(Jan. 15) If you’re planning a trip to California this month to visit suppliers, Jan. 18 might be a good day to visit the San Francisco Bay Area.

That’s when more than 100 women plan to march through the streets naked to draw attention to just how evil the U.S. is. Nothing makes you want to chuck national security and let Iraq get weapons of mass destruction like 100 naked women, huh?

Now, I’m not promising these alleged peace activists are going to be attractive or that they’ll have a rational message. To be honest, I’m expecting “Dumb and Dumber” with armpit hair. But you never know. And I think you could justify the trip to San Francisco on the expense account with two words: continuing education.

It’s a new year, after all, and that means Congress and state assemblies are headed back to work, with one side full of ideas on how to redistribute wealth from business to the chronically unemployed and special interest groups and the other side figuring out ways to consolidate wealth in the top 1%. Caught in between are the legitimate interests of worker and entrepreneur alike to improve their lot, and, in the case of the produce industry, to increase consumption.

From opening foreign markets to leveling the international trade playing field to protecting domestic production from foreign pest infestations, numerous critical issues for agriculture are at stake this year. And while there is some hope that a Republican Congress (motto: Let the workers eat cake!) might turn its compassionate conservatism toward specialty crops and agriculture, the industry has a plethora of competing interests with powerful lobbies and deep pockets working against it.

In today’s political arena that favors emotion over logic, it takes a lot more than rational arguments to win government or public interest. So in fighting for its own interests, it might behoove agriculture to adopt some of the tactics of the so-called peace protestors or even Mexican farmers who recently raided the country’s legislature on horseback to protest the North American Free Trade Agreement.

This could be particularly the case in California, the country’s largest producer of fruits and vegetables and, under a left-wing stranglehold in which “Democrat” is spelled “S-O-C-I-A-L-I-S-T,” one of the least business-friendly states.

California Gov. Gray Davis (motto: Taxes don’t kill people; businesses do.) is facing a $30 billion deficit this year. Even with a tax increase planned, it would be surprising if the state followed through on its $5 million commitment to the Buy California agricultural promotion program. After all, the state failed to give the program $3.5 million it had promised in 2002.

But California agriculture faces even bigger problems under an unsympathetic state government, and labor is a leading example. Davis turned away from agriculture, one of his traditional supporters, last year when he signed into a law a bill requiring mandatory mediation in labor disputes.

Supporters of the bill, pointing out that the law requires mediation rather than arbitration and has both a limit on the number of cases it can be used for and a sunset clause of five years, argue the law is a compromise. Growers respond that the law is unconstitutional, violates their rights and could put smaller growers out of business through increased costs.

What is clear is that Davis signed the bill under intense pressure from the United Farm Workers union, which staged weeks of rallies at the capitol and a long march that crossed the state in support of the bill. Growers, busy running their businesses, did not have the resources for a similar effort. You can expect the UFW to start filing lawsuits under the law soon.

And the assault on agricultural business interests in California extends even into personal choices of vehicles. The hysteria over SUVs and large trucks has grown so large that it wouldn’t surprise me if the state started requiring 10-day waiting periods and background checks to buy one. As it is, there is a groundswell of support for additional taxes or other penalties for purchasers of the vehicles.

I understand the opposition to SUVs in urban areas, which need Humvees about as much as San Francisco needs another hippie. A Salinas-based computer engineer I know just financed roughly $4 billion for a new Chevy Avalanche, only to have an elephant escape from the zoo and give birth in the back. Luckily, he still had room for his entire family, and the added weight only dropped his gas mileage from 5 to 4 per gallon.

But take it from a guy who’s gotten his Ford Taurus stuck in more than one field, large vehicles are critical for agriculture. And growers shouldn’t have to pay penalties just to be able to do their jobs getting produce to the table.

Produce and agriculture have strong voices in their trade associations. And as good a front-page photo as it would make, maybe we don’t need Bill Lyons, secretary of California’s Department of Food and Agriculture, marching naked into Davis’ office to make a point.

But make no mistake. Forces that oppose many agricultural interests are mobilizing and taking their arguments public. It’s critical that agriculture support its own lobbyists with every bit as much fervor.