From West Hills College

West Hills Community College District, in the heart of the crop-producing Central Valley, helps prepare students for careers in agriculture. The district recently went a step further to help the industry come to grips with water management issues during an historic drought.

WHCCD launched a new public and private policy series, Essential Elements for the Future of the San Joaquin Valley. The first forum focused on the water shortage and its effect on agriculture.

“The Very Last Drop: Managing Water and Food Production” brought together state and regional government officials, farmers, policy makers and environmentalists. The 110 participants gathered at Harris Ranch in Coalinga to discuss water allocation issues that have long plagued the region and came up with lists of key trends and new proposed strategies to narrow the focus of the dialog taking place throughout the San Joaquin Valley.

The event was conceived by Stuart Van Horn, vice chancellor of educational services and workforce development at WHCCD. “Our goal behind development of the policy series was to do what we could to contribute solutions to this unprecedented crisis and the challenges facing the valley,” he said. “We take that commitment seriously and look forward to acting upon the trends developed at the first policy series.”

Participants were welcomed by Frank Gornick, WHCCD chancellor. Key speakers for the day were Victor Davis Hanson, the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution in Palo Alto; Marvin Meyers, owner of Meyers Farming I-IV, Oxford Farms, Inc., and Meyers Farm Family Trust; and Sandra Schubert, undersecretary for the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

Throughout the course of the event, highlighted points were recorded and displayed on a screen. Each participant was given a clicker and was asked to vote on the most important action items.

Overall, the group agreed on 10 top trends that were discussed during the March 27 forum. Some of the goals include focused public relations efforts, thinking globally to solve technical problems, utilizing technology to increase water supply, expanding bio-based products manufacturing in the San Joaquin Valley and strengthening alliances in the Valley.

Another part of the action plan is to assess and communicate the impact of regulatory decisions on economically distressed areas and find ways to balance restrictions on agriculture’s water needs while still protecting environmental concerns.  While Maintaining Health, Safety and Environmental Standards

The 10 top trends were identified as:

  1. Improve public perception and deploy focused public relations efforts

  2. Make San Joaquin Valley issues “go-to” instead of “drive by;”

  3. Assess and communicate impact of regulatory decisions on people in economically distressed areas;

  4. Amplify shared core values to create & strengthen alliances in the San Joaquin Valley;

  5. Insist on improved research and support to rebalance the fish-ag equation;

  6. Perform economic impact analysis scenarios: with expansion or without expansion of surface water;

  7. Think globally to solve technical problems – become a laboratory for the world;

  8. Infuse and utilize technology to increase water supply, resiliency and reliability;

  9. Expand bio-based products manufacturing in the San Joaquin Valley; and,

  10.  Ensure West Hills Community College District’s capacity as the “backbone” organization translating new Ag related technologies into job training with career potential.

The group defined water stewardship in terms of agriculture as “the use of water in a manner that optimizes agricultural water use while addressing the co-benefits of water for food production, the environment and human health.” They spent the evening discussing sustainability and came up with 12 recommended strategies:

  1. Improve Access to Safe, Healthy Food for All Californians   
  2. Ease the Burden of Regulation on Agriculture While Maintaining Health, Safety and Environmental Standards    
  1. Secure an Adequate Supply of Water for Agricultural Purposes 

  1. Assure a Strong Labor Force through Fairness to Agricultural Workers and Employers
  2. Effectively Detect, Exclude and Control Invasive Species
  3. Adopt a Policy of Conserving Agricultural Land and Water Resources
  4. Expand Environmental Stewardship on Farms and Ranches
  5. Promote Renewable Energy & Substitutes for Fossil-Based Inputs
  6. Assure Agricultural Adaptation to Climate Change
  7. Promote Robust Regional Markets for All California Producers
  8. Cultivate the Next Generation of Farmers and Ranchers
  9. Promote Agricultural Research that Anticipates 21st Century Challenges               

Two more forums are scheduled for this year on different topics affecting the San Joaquin Valley. “Energy Development and Transmission” is scheduled for June 12 and “Trade and Logistics” is September 18.

 Visit for further details from the event and the two upcoming forums. Contact Stuart Van Horn at 559-934-2131 or for more information.