Published in the Kern County Valley Ag Voice – February 2014 Issue
Being a farmer is not an easy career path. It’s a calling, a tradition, a labor of love and a way of life. We farmers work hard – dawn to dusk, year-round – and agonize when our harvest is threatened, but we know that our livelihood feeds people and creates jobs, results that provide satisfaction like no other.
Aside from representing Senate District 16, I grow cherries just outside Hanford, and my business makes up only a small part of California’s $48.5 billion agricultural industry, but our Central Valley is far and away the leader in all that vast production. Seven of the top ten producing counties in the state are right here in the Central Valley, and the combined value of their production is $28.7 billion, well over half the statewide total. In fact, if the Central Valley was a state, it would be ranked first in the nation in agricultural production.
And jobs? According to recent figures from the state Employment Development Department (June 2013), California’s agriculture industry provides 642,400 jobs statewide, with over one-third of those jobs – 227,300 – located right here in the Central Valley. Those jobs represent over ten percent of all the jobs in the region.
The overall number of jobs agriculture provides is actually much larger, because those figures don’t include all the people who transport the produce, commodities and farm animals, all those who process everything, or those who stock the end products on the shelves in supermarkets and corner grocery stores. Government reports lump in all these jobs with service and industry figures.
Wouldn’t you think that with all the jobs and economic value that agriculture pumps into the economy government would be laser-focused on how to support and grow the industry? Some think so, but the truth is, sadly, not so much.
One prime example: water. Even though drought conditions are not unusual in California, 2014 is shaping up to be one of the driest years in state history. The lack of rain and snowfall has left state and federal reservoirs with dangerously low levels. Water rationing is unavoidable, and the impact to farmers will be huge. Estimates are that without access to adequate water allocations from the State Water Project, the San Joaquin Valley could see the fallowing of possibly 300,000 to 500,000 acres – an area of 700 square miles. This will devastate farm workers, valley cities, businesses and consumers that rely on agriculture for a living.
Water is the lifeblood of agriculture, the Central Valley relies on agriculture, and planning adequate water storage for dry years should be Government 101. Yet putting the long-awaited water bond on the ballot – which would provide $3 billion for water storage facilities and smooth out the amount of water available during drought years – has been stalled for years as politicians debate the value of fish versus people.
Government needs to continue to support agriculture – not further hogtie it. With unemployment in the Central Valley consistently well above the state average, we cannot absorb any more loss of jobs or decrease in wages that would occur should agriculture become more and more strangled by government regulations and restrictions.
Agriculture is the economic base of the Central Valley, the most productive agricultural region in the country. It’s a cornerstone of our state’s economy and the nation’s food supply. It’s a jobs engine for our region and I’m proud to be a part of it. I will continue to fight to make sure our voice is heard in Sacramento.