California’s agriculture secretary is as adamant about what he calls domestic food security as he is about the homeland security that has dominated America’s consciousness since 9-11.
A.G. Kawamura, secretary of California’s Department of Food and Agriculture, ranks domestic food security as one of his five pillars of stone for the sustainability of California and the nation’s agriculture.
"Do not confuse this with homeland security," the Orange County, Calif., strawberry grower told the California Agriculture Symposium in Sacramento recently. The security he is talking about here is a national policy to ensure that America can feed, clothe and fuel itself as a nation.
It is not just a California agricultural issue, but a national issue, one where the nation must be willing to invest in its food, fiber and fuel supply.
He is talking about the 2007 Federal Farm Bill he says should be a vision on where America’s agriculture will be in 5, 10 or 50 years. That new farm bill should provide the domestic security of America’s agriculture.
He was not ashamed to use the word "subsidy" as in subsidized American agriculture. "Do not confuse subsidy and investment. They are very much the same thing," said the man who has been California’s agricultural leader for the past year and a half.
It is not the time to back off that "investment. We must find a way to keep American and California agriculture alive and well" and in a position to supply food for a world of seven billion to eight billion people as well as all Americans.
"We cannot meet that challenge if American is blinded by people misconstruing what the future of American agriculture will be."
Kawamura said he was "incensed" recently at a statement in a Sacramento Bee article about the Central Valley Project that identified California agriculture as "declining in relative importance."
"The fourth largest agricultural economy in the world does not sound like relative insignificance. It is an important part of the world and this state," he said.
Four other pillars
As a keynoter for the two-day ag symposium organized by key agricultural centers at the University of California, Davis; California Polytech State University, San Luis Obispo and California State University, Fresno, Kawamura outlined four other pillars of stone as the foundation for the future of California agriculture.
One was the importance pest exclusion and homeland security in protecting the state’s $28 billion agricultural industry. "There is nothing more important than that," he said.
Kawamura’s pillar No. 2 is what he calls "working landscapes," the recognition that agricultural is a natural resource like any other part of the environment. Agriculture "must not be pushed out of the environment," he said.
California fresh fruit, tree nut and vegetable industries will play an increasingly larger role in the health crisis facing the U.S. and the world and is Kawamura’s third pillar. This role ranges from helping Americans eat better and reducing obesity and diabetics to feeding the undernourished.
"There is a wonderful opportunity for California agriculture to provide food to address those issues," said the Orange County, Calif., farmer.
The emergence of biofuels and solar and wind energy offer "tremendous opportunities for California agriculture," said Kawamura. "Creating our own energy future with biofuels crops would help with crop rotation, help some financially struggling crops and improve soil tilth."
It would also make the U.S. more energy efficient and not vulnerable to terrorists for its energy supplies.
"Forty-two percent of the electrical energy generated in this state is used to move water around — that is 42 percent that could be supplied by agriculture," he said.
It will take effective leadership and a convergence of agricultural segments to achieve the goals necessary to preserve California agriculture in the future, but Kawamura is optimistic it can be accomplished.
California agriculture is "good at one-year plans, what about the future," he said.
Kawamura recognized that he was "preaching to the choir" with his remarks, but he admonished the audience with "can see sing?" and come together to meet the challenges.
Segments of California agriculture have proven they can change when challenged with such issues as the environmental regulations and food safety.
He challenged his audience "to be absolutely determined to get better at what we are doing."