Two years into his job as California's agriculture secretary, A.G. Kawamura continues to sound the alarm of vulnerability for California and U.S. agriculture.

Kawamura, an Orange County, Calif., strawberry grower before accepting a position in Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's cabinet as head of California's Department of Food and Agriculture, says California's $32 billion agricultural industry has never been more vulnerable to intentional or unintentional threats of disease and pest and he has bolstered CDFA to stave off those threats.

The former head of Western Growers told more than 1,000 at the annual conference of the California Association Pest Control Advisers in Reno, Nev., he has put back into focus the primary role of his department to protect the plants and animals in his state.

He calls it protecting “life systems,” and he grows frustrated when he runs into what he calls the “hypocrisy” of citizens who want abundant food and fiber and lush landscape, but do not understand what it takes to achieve that.

He cited specifically the Davis, Calif., city council that opposes aerial pesticide spraying to control mosquitoes to prevent the spread of West Nile Virus. He called Davis, home to the University of California, Davis, one of the “most highly educated” scientific communities in the world yet it is a community that continues to fear pesticides.

“It is alarming and difficult to understand,” he said and yet those same people who oppose spraying for mosquito control enjoy endless, lush soccer fields and parks made beautiful with chemicals. “It is amazing how people do not understand the threats to the life systems of our state.”

Fend off threats

Nevertheless, Kawamura pledges his department's continued efforts to fend off threats from pests and diseases only heightened by globalization. The unfolding avian flu world health crisis is an example of nations not dealing with plant and animal issues aggressively as they are in California. Now the U.S. and California must face the threat.

He praised California's pest control advisers for being in the forefront of preventing diseases and pests from damaging the state's crops.

Kawamura said 97 percent of health care dollars are spent treating illnesses and only 3 percent is spent on preventative health care.

“In agriculture, you cannot have 97 percent of your crops sick,” he said. He praised PCAs for nurturing crops to prevent problems much like a teacher nurtures students to grow and learn.

Not only is the food supply in California threatened by pests, the nation's food supply is at risk politically as Congress begins work on the new 2007 farm bill.

He called the federal farm bill an investment the nation must make in the security of America's food supply, yet politically, it has never been more vulnerable.

While the challenges have never been greater in agriculture, Kawamura is optimistic that California's $32 billion agriculture industry will continue to grow.

He cited two areas where he believes that growth will come. One is the increasing emphasis on improving human health and the concern with obesity in America. Eating more fruits and vegetables is a key to solving those problems and specialty crops are the backbone of California farming.

Pacific Legal

Increasing energy costs is another opportunity for agricultural growth. “I am excited about how the emphasis on renewable fuels can impact California agriculture. Turning waste into energy can create a lot of new businesses in California agriculture,” he said.

One of the biggest nemeses in farming and ranching has been the federal endangered species act, which the Sacramento-based Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF) constantly battles in court to protect citizens' property rights.

Russ Brooks, head of PLF's Seattle office, told CAPCA members the privately funded foundation loses more cases than it wins. However, it is not deterred from its goal of protecting private property rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution from being stripped away unfairly under the guise of protecting endangered species.

There have been successful challenges in recent years, specifically in questioning how the fish and wildlife agencies administer the ESA.

For example, the government declared all streams in the West critical salmon habitat. This was challenged by PLF, and 80 percent of those original critical habitat streams were de-listed.

The foundation also pointed out the hypocrisy of salmon being declared endangered while at the same time federal agencies were clubbing to death hatchery-raised salmon that would otherwise be released into streams.

PLF also has successfully forced the federal government to review every five years the more than 200 species classified as endangered in California because review is part of the endangered species act.

Although many would like ESA repealed, Brooks said that is not likely. However, the House has passed an ESA reform bill authored by California Congressman Richard Pombo. Brooks said the reform act, which will likely come before the Senate for a vote next year, brings “more balance” to ESA.

e-mail: hcline@primediabusiness.com