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Since the last big storm hit Santa Barbara County and flooded parts of Orcutt and Guadalupe, I have heard many comments saying that it is the farmers’ fault. It always surprises me when farmers are the first to get blamed. Are they such an easy target that people do not put any critical thinking into other possible contributing factors? What about urbanization? Poor planning and construction? Overgrown weeds, trees and shrubs in retention basins, drainage systems and riverbeds? Do we think so little of farmers that we are willing to believe city planners, contractors, maintenance workers, regulatory agencies, road developers and others are absolutely perfect in their work that they could not have possibly contributed to the situation?

Personally, I do not believe it is one reason more than any other. I think all are contributing factors.

Not to mention, this storm system was an act of God. A one in 25-year event, they say. Although I have also heard several farmers say they have never seen a storm like this in their lifetime.

Bottom line is that we, collectively as a community, were not prepared for this type of storm system. Besides, farmers were victims, too. The most recent estimate is at $35 million worth of damage to Santa Barbara County agriculture, and we are not done calculating.

My guess is that the next assumption from most people will be “farmers can afford recovery” or “insurance will cover losses.” While those statements are true, to some extent, they are also made in an effort to rationalize catastrophic impact. They are not constructive or empathetic remarks. They are minimizers. It is the equivalent of telling a friend who has been hurt “it could have been worse.”

We offer our condolences to victims whose homes have been flooded, but tell farmers, “Too bad, so sad.” Not only is this extremely unkind but narrow-minded. People are failing to realize that they will be affected by it, too.

We complain about the price of eggs, and that store shelves are emptier than normal. Perhaps, the Cardi B’s complaints about the price of lettuce being $7 will jog your memory?

From the damage I have seen in the Santa Maria Valley, most crops that came into contact with flood waters will have to be destroyed, and flooded ground cannot be replanted for a minimum of 30 to 60 days. These practices are required for prevention of pathogenic growth and the safety of our food supply.

From what I hear, Monterey County had it worse. Thousands of acres of farmland were under water.

It will be interesting to see what happens in the next couple of months when all these crops should have been sent to market. If we think it’s bad now, it has the potential to get worse.

As farmers, we will take some responsibility for flooding events. We do have a lot of ground under plastic that contributes to storm water run-off. But what you may not know is that we also have to adhere to strict state and federal regulations around the preservation of natural habitat and riparian areas that also contribute to storm water run-off.

It is partially those regulations that prohibit farmers from being able to adequately clean ditches and drainage canals to prevent flood damage to their fields and surrounding areas.

There is always more to the story than what meets the eye. We have become so quick to make judgments based on what we perceive rather than what is true.

Our entire legal system is predicated on innocence until proven guilty. Jurors must listen to all sides of the story and be presented with facts before they make a determination. Perhaps our opinions should be formed the same way.

*Also published in Noozhawk.

The Santa Barbara County Agricultural Commissioner recently released its 2021 Crop Report and reported a 5.1% increase in revenue from 2020. While this is good news for our local industry and community, it only paints part of the picture.

The most important thing to understand is that revenue does not equal profit.

The Crop Report reports gross values and does not represent net profit or loss experienced by individual growers or the industry as a whole. For example, what the crop report does not take into account is:

  • The minimum wage increase that adds to labor costs
  • Inflation and supply chain shortages that have greatly increased farm expenses
  • Rising cost of health care and other insurances provided for employee health and safety
  • Increase in theft, crime, and vandalism which adds to labor and farm costs
  • Not all crops are created equally (e.g., strawberries had a great year, but avocados did not)

What farmers sell their produce for is subject to supply and demand. Farmers enter into contracts well before the crop is planted and sell it for a price based on projected demand.

For example, a farmer may enter into a contract for the following season to sell his or her strawberries for $1.88 per clamshell knowing it costs roughly $1.85 per clamshell to grow, harvest, and transport to a cooling facility. The Crop Report bases its numbers on the $1.88. However, for some farmers, the expenses could have surpassed the projected $1.85 costing them $1.87 or $1.89 per clamshell - numbers that are not reflected in the Crop Report.

It is also important to remember that whatever price your local grocery store is selling the strawberry clamshell for, it does not change the price of what a farmer receives. Whether you pay $2.99 or $3.50 or $4.99, the farmer still only receives $1.88 - a price set and agreed upon long before the product hits grocery store shelves.

2021 wasn't what anyone anticipated, wouldn't you say? I think most of us thought the pandemic would be behind us, and life would have resumed to normal. While an improvement from 2020, there was still plenty of change and restriction to keep things uncertain.

We anticipated something different for us too. When I started Facts from Farmers, I had no idea what sort of shape it would take. It was a personal passion project. Last year, we established a Board of Directors and began steps to file as a 501(c)6 non-profit association. With that, we had to evaluate where we exerted our energy under limited resources, so we stepped away from our media outlets for awhile. But that doesn't mean we haven't been active! 

You have to set a strong foundation before you can build a house, and that's what we've been doing.

  1. We started creating our media library
  2. We helped facilitate partnerships in the Santa Maria Valley among farmers and the California Farmworker Foundation
  3. We began nurturing relationships with other associations, organizations, and influentials such as Grower-Shipper of San Luis and Santa Barbara CountiesCalifornia Farm BureauSanta Barbara County Farm BureauSan Luis Obispo Farm Bureau, and SEEAG - the fantastic group behind Santa Barbara County Farm Day
  4. We also began working with the City of Santa Maria and Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors on urban encroachments concerns

As a new association, we are still finding our identity and figuring out how we can best serve our agricultural community. We appreciate your patience and continued support as we navigate establishment.