Mar 2, 2022 | Blog

3.2.22 Conference Highlights

Department of the Interior officials participating in the Family Farm Alliance’s Annual conference. They – and other high-ranking appointees from the Biden Administration – emphasized how Western agriculture will continue to be of vital importance to this country’s success. 

The 2022 Family Farm Alliance Annual Conference’s theme was Those in the Arena,” a tip of the hat to the famous passage by Theodore Roosevelt’s “The Man in the Arena,” which creates a clear distinction between those who are actively working, and the observers offering only critiques.

America has been a successful society because of its commitment to farmers and ranchers and a predictable food supply. Sadly, that great reality is being challenged at fundamental levels. Production agriculture is being blamed for many of the world’s problems, based on ill-informed descriptions of food production matters.

“It was clear that the high-level appointees from the Biden Administration who participated in the various panel discussions were receptive to the pleas made by our producers throughout our two-day general session,” said Alliance President Patrick O’Toole. “We appreciate their public vows of support for our Western farmers and ranchers.”

Thanks to all who participated in this year’s Annual Conference, from speakers to sponsors to two hundred attendees!

We are so grateful we were able to reconvene in Reno and reunite with Alliance members, esteemed colleagues and friends who we have not had a chance to gather with since pre-pandemic times.

President Pat O’Toole opened up the general session with remarks that emphasized the significance of this year’s theme, “Those in the Arena.” Quoting Teddy Roosevelt: “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena…who spends himself in a worthy cause.”

President O’Toole commented that the negative messaging revolving around the agriculture industry is troubling not only because of the challenges it presents today but because it means he hears members of his generation discouraging their children from farming.

“That is the opposite of what most farmers and ranchers want for their families,” he said.

The opening keynote address was delivered by the Department of the Interior’s Assistant Secretary for Water and Science Tanya Trujillo, followed by recorded remarks by Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille Calimlim Touton (pictured above).

Commissioner Touton emphasized that Reclamation’s $8.3 billion Bipartisan Infrastructure Law allocation represents a generational investment to address the vast infrastructure challenges facing the western water and power communities. Key to its successful implementation, she noted, is an informed discussion among a broad range of federal leadership and stakeholders.

“We welcome the opportunity to have conversations on topics of critical concern to our western agriculture partners,” said Commissioner Touton. “We are reinforcing how the Administration is managing western water in a drier and warmer environment and how the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law enables Reclamation to meet the need for long-term drought adaptation by building a more resilient western infrastructure.”

She made clear that there is no “one size fits all” approach. They will have to work state by state, basin by basin, region by region and a spirit of ingenuity and ability to work together will be imperative to achieving success.

An insightful panel discussion took place at the conference highlighting Solutions from the Land (SfL) members’ recent trip to Glasgow for the COP26 Climate Forum. SfL is committed to finding land-based solutions to global challenges with a focus on production of food, feed, fiber, clean energy and ecosystem services. Their goal is to get farmers to the table in the important discussions that involve landowners and create the opportunity to share real world experiences in the conversation. One key takeaway from their trip? Now is not the time for the “think tank.” Now is the time for the “do tank.” Action is needed.

At Thursday’s lunch, conference-goers were joined by USDA Under Secretary for Farm Production and Conservation Programs Robert Bonnie. He commented that it is not the ”what” it’s the *how.* HOW policies are invented, HOW people are invited to the table. He emphasized the work that needs to be done will be implemented voluntarily, will be incentive based, and locally led.

The Thursday afternoon featured a panel discussion detailing  the “behind the scenes” story of the 2021 grassroots effort – led by the Alliance, Association of California Water Agencies, California Farm Bureau, National Water Resources Association (NWRA) and Western Growers – to provide once-in-a-generation funding for Western water infrastructure. The coalition panelists covered the lessons they learned, noting there was a fear in the group’s early discussions that Western water infrastructure would get lost in comparison to other national infrastructure priorities. They had the foresight to predict that creating a successful campaign and expanding the coalition could be beneficial in their efforts of influence Congress.

NWRA Executive Vice President Ian Lyle observed that the activation of the 220 groups in the Coalition showed broad bi-partisan support and emphasized that engagement helped make it happen. They met with legislators and armed them with the talking points to deliver that to DC policy makers. Coalition members followed up and repeatedly engaged with Western Members of Congress – supported by coordinated media and public relations efforts – to get it done from a grassroots level.

One valuable takeaway was that the group focused on avoidance of controversial and polarizing issues and remained conservative in their messaging. The drought – while unfortunate and challenging – was a unifying event for many business owners and farmers who were desperate to voice their concerns.

“Drought is a challenge and an opportunity because it unites people and makes elected officials feel the energy and momentum behind the issue,” said Dennis Nuxoll of Western Growers,

Conference attendees benefited from words from President Biden’s Water Leadership Team which was moderated by Rob Manning, Chief of Public Affairs in the Bureau of Reclamation. Senior officials – including Interior Assistant Secretary Trujillo, Assistant Secretary for the Army (Civil Works) Mike Connor, and deputy assistant secretaries from USDA and EPA discussed how those agencies are engaging in Western water matters.

A Colorado River panel focused on preparation for the 2026 Colorado River Operating Guidelines, providing the the perspectives of agricultural interests from the Rocky Mountain headwaters to the international border.

Lastly, Jeff Eisenberg led discussion from the Western Agriculture and Conservation Coalition (WACC) on how irrigators and conservationists team up to find success in numerous shared issues ranging from the Farm Bill to taxes.

Awards were given to outgoing Board members Bill Kennedy (past Alliance president) and Alliance founder Dan Errotabere and his wife Susan, acknowledging them for their many years of service in building the organization. The Alliance’s “Water Warrior” award was given to Tom Myrum, who served as the executive director of the Washington State Water Resources Association for 27 years.

Want to learn about more moments you missed in Reno? Check out some of the highlights on our Facebook and Instagram pages. If you don’t follow us there, please take part in the conversation!

Many thanks to conference sponsors and exhibitors Provost & Richard Consulting Group, Intermountain Environmental (IEI), Farmers Conservation Alliance (FCA), Intertape Polymer Group (IPG), Rubicon, Krah USA, Maximized Water Management, Cal Poly ITRC, Elephant Butte Irrigation District, Colorado River Energy Distributors Association (CREDA), SRP, The Freshwater Trust, Kogovsek & Associates, Bowles Farming, YEAH YEAH Agency, Trout Unlimited, and the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District. 

We will continue to keep you informed on this and other developments impacting Western irrigated agriculture.
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