Will the Last Person to Leave California Please Turn the Lights Off? 

While California’s greenhouse gas emission have trended lower in recent decades, worldwide greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase.

Will the last person to leave California please turn the lights off? This is the title of the keynote address I recently gave at the Ag Personnel Management Association (APMA) 2024 Annual Forum. While being somewhat facetious, the thought is a serious one and hits close to home for me. For those conducting business in California, every single day is a constant reminder of how overbearing this state’s regulatory environment is, and how uncompetitive it makes us compared to the rest of the country and the entire world for that matter.

A few years back, a good friend and board member of the Western Agricultural Processors Association, Lincoln Forry, sold his farm and brand-new walnut huller, and he and his family moved to Paris, Texas where he had purchased 3,000 acres of pecans, cotton and grazing land. He had just built a brand-new walnut huller and office in 2015, but in 2016 the state legislature voted in the five-year increase in minimum wage and revised the state’s overtime provisions for agricultural workers. He sat down and did the math, and assuming the commodity prices stayed the same (which they didn’t), he figured they’d be in the red by 2022. Lincoln was a fifth-generation farmer from Colusa and his boys would be the sixth. He decided there was no way he was passing on this burden to the next generation, so they moved.

While I don’t blame him in any way, it is sad. We deserve every right to farm here. We take care of the land, and we take care of our people. And we do so under the most stringent rules and regulations in the world. Even so, our state government continues to search for new ways to tighten the noose and cut off the very hand that feeds this state. Literally!
No other states have worker safety regulations like California does, such as the outdoor heat illness, nighttime lighting or the soon-to-be-adopted workplace violence and indoor heat illness regulations. No states have air quality mandates for electric trucks or electric forklifts, and only Washington has a higher minimum wage than California. California has the second highest minimum wage and the most stringent overtime provisions for agricultural workers. California has the toughest pesticide laws and is the only state that requires reporting of every pesticide application.

But why? In a word…hysteria. In a recent California Department of Pesticide Regulation hearing on Advance Pesticide Notification, several activists and alleged farmworkers testified. Commenters claimed they should be notified in advance of any pesticide application because pesticides cause asthma and valley fever. Another claimed it caused her clothes to fade within four to five days of purchase. Finally, one farmworker who lived in the Cantua Creek area of western Fresno County claimed all the fallowed land in Fresno County was not being farmed because the farmland was so contaminated with pesticides that it could no longer be farmed. Say what? Yes, and the Department of Pesticide Regulation said nothing, and only weeks later reiterated their push for this new regulation because of the outcry of the public. Even though there is not a single shred of evidence of any of these claims, the state is moving forward.

How about climate change? One organization believes climate change is manmade, so they have a campaign against overpopulation. The Center for Biological Diversity is working against overpopulation by carrying out a campaign to protect endangered species from climate change by promoting the use of condoms. “Wrap with care, save the Polar Bear” and “Hump smarter, save the Snail Darter” are just a couple of their slogans to work against climate change. Regardless of your stance you have on climate change, the issue is the speed at which this state is trying to solve the crisis, and the fact that no one else is. The state has already adopted a rule mandating all electric trucks and working on a regulation to be adopted this summer mandating all electric forklifts. In 2026, you will no longer be allowed to purchase gas appliances. Don’t worry about the fact that California has the highest rates in the continental U.S., or that PG&E and SCE have a General Rates Case before the California Public Utilities Commission to raise them another 45%, or that PG&E needs to underground 10,000 miles of power lines at $3 million per mile. That isn’t slowing California regulators down; they are still moving at full speed ahead. There’s only one problem: Despite these far reaching, draconian, bankrupting, slap-your-grandma regulations, worldwide greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase. Hysteria!
If all that isn’t enough, how about the fact that we are the only state to have outdoor heat illness, mandatory COVID-19 and nighttime lighting safety regulations. Adding to that this year will be new regulations on indoor heat illness and workplace violence. Based on nothing. Hysteria!

When pressed, California administrative officials say, “We want to lead the way.” They also claim that “if we do it first, others will follow”. We’re still waiting.

So, what do we do? Fold? Move? No way. Ladies and gentlemen, the time has come. Agriculture must be heard. In most of the hearings for these regulations, agriculture is outnumbered. Sometimes as much as 10 to 1. We can no longer afford to let that happen. The hysteria must be countered. As I drive through western Fresno County, I still remember these empty fields being some of the most productive farmland in the world. Now filled with solar panels or tumbleweeds, we can no longer sit idly by. This is a farm-wide call for action. Whether you belong to WAPA, Farm Bureau, Western Growers or whoever, it does not matter. When they reach out to write a letter, contact a legislator or show up at a hearing, the time is now. This is our livelihood folks, and hysteria is no longer chipping away. It’s a Category 5 hurricane headed right for us.