San Diego County Farm Bureau
Last updated 4/17/2008 at Noon
For North County farmers, 2007 had its share of challenges and 2008 is proving to have its own.
Many of those challenges were born in the stories that made headlines about freezing weather, fires, water shortages and immigration reform. If insect problems are added to that list, it’s a pretty good inventory of the issues that the San Diego County Farm Bureau has been working on in hopes of keeping farming as a way of life and an important economic contributor to the region.
It comes as a surprise to many that San Diego County has the 12th largest farm economy among all counties in the United States. With most of that farm production centered in North County, farming is a significant part of the community.
Growth in farm production has been dramatic over the past two decades, making it worthwhile to face up to the most recent set of challenges.
It has now been more than a year since freezing temperatures took a toll on local groves and nurseries. Evidence of the low temperatures can be seen in the avocado trees on hillsides that were cut back, or “stumped,” to remove frozen limbs and branches.
Many of those trees are showing signs of vigorous re-growth, but it will still be some time before the owners of those trees will be harvesting fruit and restoring their income.
Growers whose trees were burned, but not destroyed, by last fall’s wildfires can employ the same stumping technique. In the cases where trees were completely destroyed, decisions are still being made on whether to invest in new trees or to start over. Nursery and flower growers face similar decisions.
On recovery from natural disasters, Farm Bureau would like to see a restructuring in the crop insurance program.
First, coverage should be available to all farmers. Then, issued policies should give farmers options of insuring not just the crop they are about to harvest but the trees, vines and bushes that will produce future crops.
Growers who lose their production capacity are on their own to replant and then withstand months or years without income until production is restored.
In addition to workable crop insurance, farmers should also have access to disaster loans which are now readily available to homeowners and businesses.
Water is proving to be a real challenge as we move away from the wet winter months. Under the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California’s Interim Agricultural Water Program, participating growers are now facing mandatory water use reductions of 30 percent.
While the first action by every grower was to ensure the efficiency of their irrigation systems, 30 percent cuts will result in lost production.
Locally, the Farm Bureau has been watching to make certain the cuts are applied fairly and uniformly. On the state level, the Farm Bureau is speaking out on the need for fundamental improvements in the state’s water infrastructure to take care of a growing population so farmers won’t constantly be faced with restrictions.
Because we are both an urban and farm county, farmers here face a special threat from the introduction of insect pests. The sources of these pests are the traveling public and those who would try to make a quick profit by smuggling commercial shipments of products into the state without inspection.
Such a situation exists with the Diaprepes root weevil, a Caribbean native by way of Florida. Now found in several San Diego County neighborhoods, this bug will destroy citrus and avocado trees among the 270 known host plants. The ability of nurseries to ship plants is severely restricted in areas known to have the pest.
The California Department of Food and Agriculture has made great progress in eradicating the known populations; however, the call for cuts in the state budget has resulted in the recommendation to end the fight.
A recent University of California study showed that an established population of Diaprepes root weevils in California could result in $3 billion in annual damage to farmers and consumers, not to mention the tons of pesticides that would be used regularly to protect crops and home landscaping.
The San Diego County Farm Bureau has assumed the lead role in convincing the state legislature to restore the eradication funding.
Any discussion about local farming in 2008 wouldn’t be complete without a mention of immigration reform. Farmers continue to hope that Congress will institute a guest worker program for agriculture before farm labor shortages that have been felt across the country affect the ability of growers here to plant, tend and harvest their crops.
While many might look at the challenges facing farmers and wince, farmers are a resilient group, accustomed to being tested. When considering the important role farming plays in the region, the challenges are well worth facing and resolving.