(Feb. 13, WEB EXCLUSIVE) TULARE, Calif. — A seminar at the World Ag Expo, Tulare, Calif., was billed as a California perspective on the 2008 farm bill. A.G. Kawamura, secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, expanded the seminar to a mini-state of California agriculture presentation.

The inclusion of specialty crops in the farm bill was of particular importance to California, Kawamura said during the Feb. 10 seminar, because 90% of the state’s commodities fall into that category.

“Our growers did not ask for a handout, but for a hand up,” he said.

California is committed to what Kawamura labeled the four Es of sustainability: environment, economics, education and equity, which he said includes supporting surrounding communities and the growers’ employees.

On a related issue, Kawamura said some regions of the state — particularly the San Joaquin Valley — are prime locations for alternative energy.

“With its abundance of biomass materials and sunny days for solar power, this valley could become self-powered within 25 years,” he said. “We have that kind of capacity.”

California agriculture faces four major threats, Kawamura said, all of which could shut down the industry. The most serious threat, he said, is outdated infrastructure for irrigation water conveyance and storage that has exacerbated the state’s three-year-long drought.

“California farmers don’t over-water. They don’t under-water,” Kawamura said. “The infrastructure needs to be fixed.”

Non-native species of potentially damaging pests are another threat, he said. To address the issue, Kawamura announced the formation of the California Invasive Species Council, a group that will be charged with preventing and controlling harmful pest infestations.

Threat No. 3 is the failure by Congress to implement immigration reform, which, he said, is essential if California crops are to be harvested in the future.

The final threat is the produce industry’s failure to educate the general public and elected officials. The industry must create the messages, he said.

“If they don’t understand, they don’t support,” Kawamura said. “Political decisions are often driven by opinion, not science and expertise. Everybody is a stakeholder in agriculture.”