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Who do you trust? Farmers or bottom line corporations?

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POSTED June 19, 2013 11:38 p.m.

Bob Cabral, Walter Woodward, Nick DeGroot, and Dave Phippen all share two common threads.

They are — or were when they were alive — farmers.

They are also all forward thinkers.

Cabral was an almond grower. He also served for years on the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors.

He is the reason why Manteca — and the rest of the region — are holding an ACE when it comes to future economic growth and improved quality of life. Cabral’s commute consisted going between orchards and other farm property he owned or leased.

Cabral, though, understood the commute over the Altamont Pass was crushing for those who made it daily to support their families. He believed rail passenger service was the answer. Cabral also was convinced that ultimately it would be an economic boom leading to a reverse commute that could bring jobs to San Joaquin County. In the end, the key driving force behind establishing the Altamont Corridor Express service was a farmer.

The benefit to Cabral was zilch. The positive impact on the welfare of future generations is immeasurable.

Woodward was a pioneer farmer who worked 160 acres near the present day intersection of Airport Way and Woodward Avenue.

The sandy loam was fertile, but limited. Woodward — and other like-minded farmers — believed they could build a solid foundation for Manteca’s prosperity for generations to come by forming an irrigation district and securing water from the Stanislaus River.

The end result was the South San Joaquin Irrigation District. For 114 years, the SSJID has built on the foresight of the original directors who were all farmers. It did so without asking the state or federal governments for a cent to build canals and dams.  Today, the SSJID has ample water that is provided to farmers at the lowest cost in the state, a state-of-the-art water conservation system and program, and half ownership of a series of dams that are free and clear of debt. Farming has been viable in Manteca, Ripon, and Escalon for 114 years and will continue to be so thanks to the vision Woodward and others shared.

DeGroot was a farmer who also served on the SSJID board. He decided it was imperative that water rights secured by the SSJID be shared with cities to ensure their prosperity and to secure a strong economic future for their residents. He also didn’t like the idea that SSJID water could be taken away and used elsewhere in the state while local communities could go begging.

DeGroot wanted the cities in the South County to have surface water. His fellow board members were skeptic and the cities were anything but enthusiastic about the idea. DeGroot related how he’d think about ways to make his idea work in his spare time. He’d even lay awake in his bed thinking about it.

The end result are the cities of Manteca, Tracy, and Lathrop have a reliable secured source of water that Ripon  and Escalon will also eventually tap into.

DeGroot is why you can turn on your faucet and not worry about water barely trickling out.

It’s all because of a farmer.

Phippen is one of five current SSJID board members who all think about the future. They understand the foundation of their prosperity was built by those who went before them.

Phippen is typical of the board. He’s business smart as evidenced by his almond hulling and shipping operation that serves global markets. He understands that power costs are a killer. He also is concerned that his neighbors — whether they are city residents or fellow farmers — are paying more than they should for retail power.

It is why the SSJID stepped up to the plate and undertook the epic struggle to reduce power costs. They understand the $12 million in annual savings they can deliver will be a big boon for the economies of Manteca, Ripon, and Escalon. They also see the big picture that lower cost power will drive job growth as well as help those on tight budgets be able to breathe a little easier when stretching financial sources.

Farmers by nature have to be forward thinkers. They get one or perhaps two shots a year to recoup their expenses and make money to support their families and invest in the next year’s production cycles.

They need to analyze the smallest expenses. They can’t afford to waste water, electricity, or fertilizer because it all costs money. They often have to understand foreign currency exchange rates.

They try not to borrow money as a bad year or two could wipe them out and cost them their farm and even their home. To succeed, they have to be conservative how they approach everything whether it is finances or how they use their land.

Farmers are stewards of the land. They can ill afford to abuse it for without land that can produce they have nothing.

They understand the importance of controlling costs. And given the fact they operate on razor thin margins, they know the importance of long-term investment to keep those costs down.

They have no choice.  They have to constantly search for ways to keep costs down for they have to produce more per acre oftentimes just to tread water.

It’s not fun taking on Goliath or trying to get past a government gatekeeper who believes not in function but in obstruction.

Yet toil on they do. And it’s not for corporate profits. It is because they believe they have an obligation to strengthen their community and build for future generations.



This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at dwyatt@mantecabulletin.com or 209-249-3519.

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