Val Dolcini is the State Executive Director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm
Service Agency (FSA), where he is responsible for all USDA farm programs and policies
in the nation’s leading agricultural state.
Dolcini oversees 30 county offices – from Mt. Shasta to the fields of the Imperial Valley
-- whose primary mission is to deliver USDA programs such as farm loans, commodity
price support, disaster relief, conservation support and other available resources to
California’s farmers and ranchers. He has been appointed to this position by two
presidents – President Clinton in 1999 and President Obama in 2009.
Prior to this appointment, he worked for a Fortune 500 technology and management
consulting firm where he guided government relations programs for company clients,
strategized with business teams about relationship development and consulted on a wide
range of political matters. He has also held senior staff positions for the Governor and Lt.
Governor of California and earlier in his career, Dolcini spent several years as a senior
staff member for two California members of the U.S. House of Representatives.
A fifth-generation Californian, Dolcini received a B.A. in History from San Francisco
State University and a J.D. from Golden Gate University School of Law He also
attended the University of Uppsala in Sweden.
Below is a speech given by Val Dolcini, the State Executive Director of California for the USDA Farm Service Agency, to the Woodland Chamber of Commerce on Oct. 24, 2013. The event was the 46th Annual Farm-City Harvest Awards Luncheon at the Hotel Woodland.
Thank you for that kind introduction. I kind of feel like the kid returning to school after a long summer vacation. I’m sure you all remember the first assignment of the year? Writing an essay on what I did on my summer vacation. In my case, it’s what I did during the government shutdown!
Well, I certainly stayed busy. The garage has never been cleaner, the dog has never been walked more, and there’s not a single blade of grass out of place in my yard. But at the end of the day, I’m certainly glad to be back at work!
When the chamber invited me to address you today, I went back and forth over what I should discuss. Coming from my vantage point, there are certainly many worthy topics to choose from. I could talk about the overall importance of California agriculture to the national and international economy … or the value of the world class ag research being done at UC Davis everyday and its impact on global agriculture. We could discuss the cutting edge innovations pioneered by Yolo County’s many seed and bio sciences companies and their positive impact on our regional economy … or perhaps I could talk about the increasing importance of local and regional food systems, farmers markets, community supported agriculture operations, and other farm to fork direct marketing operations in this region.
All of these worthy topics, each in their own way, could be the subject of keynote speeches, books, even doctoral dissertations and they all underscore the simple fact that this county, this region, is really at the center of every leading innovation, every cutting-edge technological development, and every new and profound social change affecting agriculture in the world today. But that’ll have to be another talk, for another day.
While I was thinking about these topics and beginning to flesh out my own ideas on presenting them to you, the government shutdown happened and I was, for the moment anyway, put on the shelf. But shutdown or no shutdown, I frequently tell people that I’ve got the best job in California. Most days, my “office” is one of the many thousands of farms in our great state and as often as my schedule will allow, I’m on the road, traveling the blue highways and back roads of California working with my USDA colleagues in 30 county offices from Mt. Shasta in Siskiyou County to Mt. Signal on the US-Mexico border.
I’ve learned a lot from my travels about what it takes to farm in California in the 21st century and about the many different kinds of farming operations that represent the diversity of the Golden State. From 90,000 acre cattle ranches in Kern County to half-acre organic plots just a mile or two from here and everything in between. What’s more, I get the opportunity to work with and for the men, women, and farm families who not only feed you and me, and our fellow citizens, but who truly feed the world!
California agriculture is a powerful economic driver that fuels our state’s economy to the tune of $45 billion just last year. And for the last fifty years, we have led the nation in total production value. We grow over 400 crops on nearly 90,000 farms and ranches which accounts for over 25 million acres of farmland from Oregon to Mexico. And over 90% of these farms are family farms. Nationally, the numbers for agriculture are equally impressive. Over 20 million jobs have their roots in the US food, fuel, and fiber industry – more than five times as many workers as the US auto manufacturing, sales and service sectors combined. And last year, US ag-related sales alone were larger than the GDPs of over 200 other countries.
My friends, this is an industry that is 100% homegrown and can proudly claim that its products, goods, and services are absolutely “Made in America.” We can all take great pride in the fact that here in Yolo County and throughout America; Agriculture truly grows America’s economy.
But the story doesn’t end with a mere recitation of impressive statistics. The fact that we grow the food that provides safe and healthy choices for our citizens comes as a direct result of public policy decisions that we as a nation have determined is in the national interest -- for both farmers -- and the consumers that depend on them.
Since the days of Franklin Roosevelt, we’ve enacted farm policies on a bipartisan basis, bringing to the table the interests of both rural and urban Americans to ensure that farmers get a fair price for their crops and that a safety net exists in times of natural disaster or national crisis.
And that’s where I come in. For the business people in the audience today, and most of you fit that bill, I’ve got a value proposition for you to consider.
What would you say to an organization with nearly 80 years of time-tested experience, made up of dedicated professionals, who aim to provide personalized customer service, based on a ‘one on one’ over-the-counter relationship? An organization whose sole purpose is to invest in rural communities like this one and farmers and ranchers like those here today. Investments that will reap benefits for local communities, that will multiply the effects of each dollar loaned or granted, that help to create and grow new businesses, which in turn, hire more employees, partner with other businesses, and grow the local economy. Finally, an organization that seeks to be a careful and conscientious steward of your taxpayer dollars.
Of course the organization that I’m speaking about is my own – the US Department of Agriculture. And every day, on issues large and small, we’re working hard to make a difference in people’s lives.
Working to revitalize rural towns up and down this great state. Working to support California’s rural economy by providing loans and grants to each new generation of farmers and ranchers and to the communities they call home. Working to keep invasive pests out of our orchards and fields, restore and conserve working farmland, and working to ensure that our nation’s food supply remains safe for all who depend on it.
And most importantly, we’re working every day to dispel the cynicism that exists about the ability of government to work effectively for the people that it’s designed to serve.
Disagreement over politics shouldn’t mean dysfunction. The stakes for our nation are too high for that. Thomas Jefferson once said that “people get the government that they deserve” and truer words were never spoken.
Do we deserve a smarter, more responsive government at all levels? You bet we do, but we can’t afford to give up on government or the idea that the role it plays in society is still critically important for millions of Americans, young and old, rural and urban, veterans, students, consumers, business-people, … and farmers and ranchers.
I like to tell people that I’m in the American Dream business and it’s true. Just this week, we made our 100th USDA microloan. This innovative new program is designed to bring a new generation of farmers and ranchers into our food system and small loans of $35,000 or less have helped to build new businesses right here in Yolo County and all over the state of California.
And this is just one small example of one government agency in one department that is focused on its customers, their business needs, and on continuously improving the quality of the service it delivers to the citizens of this country. At USDA, we’re in the business of helping people build their own version of the American Dream every day. And we’re doing it one farm at a time.
Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you today.
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