While the legislature is out of session for the year and kids have been home enjoying a well-deserved break from masks and computer screens – there is no off-season for farmers or the Arizona Farm Bureau. The social, political and natural environments which impact our industry are constantly changing regardless of who controls the levers at the local, state, or national level and AZFB is on the lookout.
I recently attended the Arizona Women in Agriculture Conference and had the opportunity to hear from a panel of consumers about what is important to them when making food choices for their families. What struck me was that even though each panelist was speaking from a different perspective, with different priorities, they were all passionate about how food influences their daily lives. For a couple of panelists, the types of food they eat is literally a matter of life and death. For another panelist, food and the gathering around meals and flavors is essential for a sense of family and community. The fourth contributor to the food conversation was focused on the importance of creating a loving and flavorful meal for their family at an affordable price. This “Tailgate Conversation” encapsulated why what we do is so important, why the consumer cares so much and how we communicate matters.
Arizona Farm Bureau President Stefanie Smallhouse
While the average consumer might be focused on food choices, food safety and affordability, many others are focused on the natural resources vital to growing food, economies, and the environment. Earlier in the month, I sat in on a Pinal County water stakeholder meeting where it was announced that no further development would occur in the Pinal Active Management Area (AMA) using groundwater within that AMA. As the competition for water increases, this will no doubt have an impact on farm water and value. This is happening at the same time everyone awaits the August 2021 24-months study which will likely confirm a Tier 1 Shortage declaration on the Colorado River, eliminating the ag pool allocation. What is being termed the ongoing mega-drought, has exacerbated the water availability situation in the Gila Valley where farmers operate under the heavy burden of the Arizona Water Settlements Act of 2004.
On a recent Arizona farm tour with American Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall, every stop mentioned the ongoing struggle to find workers. The situation is especially challenging on Arizona dairies. There is no agricultural visa program in existence for year-round work. To date, the only legislative offering is a temporary fix with long-term consequences for farms due to unsustainable wage requirements, limited worker visas and creating a high-risk litigious environment on your farm. It is certainly a labor bill, but not one for the farmer.
That said, it can be easy to get overwhelmed when considering the multiple outside forces impacting your ability to farm or milk cows. I am not sure how anyone could grow a crop or care for animals if it were up to each of us individually to defend our rights, secure our resources, advocate for a fair playing field, educate those around us and communicate to the consumer. In the last 100 years, several generations of farmers have been able to rely on Arizona Farm Bureau and its grassroots foundation to empower you to speak out on these issues through policy development, communication training and classroom resources. And when you can’t leave the farm, the Farm Bureau family steps up and ensures your voice is heard. While we work on issues for all of agriculture, here are some of the recent actions beneficial to the crop and dairy industry:
Communication & Outreach
- Member product highlights – radio, social media
- Issues awareness – national media, social media
- Engaging County leaders for county Farm Bureau support
- Keeping membership informed – webinars, newsletters
- Ultimately generating 17,654,270 impressions (reach) in the last fiscal year
- In classrooms all over Arizona presenting ag facts: multiple programs and teaching tools made available at no cost to teachers/students
- Educating Arizona’s Educators – Summer Ag Institute
- Educating 141,662 students, teachers and parents in this last school year.
- Working with Yuma and Pinal Counties on air quality monitoring issues
- Advocated for a producer supported fee increase for Citrus Research Council, allowing them to raise more money for critical research
- Passed policy at the national level to ensure changes to American Farm Bureau dairy policy and make allowances recognize the unique dairy industry in Arizona
- Secured an Arizona dairyman to serve on AFBF Dairy Working Group
- Successfully lobbied for $6.6 million in additional funding for the Arizona Department of Agriculture, including much-needed updates to technology and equipment for the state agricultural lab, which is critical for the dairy industry
- Conveyed the importance and use of pesticides for Arizona crops through comment letters to the EPA – on average, three per month
- Supported Right to Farm Legislation - Prevents unwarranted lawsuits against agricultural producers in Arizona by limiting punitive damages and allowing Courts to award costs and fees in favor of the agricultural operation (passed)
- Supported tax cuts and reform which will alleviate the impact of tax-increasing propositions on small businesses across Arizona (passed)
- Opposed a bill that would have mandated certain animal husbandry practices and set precedent for unfounded animal rights claims in Arizona (failed)
- Advocating for inclusion of $55 billion for water infrastructure in a bipartisan bill
- Supported a surface waters protection bill for the state that is clear, restrained, and puts Arizona on solid footing to challenge to federal overreach in WOTUS. (passed)
- AZFB served on ADEQ Stakeholder Advisory Group
- Continue to look for ways to help farmers in the Gila Valley find solutions to ongoing water allocation issues and maintain open communication with lawmakers on these issues
- Prevented passage (or hearings) of bills to limit the use of groundwater outside the AMAs
- Advocated for the non-forfeiture bill (removes the risk of forfeiture for non-use if water is being conserved) (passed)
- Engaged directly with ADWR to ensure significant stakeholder input for the implementation of the 4th Management Plan and the drafting of the 5th Management Plan – continuing to work closely with irrigation districts to make sure BMP program meets the needs of farmers across Central AZ
- AZFB serves on Governor’s Water Augmentation, Innovation, & Conservation Council (multiple sub-committees)
- AZFB serves on Colorado River Arizona Re-consultation Committee
- AZFB doing multiple media interviews to bring awareness of the impending CO River shortages and the impact that will have on Arizona producers
- Supported budget funding for $200 million in drought mitigation
- Lobbying for the reauthorization of WHIP+ for 2020 disasters
- Facilitated communication opportunities with Senatorial offices on ways to improve the Farm Workforce Modernization Act in the Senate so that the H-2A program will be usable by the crop and dairy industries and highlight serious concerns with the current wage structure and liability risks
- After they were left out of the first round of CFAP, successfully lobbied for the inclusion of key Arizona crops such as alfalfa, Pima cotton, nursery crops, and floriculture in CFAP 2
- Helped lobby to include farmworkers in 1st tier of COVID vaccine eligibility
- Food Safety:
- AZFB has provided critical information regarding food safety practices and challenges to the AFBF Food Safety Issues Advisory Council
- AZFB has engaged on multiple occasions with news media and social media to bring awareness to all that is being done to maintain the high food safety standards in place on the farm
- Advocating for fair trade agreements which do not discriminate against Arizona farmers using biotechnology, sanitary and phytosanitary tools.
- Advocating for strict enforcement of terms in the USMCA trade agreement.
- Provided congressional testimony as to the importance that farming plays in carbon sequestration and highlighted the regional differences in farming practices of the arid southwest
Some of these things you may already be aware of because you have stepped forward to engage in these efforts. But we know that not everyone can be on the front lines of every fight and still tend to crops and animals or spend time nurturing your families. That’s why we have the Arizona Farm Bureau; through it, we can be involved in every effort and be on the front lines of every fight and help join the fray when it can have the most impact.
It is a privilege and an honor to stand at the farm’s edge on your behalf and provide you with the tools to succeed in a rapidly changing environment both politically and economically. In our 100th year serving our members, we look forward to the next 100 years!
Editor’s Note: This article is the second in a two-part series about the Arizona Farm Bureau’s work on behalf of farmers and ranchers: Whether on the Ranch or at the Legislature, the Work is Never Done!