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February 14, 2014

Gov. Brown Speaks at Ag Council Breakfast

Gov. Jerry Brown addresses Ag Council members at the World Ag Expo breakfast.

Gov. Jerry Brown addresses Ag Council members at the World Ag Expo breakfast.

Ag Council hosted a breakfast at the World Ag Expo in Tulare this week featuring Governor Jerry Brown, High Speed Rail Authority Chairman Dan Richard and California Secretary of Agriculture Karen Ross.

More than 90 people filled the room to hear the state leaders discuss current issues impacting agriculture in the Central Valley, including the drought and the California High-Speed Rail project that by 2029 is scheduled to connect San Francisco to Los Angeles, and eventually reach as far north as Sacramento.

Governor Brown explored the rail concept during his first term as governor from 1975 to 1983, and with the state’s population predicted to be more than 50 million by 2050, he believes the time is now to make the investment in the future of transportation in the Golden State.

Mandated by legislation passed in 1996, the California High-Speed Rail took on new momentum when in 2008 California voters passed a $10 billion bond measure to support its development.

The proposed route has been a point of controversy for ag interests concerned about the impact on farms and some of the most agriculturally productive areas in the nation.

Governor Brown made a few brief comments reiterating his support of the project and his desire to remain fiscally responsible during his term as governor. “California has a surplus for the first time in ten years,” said Brown, “and I am committed to not spending money in ways our state can’t afford. Unfortunately there are a lot of existing liabilities that we have to continue to fund.”

After opening the floor up to questions from attendees, the topic quickly shifted to the state’s drought situation and measures to address the severe water shortages that California is facing this year. “

There have only been two governors in the state’s history who have done much about water, and their last name was Brown,” said the governor in a nod to his father Governor Edmund G. “Pat” Brown who often cited the development of the California state water project as one of his most significant legacies.

“We have a very complicated system, but I’m trying to move forward,” said Brown. “We definitely need water storage; however, Californians have a very divided point of view on this issue. But, the drought seems to have been a wake-up to people up regarding how critical water is to our state’s prosperity.”

High Speed Rail Chair Dan Richard speaks with Ag Council members at the World Ag Expo breakfast.

High Speed Rail Chair Dan Richard speaks with Ag Council members at the World Ag Expo breakfast.

California High-Speed Rail Chairman Dan Richard provided the keynote address during the breakfast, and preceded Governor Brown on the agenda. Richard gave a detailed presentation regarding the future of the California High-Speed Authority and his desire to see the project move ahead as a solution to California’s burgeoning population and transportation challenges.

Admitting that the authority’s early interactions with the agricultural community have not always been good, Richard emphasized that his goal since being appointed as chairman in 2010 is to make sure that the authority accomplishes its mission of providing a long-term solution to California’s transportation issues.

“If we don’t pursue this project, we will need 2,300 more miles of highway lanes and airport expansions, all of which would be extremely difficult and two to three times more expensive than high-speed rail.”

The California High-Speed Rail Authority’s recently released revised business plan estimates that approximately 4,500 acres of agricultural land in the Central Valley will be impacted by the project. Richard contrasted that to the 50,000 acres that have been converted from ag use to urban development by the City of Fresno.

“We recognize that the threats to agriculture are real, but we also want to create a dialogue that helps farmers understand that the impact may not be as significant as has been portrayed, and that we will be mitigating for those losses,” he added. “Farm by farm, business by business, we are trying to avoid the negative impacts of the project where we can. Where we can’t avoid the impacts, we will mitigate.”

Responding to criticisms about the cost, Richard said that once established the California High-Speed Rail is meant to be self-sufficient from its own operating funds and that private sector dollars will be critical to the project’s success. “I feel that I had a decent reputation before I took this appointment, and I have no interest in being credited with a legacy of building a monument to stupidity,” he added.

CDFA Sec. Karen Ross addresses Ag Council members at the World Ag Expo breakfast

CDFA Sec. Karen Ross addresses Ag Council members at the World Ag Expo breakfast.

The breakfast concluded with remarks from Secretary of Agriculture Karen Ross who focused on the drought and emergency measures being put in place to address water shortages as well as related issues, such as the potential of higher unemployment in the state’s agricultural labor force.

“Unfortunately many of the constraints that limit our ability to respond quickly to real-time problems with real-time solutions are due to judicial rulings and court decisions that we must abide by,” Ross said. “Communication has been much better between the divergent interests, and many are recognizing that increased storage capacity helps all of our issues. We have thrived in this valley and in this state because people had a vision. We need to continue to encourage a willingness in our culture to invest in our legacy.”

A special thanks to Ag Council board member, Mike Emigh, who served as emcee during the Expo breakfast.

 

 

 

 

 

 

President Obama Addresses Drought During San Joaquin Valley Visit

With the severe drought in California, President Obama is in the San Joaquin Valley today to announce additional funding for California farmers, ranchers and others affected by the drought.

President Obama is touring a farm and meeting with farmers in the valley accompanied by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Rep. Jim Costa (D-Fresno).

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the new drought funds announced by the president include:

  • $100 million in livestock disaster assistance for California producers for 2014 drought losses, in addition to funds being made available for 2012 and 2013 losses. Sign-ups for applications are expected to begin by April 15th.
  • $5 million for conservation assistance specifically for California, and $10 million for other states, through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).
  • $5 million from the Emergency Watershed Protection (EWP) Program to protect soils affected by the drought.
  • $3 million in Emergency Water Assistance Grants for rural areas facing extreme water deficiencies, particularly for water quality and quantity issues. Specific communities close to running out of water over the next 60-120 days have already been identified.
  • $60 million for food banks to help California families in drought-stricken areas through the Emergency Food Assistance Program administered by USDA.

To read the entire USDA announcement, click HERE.

Upcoming Drought Info Sessions

Lake Oroville - Jan. 2014 - Photo by the California Department of Water Resources.

Lake Oroville – Jan. 2014 – Photo by the California Department of Water Resources.

The California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) will hold drought informational sessions detailing resources for farmers, ranchers and farmworkers. The sessions will be held at five locations throughout California, including Fresno and Redding/Palo Cedro, during the month of February.

The drought sessions will provide information on various state and federal government programs created to assist farmers with water conservation, crop insurance, and other farm management tools. Details regarding farmworker assistance programs will also be available.

For the dates and locations of the drought sessions on the CDFA website, click HERE.