By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Farmers plow through red tape, not fields
Buying produce or nuts at the grocery store or local farmers' market is a typical day-to-day activity for most consumers. What most shoppers don't know is that farmers jump through regulated hoops just to put that food on the shelves.

A farmer's job doesn't only consist of planting trees; watering them and watching them grow. There are dozens of regulations that dictate each move a farmer makes in the process of producing the food that everyone consumes. Most of the regulations add time and money to farmers' expenses, giving them little return on their investment.

"Most regulations are made with good intent," said Vito Chiesa, manager of Chiesa Ranch Corporation in Hughson and Stanislaus County supervisor. "We want clean water and we want clean air. We don't want to do anything to detriment our future. We are environmentalists."

Even with these good intentions, the regulations cover every aspect of a farmer's job from the pesticides used on the crop to the water used for irrigation to the burning of the trees after the crop is harvested. Regulations cover employees and the dust that is kicked up in the orchards.

Not only does following the regulations add time and money but they add more paperwork that makes it difficult for farmers to keep up with as small business owners.

"The paperwork is dumped on us and small corporations can't keep up with all the paperwork," Chiesa said. "Twenty percent of our workforce works on paperwork."

Randy Dickey, owner of CR Orchards in Turlock, said he didn't even want to attempt to figure out how many hours a week it takes for his company to complete required paperwork. He didn't want to think about how much time is spent on filling out papers instead of harvesting his walnuts and almonds.

The paperwork comes from all the required documentation needed to show that all regulations were abided by for the safety of their employees, the crop and the environment.

For example, to spray pesticides, Dickey has to document all chemicals used in his home-made pesticide, how much water will dilute the pesticide, when he plans to spray the pesticide and on how many acres, how long he will spray the pesticide and when anyone can enter onto the orchard that was sprayed with the pesticide. A notice of intent and notice of completion has to be filed with the county every single time he sprays an orchard.

Besides farming acres of walnuts and almonds, Dickey also applies pesticides on other orchards. He sprays about 2,500 to 3,000 acres per year in 20 to 30 acre pieces.

Most farmers hire Dickey as an applier so they don't have to deal with the paperwork, said Jennifer Dickey, consultant for Mid Valley Agriculture Associations, Inc, and Randy's daughter. The individual farmers still have to document when and what was used on their crop, but Randy Dickey still has to document everything from a notice of intent to a notice of completion with the county.

For each time Randy Dickey sprays a crop it takes about two to three hours for paperwork, Jennifer Dickey said.

"It takes the same amount of paperwork for a 10 acre piece or a 100 acre piece," Randy Dickey said.

Sometimes the paperwork even prevents the farmer from being able to go farm his or her own land because it is too time consuming keeping up with all the regulations and documentation.

"We just wanted to be a family farm and get paid a wage but that's not how it works," Chiesa said, who farms walnuts, almonds and peaches. "My dad had that opportunity to go out and work. Now I don't have that opportunity because I have to make sure we are following regulations."

Dickey's main challenge on his almond and walnut farm is with employee regulations, he said.

He has to train his employees on everything from sexual harassment to each individual chemical used in the pesticides being sprayed on their orchards.

Workers on the farm have to be fit tested for their protective masks while they spray pesticides; they have to be trained for heat stress and exhaustion, tractor safety and chain saw training, just to name a few, Jennifer Dickey said.

"There are more and more laws that farmers have to abide by every day," she said. "Any piece of equipment they use they have to have safety training on it annually."

But again, the regulations have good intentions.

"It's to my benefit to make sure my employees are happy and safe so they can come back to work the next day," Randy Dickey said.

A recent bill that will add another regulation for employees on a farm is the Overtime Bill or SB1121 that passed through the State Assembly July 1.

This bill will prevent employees from working over eight hours a day or 40 hours per week without overtime.

Typically, employees work 10 hours a day six days a week without overtime, Chiesa said. It is normal for agricultural employees and they even request to work more to bring in more income.

"Now workers will only work 40 hours a week instead of 60 hours a week so the employees will suffer," Randy Dickey said. "This bill will force farmers to hire more workers."

"It could add cost to the bottom line," Orvis said. "Many of the workers say 'give me hours, give me hours' and now they will have less hours. They will take home a smaller income."

Along with this new bill, there are more regulations that have been coming out this summer and some feel like it is done on purpose.

"The Legislature tries to get the crop of regulations out when the farmers are trying to get their crop out," Orvis said.

When farmers are harvesting they don't have time to go up to the Capitol and battle regulations, said Orvis, and this is why the Stanislaus County Farm Bureau fights for their 3,500 to 4,000 members of farmers to make the regulations realistic for the farmers and legislators.

They make phone calls and send letters to local legislators to fight for farmers in Stanislaus County, he said. Under the Bureau there is a Farm Team that also sends out e-mail action alerts that allow members to send out letters to their legislators.

"We get information out then we get people to act," Orvis said.

But again, the regulations have good intentions.

"The intentions are best but many of these rules are covered," Orvis said. "A lot of them seem to be revenue generating for California."

Many farmers agree with the intentions and the benefit of the regulations even though it costs them more time and money. It has become normal to them.

"We don't even think about it," Chiesa said. "We just accept it. It's good for us because it's good for the environment and we accept that. I am OK doing my part and a lot of farmers are."

Hoops may have to be jumped through and extra paperwork may pile up, but farmers "just wanna farm," Randy Dickey said.

"It's a great life," Chiesa said. "There is always something to do but small businesses working with regulations is becoming challenging. All of the regulations together are a burden, not just one in particular."