Western farmers and ranchers are voicing opinions on an overabundance of issues that directly and indirectly impact agriculture during fall annual meetings for agricultural associations.

Seed industry concentration and U.S. Food and Drug Administration food recalls were on the laundry list of issues discussed by farmers and ranchers during the 2009 Maricopa County Farm Bureau (MCFB) annual meeting held in Chandler, Ariz., in September.

The Maricopa County farmers weighed seed industry changes and expressed concerns over the future costs and available supplies of biotech and conventional seeds.

The resolution adopted by the farmers says: “Farm Bureau members are concerned about the increasing concentration in the seed production industry and its impact on the cost of biotechnology-enhanced seed and the availability of biotech seed suited to regional microclimates and markets.”

“In addition, conventional and organic growers are concerned about (the) future development of conventional seed to meet their needs and the cost of this seed.

“Growers are also concerned about genetic modification of wheat seed because of the potential for restricted availability of conventional wheat seed and seed adapted to regional microclimates and markets.”

Farm Bureau is a grassroots, bottom-up organization, where local (county) members develop proposed solutions to agriculture’s challenges. County Farm Bureau farmer members run their potential solutions up the flagpole at local and county annual meetings. Local resolutions, if adopted, become county policy.

Suggestions on state and national issues adopted at the county level are catapulted to the state Farm Bureau. If approved by farmers there, state issues become state Farm Bureau policy. National and international ideas are evaluated at the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) level — each level by farmers.

The MCFB group endorsed two-year Arizona Department of Agriculture’s (ADA) private applicator certifications and grower permits rather than the current one-year version. The technologically-savvy group supported related Internet-based testing and renewal.

The farmers lashed out at the long-term impact of U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) food recalls.

For example, the FDA in June 2008 urged U.S. consumers to stop eating raw red tomatoes due to a salmonella Saintpaul outbreak purportedly linked to tomatoes. The illness was later traced to peppers, not tomatoes, at a farm in Mexico.

As a result of the recall, tomato growers experienced soured prices and demand for tomato products. FDA never issued a follow-up statement indicating U.S.-grown tomatoes were safe to eat.

The adopted MCFB resolution states, “The Food and Drug Administration should have the responsibility to issue a statement advising the public when a food safety issue has been resolved, and when a threat to the public no longer exists. This statement should be made with the same emphasis that food safety warnings are initially issued to the public.”

The farmer delegates also discussed the timely payment of agricultural products delivered on credit. Every producer should have the right to lawfully retrieve product if the payment is not made under the contract terms or pursue legal recourse, the delegates agreed.

“Farm Bureau strongly recommends that producers obtain signed agreements under the universal credit code before delivering products on credit.”

Surprisingly, the delegates spent the most time discussing litter and related problems caused by trash in cotton and alfalfa fields. They endorsed state legislation to reduce litter (cans, bottles, plastic bags) on highways, roadsides, and public and private property, plus a cash deposit on beverage containers.

Other MCFB-passed recommendations called for full-federal funding of the Arizona pink bollworm (PBW) eradication program, including full federal payment of sterile moth program costs. The delegates urged cotton growers to strictly grow Bt cotton through the duration of the Arizona program.

The Arizona Cotton Research and Protection Council (ACRPC) administers the PBW eradication program. According to ACRPC Director Larry Antilla, the sterile moth program is currently paid by federal funding. Trap monitoring, pheromone and insecticide treatments, and ACRPC organizational costs are paid by growers.

On renewable energy, the MCFB delegates agreed that any law requiring a renewable energy portfolio should provide full credit for existing and future hydroelectric generation.

Following the policy discussion, the 8,000-member county Farm Bureau thanked eagle-eyed law enforcement officials who nabbed suspects this summer who allegedly stole about $30,000 worth of hay in 50 reported thefts in the greater Phoenix area.

Law enforcement and the MCFB worked hand-in-hand to help solve the crimes. The Avondale Police Department developed and distributed a hay theft bulletin to crime analysts statewide. Officers with Phoenix’s Maryvale and South Mountain precincts established special watches near stacked hay. The MCFB provided stacked hay locations to law enforcement.

The Buckeye Police Department arrested a key suspect and tied it to a Sherriff’s Department arrest of the same individual. The Maryvale precinct coordinated with Buckeye police to tie the suspected thefts in Phoenix.

MCFB members Steve Perez and Brandon Leister, both hay growers, led the Farm Bureau charge.

MCFB President Paul Van Hofwegen, a Tollesen, Ariz., hay grower, presented the officers with a Certificate of Appreciation, adding, “At recent (hay) prices it was hard to believe that hay was the new copper.”

In recent years high prices for copper led thieves to steal the metal from farm irrigation pumps in central Arizona. Ironically thieves switched to stealing hay which is now less valuable due to recession-linked declines in farm milk prices.

“Good cross-boundary police work helped catch these guys,” said Jeannette Fish, MCFB executive director.

MCFB awarded its first Heritage Award to Ruth Gieszl, Gilbert, Ariz., for her outstanding long-term service to agriculture and Farm Bureau.

The Gieszl family began farming in 1902 and has grown cotton, grain, and hay over the years.

Kevin Rogers, Arizona Farm Bureau president and a Maricopa County cotton, hay, barley, wheat, and corn grower, painted a troubling view of politics and agricultural issues in Washington, D.C.

“We have to pick our battles; the stakes are high this year and next year,” Rogers said.

Federal cap and trade legislation would increase farm input costs if passed by Congress, the state and national farm leader said. “This legislation has no value for Arizona farmers and ranchers.”

In criticizing the proposed federal Clean Water Restoration Act, Rogers said, “The Act as written would allow the feds to have authority over every drop of water in this country; whether it’s tail water running across the bottom end of a farm field or a pond on a ranch.”

Rogers says Arizona is a strong supporter of maintaining water as a private property issue.

email: cblake@farmpress.com