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Fees and regulations — are farms getting their money’s worth?

Posted on April 3, 2017 by Sonoma Valley Sun

The Farm Bureau is now celebrating its 100 year anniversary in Sonoma County, a very impressive accomplishment. The milestone has led me to think about regulations, licenses and fees in our industry.

Back then, licenses and fees were almost nonexistent. Even when my father Warren started his own business in Graton in 1964, these were few and far between.

Over the last 50 years, government has grown and so has everything that goes along with it.

To be in business or to start a business today is a daunting task. It costs farmers money from the bottom line to license business practices we would most likely already be doing.

In our family business, we pay five figures in licenses and fees. This will be six figures in the not so distant future. We pay fees to license our trucks and vehicles, fees to be a Farm Labor Contractor (FLC), a fee to operate as an FLC in Sonoma County, to have a pest control business in Sonoma County, to plant a vineyard or orchard in Sonoma County, to inspect emissions from our trucks, to generate and store materials labeled as hazardous such as diesel fuel and oil, to use water for frost protection and not to mention permit fees any time we want to build something.

With all these fees and regulations, are we getting our money’s worth? Aren’t we, as family farmers, already looking to be good stewards of the land and do things sustainably for future generations? When will we be maxed out on government involvement?

A good example of this is an article in The Press Democrat on March 6 titled “Flooding fix to begin”. Green Valley Creek near the town of Graton has been overflowing its banks and flooding into a Farm Bureau member’s vineyard for 66 consecutive days starting January 3rd to March 10th. This problem has been getting progressively worse over the last 10 years.

With the work of the Gold Ridge Resource Conservation District, Sonoma County Water Agency (SCWA) and 5th District Supervisor Lynda Hopkins, an emergency plan to dig out the channel was put into action only to be stopped by the Department of Fish and Wildlife. The California Endangered Species Act required this project to have a permit. The process was expedited and a permit was issued after two weeks with work beginning on Monday March 6.

During these two weeks, the water and fish continued to go over the road into the vineyard. This was proven on March 10th when the water was diverted into the newly cleared channel. SCWA staff biologists did a sweep of the vineyard that day and collected several hundred fish from the vineyard.

How did this two week delay and $32,500 in permit and mitigation fees help protect the fish? It seems that as government, regulation, licenses and fees have grown, comment sense has shrunk.

Although often well intentioned, regulations and fees are burdensome and putting family farmers out of business. Today, less than two percent of the population is involved in agriculture – 100 years ago when Farm Bureau was started and the Denner Ranch was still in its infancy, this number was more than 31 percent. As family farmers, we are faced with increasing challenges to keeping our farms viable for the next generation every day.

– Steve Dutton, President, Sonoma County Farm Bureau 

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