From trespassing to state land leases and immigration reform, members of the Arizona Farm Bureau outlined positions on these issues as part of the organization’s annual convention.
More than 100 delegates representing farmers and ranchers from across Arizona gathered Thursday in Mesa to discuss issues important to the state’s agricultural community, network with colleagues and recognize their members.
"This meeting is so important to us. It gives marching orders to Farm Bureau leadership and staff," said Kevin Rogers, Fa rm Bureau president.
The Farm Bureau is a nonprofit organization of more than 17,000 members statewide, including more than 5,000 Arizona farmers and ranchers. The group lobbies elected officials as well as governmental bodies and regulatory agencies on behalf of its members.
"It’s really important to belong to an organization that represents farm interests," said Dan Thelander, who was most likely Tempe’s last cotton farmer and now farms several crops in Maricopa.
"Agriculture is always subject to a lot of different kinds of laws and regulations that really impact our business. And as time goes by there are fewer and fewer people that have agricultural ties. We need to keep the message and our needs flowing out there," Thelander said.
At the Thursday meeting, delegates supported "comprehensive immigration reform" that would create either a guest worker or some type of viable work program that gives agriculture "a way to have good legal help on the farm," Rogers said.
Delegates also approved policies that support President Bush’s efforts to eliminate capital gains and estate taxes, which Farm Bureau members believe unfairly punish large land-holders.
"This really affects farmers and ranchers to a big extent because our wealth
tends to be in our land," Rogers said.
Delegates also reaffirmed previous policy stances and approved slight changes in positions on issues including trespassing laws, state land leases and water releases.
Members support the passage of trespass legislation that would free property owners from liability should a trespasser get hurt on their land. They voiced continuing support of state land policies that benefit education while allowing continued access to agriculture.
Delegates also voted to oppose any efforts that would change the designation of a man-made lake or reservoir, such as Lake Mead of Lake Powell, or a release of water that is not related to human water needs, the generation of electricity or floodcontrol measures.
Because water is at such low levels, members expressed concern that designated areas may be changed and noted that reservoirs and lakes are regulated under different sets of federal rules.
Much of the groundwork on these issues had been done in advance of the convention, with policy positions developed as a result of meetings held by farm bureaus on the county level.
Today’s gathering is expected to focus on Arizona’s nine-year drought and issues related to the use of water by agriculture. "We need to be prepared and start making some policy decisions about how we’re going to move forward," said Jeannette Fish, executive director of the Maricopa County Farm Bureau.
Water allocations to agricultural business has been cut by a third for a third year in a row, which is akin to "telling Intel that you can only have two-thirds of the silicon you need to make computer chips," Fish said.