The Ventura County Farm Bureau is very active on the local land-use front, promoting at every opportunity our new land-use policy adopted last year. This stance has been a notable change as we are "for" something rather than being cast defensively as "against."
Although this switch has the benefit of confusing those who would like to count on our opposition to create publicity, its less visible nature has concerned even some of our own members.
The Farm Bureau disagrees with the Save Open Space and Agricultural Resources (SOAR) campaign. We believe there are far better means available, specifically voter-approved urban growth boundaries, to protect agricultural lands. Were land-use issues so simple, we would never need a SOAR.
Land-use complexity behooves serious attention to rational processes that take into account the interests of all stakeholders. We do not wish a vocal minority to stampede fellow voters into mandating ill-conceived 30-year locked-in zoning for open space and agriculture.
Fortunately in this county, with its Guidelines for Orderly Development, we have a head start and a basis for rational decision making. Our processes need a major stiffening but they definitely set us apart from Los Angeles and Orange counties. The Farm Bureau is working faithfully with the Agriculture Policy Working Group to achieve substantive additional protections for agricultural land that will benefit all stakeholders: the landowners, farmers, government and, importantly, our urban neighbors. To this end we last week forwarded a set of far-reaching recommendations to the committee.
Terribly outnumbered as we are, we in agriculture recognize the peril in ignoring the legitimate desires of urban citizens. Besides that, you are our customers.
Zoning has long been a sensitive issue for farmers since ag has historically been considered an interim zoning for land awaiting its ultimate use--development. Times have changed, and the Farm Bureau believes agriculture should be considered an ultimate zoning category like any other.
Any property owner has the right to request a zoning change but there exists no right to be granted such change. If we do not want to farm we have a right to sell out, within our zoning designation. Any property owner has this right--it is the American way--and for ag it is a way of adjusting to change without ruining the resource.
In the farming community, our honored traditions of culture and history sometimes obscure our view. We wish the freedom to farm that is vital to the long-term success of agriculture. The other shoe is that freedom is the commitment to reasonably keep our prime farmland in agriculture.
We cannot succeed in agriculture in an environment in which the prospect of development continually either threatens or beckons. Like any business, we seek the infrastructure and social conditions that allow us the fair opportunity to profit--but nobody owes us $10-a-box lemons or dollar-a-pound avocados. Viable agriculture cannot be defined so narrowly as simply growing the crops at which we are currently successful.
Competition is tough. In the last few years Ventura County's most valuable crops have become part of the global market. Up to 30% of our produce is exported into markets that demand highest quality on an absolutely reliable basis. If we don't perform we lose the market to someone else, instantly.
That is also true domestically. We must grow what our customers want--at the rate of $800 million to $900 million of sales a year. It is not possible to turn this large industry into an organic operation that sells only to local farmers markets or grocery stores. The markets and stores would choke and our farms fail.
Our urban neighbors have given us the new burden of providing them with inexpensive open space. They need to keep in mind that only a prosperous agriculture can meet this need. Our pathway of working with all the stakeholders to substantially improve protections for agricultural lands is difficult and success is uncertain. In this environment, ag voices that propound development rights play into the hands of opponents who seek "evidence" of agriculture's "duplicity" to sway the voters. Those farmers who wish to be developers are not without a legitimate viewpoint but another organization must represent those views. The Ventura County Farm Bureau's land-use policy is crystal clear: We are for agriculture.
Balancing the open-space needs of our urban neighbors and the growth needs of our cities with the conditions necessary for agriculture is not easy. We will continue to work very hard to achieve positive and fair protections that favor the long-term prosperity of agriculture in Ventura County.