Capitol Alert

Legislators ride tractors, learn about farm life

By Andrew Holzman

The temperature was heading over 100 degrees Thursday, which may have explained why not very many California lawmakers wanted to drive a tractor through a rice field north of the Sacramento airport.

The event, hosted by the Yuba-Sutter Farm Bureau and John Deere, was meant to attract urban legislators and teach them about farm life. In a drought year, they also wanted to focus on the fight to bring more water to agriculture, potentially taking it away from environmental protection efforts to conserve fish and wildlife.

The six Republican lawmakers who showed up weren’t afraid of that idea. “We’re putting fish before people,” said Assemblyman Frank Bigelow, R-O’Neals.

Organizers from John Deere were eager for legislators to see the efforts farmers make to conserve water.

“What you generally hear is a lot of environmental stuff that puts ... (agriculture) in a poor light,” said Craig Horning, a John Deere employee and farmer who attended the ride and drive. He was one of the employees there to show off a soil-moisture monitoring system that helps farmers save water.

Farmer and Sen. Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber, said the tour was not unlike some that he has taken with other legislators in cities. “This is my life, and my goal here would be to acquaint some of (the urban lawmakers) with it,” he said.

About the number of legislators who also own farms, he said, “We’re not an endangered species in the Legislature yet, but there are fewer of us.”

Bigelow wore his trademark cowboy hat, and Nielsen sported a sizable belt buckle bearing his name and an image of California.

No Democrats showed. Organizers said they plan to hold the “ride and drive” again. Those who participated were pleased to learn the tractors were air-conditioned.