California grows 400 commercially viable crops and it is one of the most expensive states in which to grow crops because of all the government regulation thrown onto a grower and the state operating with a negative budget. More and more agricultural user fees are being placed on growers as the government doesn’t have general budget funds.

What starts in California is often said to spread across the country, and with the concern about cutting government budgets, farmers and ranchers can expect being required to pick up the cost of agriculture regulation and services. 

“We have cut a lot of programs,” said Karen Ross, secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture. “We started out by cutting out things that would be nice to do, and last year I cut the things that were important to do. We are solely focused on core mission.”

Ross fielded questions from a group of agricultural journalists at a breakfast meeting in Sacramento sponsored by Novozymes earlier this year. She was appointed secretary of the DCFA Jan. 12, 2011, by Governor Edmund Brown Jr. 

“The general fund has historically been about one-third of our operating budget. Our cooperative agreements with USDA, because of all the invasive species and animal disease issues, are part of our budget, and then we have a number of programs that are industry funded. We have quality standards and inspections, we have 54 marketing orders and commissions that run marketing programs. Our weight and measures was historically generally funded; now that entire $400,000 is through fees. So, we are rapidly moving to the same fee position.

“Air (quality) boards, water boards, all the permits needed to move water in the state, are fee funded. A lot of other agencies aren’t dependent on general funds. We (CDFA) have been because of public benefit of public health and safety issues.

If programs aren’t funded or if budgets are cut too much, Ross said, repercussions will often not be seen for three years or more, but there will be repercussions that could require much larger funding to overcome what eventually happens.

Ross sees the inspection to keep insects and diseases out of the state as a prime example of this funding conundrum. Not stopping pests at the state’s borders will result in a costly eradication program three years from now.

“The frightening part is that we will not know some of the impacts for possibly two to three years because what we’ve had to do is cut back on surveillance. It is much cheaper to keep the pests out. It is an expensive system to put in border stations to do the inspections and monitor all the traffic, but it is much cheaper than running one eradication program, and especially having to do it in a state where the urban population is usually where we have to run the program and they are not horribly sympathetic of something they think is being done to them or someone else. That is an ever increasing challenge to running any of our programs.

“So our surveillance has been reduced dramatically, and from when the APHIS inspectors were absorbed into Homeland Security and during the first two or three years at airports and ports of entry, those programs were not running very well. We feel that some of the infestations we are finding today are the result of things slipping through. You don’t know what has slipped through until several pest generations later. We have extensive trapping in the state, but my biggest fear is that people don’t feel it hard right now because it is in the surveillance. The rapid response system that has always been there isn’t there now.

Ross also spoke to the water issue in California, which is becoming more of an issue throughout the U.S. and the world. Water is the issue for the 21st century, no matter the type of agricultural production, she said.

“The availability and quality of water are huge, huge issues. So, it is in the best interest of all of us to figure out the most efficient use of water. I think the renewed understanding of local food security and how that plays into civil unrest and all the issues that we have seen in recent years will put more attention on water, how we use it and making sure that we have water available to grow food because of the fast growing global population. Two hundred twenty thousand new mouths added to the global population every day rapidly gets us a 9 billion population,” Ross noted.

“Here in Calif. we have a couple issues. One is the extreme population growth that we’ve had. We’re number one as the most productive agricultural state and number one most populous state, and we have all these urban centers,” she said.

“Our farmgate value is right at $38 billion and our population is right at 38 million. We were originally projected to be at 40 million people, but the slowdown in the economy has stopped some of the relocation of people to California, and most of our growth is now coming from new births, which is an unusual trend for us compared to the last 20 years.

“We’ve had competition from urban centers, but the most significant change in the last decade in particular has been some of the court decisions around endangered species and water flow issues. That has taken water out of the equation so that it isn’t available to move and give us some flexibility. It is a hard number, and that loss of flexibility has prevented water, even in better years, from going to the Central Valley, unless we have surplus rainfall and snow pack. Two years ago we did. This past winter not so much, but because last year was such a robust year we filled our storage,” she said.

Ross summed up the water issue with one final statement. “Our problem is that we get ample moisture, but it all happens north of here (Sacramento) and it is all needed south of here. So, 25 million people in the Los Angeles basin are dependent on water, and we have all that farming dependent on water, that is the challenge of California water.”