Farmers have no end of worries: Will it rain too little? Will it rain too much? What is ailing the bees? Will the price of nuts be high enough to cover my costs?
State government can’t do much to alleviate such worries. But we shouldn’t be increasing them by piling more regulations and reporting burdens onto the backs of farmers.
Start with trucks. You’ll find them on every farm. Under a 2014 law, diesel trucks made before 2010 are supposed to be removed by 2023. Most of the gross polluters are big rigs used to haul goods up and down California’s highways. Since only a relative few big trucks are used in farming, farmers were given limited exemptions.
A 2018 lawsuit forced the state to alter its rules for granting those exemptions.
Now, relatively small diesel trucks – including many pick-ups – fall under the state’s stricter rules. So a farmer who bought a one-and-a-half-ton truck in 2009 to haul farm equipment from one orchard to the next will have to replace it. Never mind that she might use that truck only six or seven times a year or that it rarely leaves the farm; it’s got to go.
For keeping an infinitesimally small amount of carbon out of the air, the small farmer will pay an enormous cost - $80,000 to $100,000.
That’s nothing compared to the threat of lawsuits. Farmers are not secretive, especially with each other. Sharing information about what works (and what doesn’t) is an essential part of neighbors helping neighbors. For example, when farmers began applying fertilizer through drip and micro-irrigation systems – now it’s called fertigation – they shared their methods and now it’s common practice.
Farmers are required to share how much fertilizer, like nitrogen, they use with their local Farm Bureau. Nitrogen helps plants grow and increases yields, but using too much allows it to seep through the root zone and into the groundwater below. The bureau compares yield to use, and if a particular farmer is using too much, they are asked to explain. Fertilizer is expensive, so most farmers are amenable to learning about better methods.
In my district, farmers meet annually to discuss practices, problems and solutions. Earlier this month, some 3,000 farmers, mostly from District 21, got together to share information.
Now, other entities are insisting this specific farming data should be public, making it available to people who don’t understand farming or who don’t like it. Such people could use that data to sue individual farmers for using more fertilizer than they deem necessary.
Big, corporate farms - still rare in my district - have experts to deal with all the regulations and reporting requirements imposed by the state. Small farmers have only themselves.
Sadly, these requirements are driving many small farmers to sell out and move on. Often, the buyers of their farms are large corporations.
As my friend Wayne Zipser, executive director of the Stanislaus County Farm Bureau, told me, “We’re seeing consolidation of farms and dairies, and a lot of it has to do with regulations. The little guy has to do all this reporting and replacing of equipment, but that little guy needs to be out on a tractor.”
Virtually everyone in my district knows a farmer. We trust them to farm in safe and sustainable ways. Why? Because it’s in their best interest - and ours.
Farmers in the Northern San Joaquin Valley produce food we can trust, food we all want to eat. Worries over water, bees and fees are enough for them to deal with.
At some point, piling more regulations, rules and reporting requirements onto their proverbial plates will mean taking food off ours.
Adam Gray represents the 21st Assembly District, which includes all of Merced and part of Stanislaus counties.