The $100 million agricultural tax relief package passed last month by the California legislature was the biggest political victory for the state's farmers in 30 years.
And just as significant, it was a major victory for a new coalition of agricultural organizations tired of old line ag lobby organizations compromising and California agriculture suffering one defeat after another.
The coalition was about putting farmers first, ahead of selling insurance and offering discounts on pickups. It was all about taking off the gloves and putting up a political fight for the farmers' rights.
Hanford, Calif., dairyman/attorney George Soares of Kahn, Soares and Conway orchestrated the victory because for the past three decades as a Sacramento lobbyist he had grown increasingly more frustrated watching farmers pay dues into organizations that took political positions in Sacramento opposite to farmers' best interests.
Too often the old ag advocacy model tried to find compromise for fear of losing and usually ended up with substantially worse than compromise.
“Anything is possible if you are in the game; conversely, nothing is possible if you are not in the game,” Soares said.
Soares gathered his ag clients together and told them to step up to the plate by first settling their differences before going to the legislature. Do an upfront analysis of where agriculture wanted to be at the end of the political process and aggressively pursue its agenda. Give politicians a united, clear, factual message and expect to win.
Don't fear urban legislators. Joel Nelsen of California Citrus Mutual said agriculture took the facts of the tax relief ag wanted to the most liberal legislators and walked out with allies.
Forget the excuses about agriculture being outnumbered politically. Forget the notion that urban legislators don't care about farming.
Some $100 million annually in tax relief was no token victory. The next load of diesel fuel delivered to your farm will cost 4.75 percent less than the last load. That tractor or implement or starter you buy next month will cost 4.75 percent less than the last time you went into your local dealer. The cost of farming has been reduced by almost 5 percent.
And just as important as the financial gains was the political reality that ag can win.
Soares downplays his role in putting together the coalition. Others disagree. He was the person who put it together.
“This would not have happened without a thing called leadership from a lot of people elected to state office or in the ag community itself,” said Soares, who called it a “privilege to work alongside people totally involved in making success happen.
“It was rice growers on the phone from Texas lobbying their legislators and then getting on a plane at 6 a.m. in Dallas to get back to Sacramento for a key meeting.
“It was Earl Williams of the California Cotton Ginners and Growers Associations getting on a plane Saturday afternoon to be in Sacramento within hours of an important meeting.
“It was Joel Nelsen of Citrus Mutual, Manuel Cunha of the Nisei Farmer League; Jeff Huckins and Steve Kost of the Far West Equipment Dealers Association; nurserymen, United Dairymen — all my clients — all committed to getting the job done.
“It was my good fortune that a number of my clients stepped up and made this happen by being willing to do whatever it takes to make it happen,” he said.
For too many years the old guard like Farm Bureau have told farmers and ranchers how little they could expect from Sacramento. The truth is now out, and fortunately the game will never be played the same again both in Sacramento and Washington.