California Farm Bureau Federation President Paul Wenger urged local members to political action in his guest speech Saturday at the annual Tuolumne County Farm Bureau dinner.
Wenger told about 100 people in attendance at the Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Posse Grounds in Jamestown that farmers and ranchers must vote and donate to agriculture-affiliated political action committees to preserve the future of the industry in California.
The state correctional officers union, Wenger said, collects $13 million from its members each year to further its interests in Sacramento. By comparison, agricultural interests are only coming up with about 10 percent of that, he said.
Not all gloom and doom, Wenger pointed out that state farm bureau got legislation approved this year to help revive the Williamson Act, the existence of which he said has been threatened in recent state budget cycles.
The legislation, Assembly Bill 2530, authored by Assemblyman Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber, goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2011. It will allow counties to voluntarily implement new Williamson Act contracts that are 10 percent shorter in return for a 10 percent reduction in the landowner’s property tax relief.
The farm bureau is also actively pursuing federal legislation to ease the tax burden of passing on a family farm to the next generation, with help from U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Wenger said.
Wenger stressed the importance of participation in the Nov. 2 election, in which he noted the California Farm Bureau Federation has endorsed Republican gubernatorial and U.S. Senate candidates Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina, respectively, as well as in the 2012 open primary.
The open primary, which CFBF supported, is important because it may allow agriculture-friendly Democrats to reach the general election ballot, in districts where they have been knocked out in the primary in the past, he said.
“There are some really good Democrats,” Wenger, a Modesto almond and walnut grower, said in a nod to California’s most powerful political party. “We’ve just got to get them elected.”
Wenger did not refer specifically to Proposition 23, which seeks to substantially delay the global warming initiatives of Assembly Bill 32, but noted “the coolest summer in memory” just wrapped up on the West Coast and attacked the burden that new diesel engine regulations have imposed on farmers.
While agriculture produces 30 million metric tons of greenhouse gases annually, he said, the industry can take credit for sequestering 120 million, four times that amount.
Dick Gaiser, president of the Tuolumne County Farm Bureau, praised Wenger’s leadership at the state level as well as his involvement with local issues.
“Paul has stepped up and just done a wonderful job of getting us on track,” Gaiser said. “He’s spent a lot of time in this county and we certainly appreciate it.”