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Letter to the editor: Keep agriculture thriving

In considering how to vote on measure Q, it is important to realize the benefits of a viable local agriculture and the reasons for protecting and promoting it. 

One interesting point of clarification in this discussion is that there is a difference between “farmers” and “landowners.” Many of the farmers in our region rent or lease agricultural land. Generally speaking, landowners are not the ones doing the actual farming though there are certainly exceptions to this generalization. 

It is also important, in this discussion, to consider the power and influence of long-term land owners in our region—those whose families have owned property for multiple generations. These landowners are most often very well represented politically and all stand to make huge profits from zone changes. San Benito County is rich with examples of these types of landowners. 

The 2020 annual crop report for San Benito County puts the annual value of agricultural commodities at roughly $338 million. It is interesting to note that this value is increasing annually along with total acreage in production, including organic. San Benito County is blessed with an abundance of deep, rich soils and a climate suitable for the production of a vast array of crops, as is evidenced in the annual crop report. Our aquifers are not in critical overdraft as they are in most other agricultural production regions of the state. 

There is a growing awareness of the importance of “local” food production, especially in light of increasing transportation costs and a changing climate. San Benito County will increasingly become the food basket for the greater Bay Area. We must do everything we can to promote a strong and viable agricultural economy in our county. 

Given all of the potential that agriculture has in our region, we have to wonder why the San Benito County Farm Bureau is opposed to measure Q. The Farm Bureau’s primary mission is to protect farmland and ensure that farming and ranching, as a way of life, remain a viable and important part of our rural community. I believe that our local Farm Bureau is interested in their members’ ability, as landowners, to “cash in” on any future zone changes. This seems to be a priority over farmland preservation. 

In our neighboring Santa Cruz County, the Farm Bureau has endorsed the extension of a critical urban growth boundary established 20 years ago that will, if passed, continue to limit the city’s potential encroachment onto productive agricultural land. 

The opponents of measure Q like to say the measure is “bad for farmers.” A much more honest statement would be to state that measure Q is bad for “land speculators.” Clarity is critical here. 

Please vote yes on measure Q. We must not let developers hold sway on our elected officials and allow for sprawl development to go unchecked in our county.

Jim Leap