A major challenge facing agriculture is the need to overcome the lack of understanding that often exists among the public and the regulators who set policies for growers and other segments of the ag industry. The challenge summed up on the California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom's Web site, www.cfaitc.org.

“As generations of Americans become more distant from their agrarian origins, fewer and fewer people understand agriculture's importance to society. Yet, increasingly, people with limited agricultural knowledge and background are determining agricultural policy. What the future holds for agriculture will determine the quality of life for all — farmers and ranchers, suppliers, food processors, wholesalers, retailers, consumers.”

The lack of understanding between agriculture and the urban population poses a challenge, of course, but the California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom (CFAITC) is helping bridge the gap. This year CAFA became part of the effort when it worked with the CFAITC to finalize an Alfalfa Commodity Fact Sheet. The project was spearheaded by Jesse Richardson of DowAgro, one of two industry board members on CAFA's Board of Directors.

The CFAITC's two-page fact sheets for alfalfa and other ag commodities gives children the basics, ranging from how the crop is grown and harvested, to information about economic value. Alfalfa's economic value is impressive, especially on a national basis. Among U.S. crops, alfalfa ranks third in value, behind corn and soybeans. The fact sheet points out that the “national value is more than $8 billion each year, not including the value of dairy or other animal products. In California, alfalfa is planted on more than one million acres and has a value of nearly $1 billion annually.”

Students will also learn about alfalfa's contribution to dairy production, importance as a wildlife habitat and its value as a rotation crop that “adds nitrogen to soil and improves soil structure for future crops.” Page 2 of the fact sheet features a quiz and lesson plan suggestions that utilize food products directly related to alfalfa.

The CFAITC's Commodity Fact Sheets and other educational materials are the only connection to agriculture for many urban children. The Foundation's Web site notes that school children receive “the knowledge to make informed choices. Some students will choose agriculture as their life's work.” It adds that, “All students as future voters will make decisions about agriculture.”

Risky business

An issue that recently raised a red flag for CAFA and other ag related groups involves Assembly Bill 1983. If enacted into law, it would authorize the State Reclamation Board to expand its primary mission of flood control to include ecosystem restoration in collaboration with state and federal agencies. A provision in AB 1983 also allows acquisition “within or outside the boundaries of the drainage district, by purchase, condemnation, or by other lawful means in the name of the drainage district, all lands, rights-of-way, easements, property or material necessary for the purpose of bypasses, weirs, cuts, canals, sumps, levees, overflow channels and basins, reservoirs and other flood control works, and other necessary purposes, including drainage purposes.

The bill passed the Assembly, pretty much along party lines, and in mid-June CAFA made its concerns known to the Senate's Agriculture and Water Resources Committee. The recent levee break at the Lower Jones Tract, with an estimated $74 million in damages and repair costs, should give pause for thought and underscore the need for the Reclamation Board to focus on flood control.