Executive Address – August 2012

Urban Growth Isn’t the Only Kind of Growth

The farmers and ranchers in Madera County and in California are a fortunate bunch most of their days these last several years.  Agricultural land values are the highest they’ve ever been, with barely enough of it to go around.  Crop values are sky high in most sectors, and beef –it’s definitely what’s for dinner.  And for the first time in nearly 100 years, the pace of growing farmland has surpassed growing urbanization.  It’s a good time to be in agriculture –especially in the Central Valley.

But here’s the thing about doing well when times are good –you want them to stay that way.  In fact, you’re more often willing to fight for what’s become the new normal versus settle for anything less.  So although times may be good for the agriculturalist, the stakes are also at their highest in preserving what the industry has felt is long overdue remuneration.

As we band together in this County to pay tribute to the agricultural industry, it’s important to recognize that through unity we grow and become a powerful force.  The Madera County Farm Bureau has done this through a practical application commonly referred to as a lawsuit, where we’ve joined forces with groups from all walks of life, including Madera County and the Chowchilla Water District; to fight what we feel is an imminent threat to our agricultural economy –the High Speed Rail project.  This project places in peril major agribusinesses in the County, along with their ability to employ our residents and sustain tertiary economies of scale County-wide.  This project places in jeopardy thousands of acres of prime farm land to which we can never see replacement value for. This project also severely threatens the ability of our children living in rural areas from attending school or from being bussed there by cutting off a majority rural school bus routes with little or no auxiliary services.

The Farm Bureau, along with its membership, must care about all of these impacts.  To not show empathy places us in a precarious situation of not recognizing how all of these moving parts contribute to one large engine in our County.  Every small component of our highly agri-centric community plays a pivotal role in overall County growth and sustainability. 

Consider a skipping stone creating ripples in a pond.  One ripple begets another, and another, and so on.  If some of these agri-businesses are removed from our County due to the High Speed Rail project, then so too are those employed by them.  This affects our school attendance (and in the rural areas a few students counts for a lot, dollar for matching grant dollar), followed by the tertiary businesses that depended on those agribusinesses, such as haulers or box makers, or the like.  The County loses property tax revenue along with substantial State funds from the properties being removed from the Williamson Act –which is a major dog in our fight, and the Farm Bureau ultimately loses memberships.  This could be a mortal wound –especially when uncompensated by any potential project benefits such as a station stop or a “please pass your impacts on to us with no benefits fee,” sort of like how a toll works in the Bay Area.

Since times are so good, this is why the Farm Bureau fights to preserve and protect the agricultural way of life –because we’d like to see things remain good and to see continued growth in our sector.  Not all growth needs to be the urban kind.  Recently in California’s Central Valley, a trend of zoning swaps has been occurring -where acres previously zoned for residential development, upon remaining undeveloped in this economy, has gone back into agricultural zoning.  Thousands of acres have been converted –but not to an urban use, to an agricultural use.  The greatness of the Central Valley –and I am most certainly biased as a life-long resident, is being restored and an ag use designation is no longer viewed as being just a placeholder use until a better one comes along.  It’s becoming an economic normal –which is a fantastic shift in culture.

As we look forward into our future, the Farm Bureau will continue to marshal its powerful grassroots armies when and where necessary.  Since agriculture is such a positive indicator of County wide prosperity (I will repeat –I am somewhat biased), the Farm Bureau seeks to enhance its role in the community to an even greater degree.  Through some exciting changes happening in our school garden program, along with a greatly expanded list of services; including grant writing, permitting and permit compliance, safety training and prevention –the Farm Bureau is happy to continue to serve the entire compliment of residents in Madera County!

Anja K. Raudabaugh
Executive Director