Most bang for ag bucks needed in urban California

It has become a broken record: “California agriculture must tell its story in a convincing manner to California consumers.”

I could not agree more, but are 35 million Californians educable about the trials of Golden State agriculturists? Millions have been spent trying to relate to urban Californians what farmers go through to produce food and fiber in the nation's most expensive state to farm.

And yet most consumers only understand what they see: a plentiful supply of cheap food in their supermarkets. They really do not care what it took to get it there, according to several panelists on a future of California agriculture panel at the recent California Plant Health Association annual meeting.

The question is, therefore, does agriculture have the time and resources to continuing throwing money into the effort when it is staring down the shotgun barrel of issues like ag water availability and land use in a state rapidly headed toward a population of 50 million within a few decades.

Earl Williams, president and CEO of the California Cotton Growers and Ginners Association, says agriculture does not have the time or money to educate the masses. However, it has the financial resources and political muscle to influence the 120 people in the California state legislature who make law and policy for agriculture.

Of course he is talking about the powerful agricultural coalition that delivered on the $100 million ag tax relief package by building political alliances, often with the most liberal urban legislators. That coalition is just getting started with more victories almost assured in the future.

Does that mean California agriculture should abandon its consumer education efforts? Not necessarily. However, continually talking about all the hardships farmers face with supermarket shelves full of cheap food seems a bit foolish. Maybe the message should be changed.

Secretary of Agriculture Bill Jones, a Fresno County, Calif., farmer, is one of the best judges of what consumers will respond to because he has stumped from one end of the state to the other. He says it is simple: California consumers think farming and ranching are important because they provide open space. Seems rather trivial, but it is a message that generates agricultural support from consumers.

It may not be the most efficient use of money to continue programs like the television series Heartland, but it is still necessary. In this era of statewide propositions, agriculture cannot afford to site quietly until an issue arises that must be defeated by the voters. California agriculture must at least be on the minds of urbanites.

A more efficient use of cash would be to do as Williams suggested: jump into the political arena with both feet and plenty cash for politicians' campaign funds.

Williams' approach could be considered a desperate one. These are desperate times and farmers and ranchers had best start looking where they can get the most bang for the bucks.

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