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PD Editorial: The high cost of outlawing farms

The cascading impacts of Measure J — the anti-farming initiative on the November ballot — are coming into focus.

The cascading impacts of Measure J — the anti-farming initiative on the November ballot — are coming into focus.

A multipronged analysis presented to the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors concludes that requiring dairy and poultry farms to scale back operations or to shut down entirely within three years would:

— Result in a big economic hit, beginning with a loss of $259 million in locally produced agricultural products. In addition, a study by the Agribusiness Institute at Cal State Chico projected a $121 million hit on affiliated businesses, such as veterinarians and animal feed providers, and a $38 million reduction in consumer spending attributable to jobs lost because of Measure J.

— Cost 600 people their homes — 320 employees and an equal number of family members who live in housing provided by Sonoma County farms.

— Saddle county government with at least $3 million in unfunded mandates for new regulatory responsibilities, including farm inspections and creation of a “best practices” manual for shutting down dairy and poultry operations, as well as job training assistance for farmworkers who lose their jobs.

— Prompt the removal of an estimated 2.9 million farm animals from Sonoma County and reduce the availability of locally grown food.

That’s not all.

Sonoma County’s climate plans incorporate dairy farms for carbon sequestration, the Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District has invested more than $125 million of voter-approved sales taxes to preserve farmland, undeveloped grasslands are among the best remaining habitats for threatened and endangered species, and local farms are producers of high-grade fertilizer used on a variety of crops, here in Sonoma County and across Northern California.

Moreover, decades of city and county land-use planning — including voter-approved urban growth boundaries — are dependent on preserving a thriving agricultural economy.

Speaking to the Board of Supervisors last week, Yancy Forest-Knowles, a former chair of the open space district advisory board, asked: “Can you imagine what would happen in these prime … agricultural lands without farmers and ranchers being able to use them productively? I would daresay many if not most of these lands would quickly become degraded or sold to developers.”

Measure J is on the ballot because at least 19,746 registered voters signed petitions to ban “factory farming” in Sonoma County. Odds are, most of them were in a hurry and signed without reading the proposed ordinance. But no one should vote on this untested proposal — the first of its kind anywhere in the United States — without reading it carefully. You can find the text here:

The sponsors are affiliated with animal welfare groups that contend dairy cows and egg-laying hens are mistreated on Sonoma County farms. But west county pastures where Holsteins and Jerseys graze bear no resemblance to industrial-sized feed lots like the ones you can see in the Central Valley or Midwest farm states.

The average Sonoma County dairy has 350 cows, and 85% of the farms are certified organic, meaning animals must have access to the outdoors, shade, shelter, fresh and clean water. Proposition 12, an initiative approved by California voters in 2018, requires cage-free egg farming. It is, according to the Humane Society of the United States, “the nation’s strongest farm animal protection law.”

Measure J has widespread implications for the future of Sonoma County, affecting everything from the livelihoods of local families and the food supply to Sonoma County’s place as a pioneer in the organic farming movement. If voters understand what it will do, we’re confident they will make the right choice on Nov. 5.

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