, director of the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA), is gone. And, that is unfortunate. Lyons was a strong advocate for agriculture in a largely anti-agriculture administration. He lobbied the Davis administration for the big tax cut agriculture received two years ago. He no doubt mitigated anti-agriculture sentiments in the liberal Democratic Davis administration.

The Buy California campaign was launched on Lyon's watch and it is off to an impressive start. It cannot help but pay long-term dividends. The campaign is well done.

He was a resounding voice for specialty crops and was the leader of a coalition of states who successfully put funding in the last farm bill to aid the so-called non-commodity agriculture. In California trees and vines and specialty field crops like vegetables represent the economic majority.

That was not a popular with some of the major commodity groups, which felt that giving money to specialty crops took cash away from traditional federal price support programs.

Also gone will be Paul Helliker, head of the California Department of Pesticide Regulation. As a department head, Helliker has been asked to stay around a bit longer than cabinet members to help in the transition, and he has indicated he is willing.

The new governor said he wants to do away with Cal-EPA and that will be relatively easy since it is little more than a umbrella under which, divisions like DPR operate. There is no legislative mandate for Cal-EPA, however, much of what DPR does is legally mandated.

Helliker says dissolving DPR will require substantial changes in state law and that may happen eventually. DPR will continue to exist for now after Cal-EPA is hopefully jettisoned. The question is where will it go? Probably to the California Resources Agency. It may go back to CDFA, which is where it was before Cal-EPA was created.

Many would like it to permanently go away. The biggest complaint against DPR is that it unnecessary and only duplicates what the federal EPA requires. And, products are not always available to California farmers when they are available to those in other states. That is partially true. Some things required by law in California are not required federally.

Helliker recognized there has been duplication and over the past there years has not only worked hard at reducing that at DPR, but has had his department evaluate some of the studies EPA requires to expedite registrations for California. For a time before the budget crunch, DPR actually conducted registrations of new products parallel with EPA.

DPR also has been responsive to pesticide emergency exemptions requests. DPR has been more responsive in many cases than EPA.

California's mandatory pesticide use reporting is cumbersome, but with recent risk assessment mandates it became an invaluable information resource for actual pesticide use. Without that information, estimates would come from computer models, which have proven far from real world.

DPR also has played a key role licensed pest control advisers system. It is an onerous system. However, it is an adviser system envied for its professionalism.

Dump DPR? That may not be in California's agriculture best interest long-term. Streamlining it as Helliker continues to do may be a better solution.

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