Monthly, RFD-TV interviews Arizona Farm Bureau President Stefanie Smallhouse. This opportunity gives President Smallhouse a monthly forum for telling Arizona agriculture’s story and at times agriculture’s story on the western half of our country.
So, this latest RFD-TV interview gave her an opportunity to talk about the recent gathering of the Western region Farm Bureau presidents.
RFD-TV: I understand that Farm Bureau Presidents from across the West recently met in California for their annual gathering. Can you give us a little run down as to what these meetings look like each year?
Smallhouse: Every year the Western Region Farm Bureau presidents from the 11 western states, plus Alaska and Hawaii, meet to discuss the challenges and opportunities facing farmers and ranchers across the west. The meeting rotates around the west so we can get out on the ground and see each state’s agriculture and hear from that state’s members, as well as hear from local, state, and federal officials in that specific area. It’s a great opportunity to connect, share insight and brainstorm how we can work together as a region to address agricultural issues.
RFD-TV: The western states must share quite a bit in common when it comes to opportunities and challenges, what were some of the more prevalent discussions among the group?
Smallhouse: As you might expect, the drought is front and center in California in the western states. It’s a common theme among most of us that water is being diverted away from farms for various reasons: to maintain in-stream flow requirements for fish in some states, while in other states, like Arizona, water shortages are felt first by farms because of the priority-use system. In states like Idaho, vital water infrastructure is being threatened just at a time when water and power are so important for western communities and agriculture. This should concern everyone in the country, given that a third of agricultural sales come from the west and over 70% of our fruits and vegetables come from the Western region. The infrastructure bill being debated in the Senate right now was discussed relative to its importance for our region given the potential funding for western water projects.
We also focused on the ag labor shortage. That is common among the westerns states where labor-intensive crops are grown. Several actions occurred in the Pacific Coast states drastically increasing labor costs. These are in no way sustainable in the farm and ranch sector and as a region, there was discussion as to how we can better communicate this to policymakers. Farm consolidation is happening across the west because of the increasing cost and shortage of labor.
The increasing costs to farmers to comply with environmental regulations was front and center in California and a major topic of conversation.
And of course, wildfires are burning across the west and the dryness has exacerbated this issue.
RFD-TV: Were you able to get out and see any of that great California agriculture?
Smallhouse: Yes! The agriculture in California is amazing! Such diversity – and the research and development taking place is impressive. We visited a major cane berry packing and breeding operation to learn about their plant breeding program, stopped and visited with an impressive organic farm right along the coastline – growing a wide variety of leafy greens and vegetables, as well as a citrus and avocado farm and a large winery.
RFD-TV: What do you feel is the most valuable takeaway from the meeting?
Smallhouse: State-led initiatives and legislative actions can be just as impactful to our members as federal policies. For example, learning about what is happening in California, Colorado, Utah and Oregon give the other western states insight and a heads up as to what those impacts might be and how to address those efforts. There are also opportunities which can be mimicked from other states and strengthening the service to our members by learning about membership tools and programs developed in other states is a great benefit to our farmers and ranchers.