Farmers protest Farm Bureau board action

Thursday, May 22, 2008
Letter to the Editor, Merced Sun-Star

It must have been a slow news day for the Merced County Farm Bureau News; the banner headline read: “Farm Bureau Board of Directors Unanimously Support Longtime Champion of Agriculture”.

This endorsement in the District 4 County Supervisors’ race prompted several subscribers to toss the newspaper, unread, into the trash. At least one Farm Bureau member canceled her long-time Farm Bureau membership in disgust. I called the State FB legal office in Sacramento to ask if they condoned this situation.

The attorney I spoke with assured me that all was in order: seven members of the 28-member FB Board constituted a quorum, even if some of them left before all of the business was done.

Yes, he said, the endorsement was valid even if one of the members of the Board who sat through the entire endorsement proceeding was the “Champion’s” husband.

The attorney saw no impropriety when I told him that each candidate in Districts with a contested race had submitted answers to questions deemed important by the Board. Only the comments from Claudine Sherron, the other candidate from District 4, were conspicuously absent from the news article; the FB news even printed the comments from all of the candidates in District Two, where no endorsement was given.

My mother is a Gamble; members of her family have farmed in this very community since 1852; my Dad, Walt Bettencourt, founded our ranch on Shaffer Road in 1939. My brother, Mike, has worked our land since he was tall enough to drive a tractor. We’ve been members of the FB for as long as anyone still alive can remember. I think that qualifies us as “Agriculture” in Merced County .

The “Champion of Agriculture” has not seen fit to provide substantive representation for us or our community (Amsterdam/Hopeton) despite five years of attempts. Despite 156 years of continuous family history in the community, we have to pay an out-of-district fee to get buried!

We’ve petitioned for representation, at least through a MAC, since 2000 when we were unceremoniously dumped into the Snelling MAC, where 5 of the 7 members must reside in the Snelling-Merced Falls School District . Hopeton and Amsterdam each get one vote.

The plight of farmers and agriculture in Merced County has steadily declined during the 13 years in which we have been represented by the “Champion of Agriculture”. It is time for a new look at what constitutes a champion.

We are looking for Claudine Sherron to provide fresh insight and a new perspective to the many problems facing Merced County agriculture.

Pat Bettencourt Ferrigno