The boards of supervisors of two of the largest agricultural counties in the nation have gone on record supporting agricultural biotechnology crops and the rights of farmers to plant them.

Kings County, Calif., board of supervisors in February followed the lead of the Fresno County, Calif., board of supervisors in passing a resolution supporting biotechnology.

Fresno County is the largest agricultural county in the nation with almost $3 billion in annual agricultural income and its supervisors passed a pro biotechnology resolution in December. Kings County ranks ninth with more than $1 billion in agricultural income.

Fresno County supervisor, retired pest control adviser and grape grower Phil Larson said the resolution passed unanimously by the Fresno supervisors was a show of support for Fresno County and California agriculture. Biotechnology crops have proven themselves to be environmentally sound. He cited the new herbicide-tolerant crops which reduce cultivations and therefore reduce dust emissions.

In passing the resolution proposed by Fresno County Farm Bureau, the board was also told that biotech crops reduce pesticide use.

Kern County Farm Bureau is considering proposing a similar resolution to the board of supervisors there. Kern County ranks fourth in the nation with $2.5 billion in income.

Valley opposition

The heart of California’s $28 billion agricultural industry is the San Joaquin Valley and these resolutions, while not binding, are putting the radical anti-biotech element in California on notice that it may be able to collect enough signatures to put an anti-biotech initiative on the ballot in a valley county, but expect strong opposition like they encountered last fall in Butte, San Luis Obispo and Humboldt counties where anti-biotech initiatives failed. In Marin where there was no organized opposition, voters passed an anti-biotech initiative in November. There is no significant agriculture in Marin.

Earlier the anti-biotech radicals passed a county ballot initiative in Mendocino County banning genetically modified plants and managed to get Trinity County to pass a county ordinance similar to the Mendocino ban. However, that ordinance can be rescinded.

The same group has gathered enough signatures to get a 10-year GMO ban initiative on the ballot in Sonoma County. They are attempting to blackmail the supervisors to pass an ordinance rather than spend the money for a single-issue ballot initiative like the anti-GMO initiative. However, the supervisors are balking at that and are reportedly trying to put off the ballot measure until next fall’s general election to save taxpayers the $500,000 it would cost for the special election.

"Unfortunately all it takes for some group to get an issue on the ballot is 51 percent of the voters who voted in the last election," said Kings supervisor and farmer Tony Oliveira.

Oliveira and Larson said that anti-biotech advocates can expect a strong backlash from any scare tactics or misinformation that radicals put out if they attempt to get anti-biotech initiatives on the ballot in Fresno and Kings counties.

‘Natural progression’

"Biotech is part of the natural progression of advancing science. Biotechnology is a no brainer in agriculture. I have seen what it does on my own farm. It reduces insecticide and herbicide use. I use less diesel fuel because I cultivate less. It reduces dust. It makes farming and crops safer and more efficient and makes farmers better stewards by using less water and improving air quality."

"And it poses less danger than a lot of the native plants we encounter," said Oliveira.

There were about 600,000 acres of biotech crops in California last season, primarily herbicide resistant cotton and corn. Herbicide tolerant alfalfa is expected to be introduced this year.

Larson and Oliveira said their fellow supervisors understand the importance of agriculture in their counties and have a good understanding of biotechnology.

It is the urban population in the state that needs to be educated, said Oliveira.

"The key to turning back these challenges to agriculture is information, not just here in the Central Valley, but in Los Angeles and the urban centers of the state," said Oliveira. "Programs like bringing urban school teachers into the valley and showing them what agriculture is all about will go a long way in providing that information."

e-mail:hcline@primediabusiness.com