As Santa Cruz County prepares to elect a new representative per California’s recent redistricting scheme, now is the time for leaders “in the field” – along with citizens of the county – to educate our incoming official about the unique needs of this community. It’s the perfect opportunity to come together so that our rep can advocate effectively… especially for the agriculture industry.

While Santa Cruz boasts miles of sandy beaches as well as gorgeous state parks that bolster its booming tourism business, it also relies heavily on agriculture.

As California continues to recover from the pandemic, it’s more important than ever for local politicians to set up this vital industry for success.

Last fall, with the passing of Biden’s $1 trillion infrastructure spending bill, federal funds became available. Not as a “future possibility” but in a very immediate and tangible way.

Congress set aside tens of billions of dollars for agricultural infrastructure repair, upgrade, and development. The bill literally earmarked money for California’s ag industry, recognizing that this industry cannot function if infrastructure is broken.

Truckers traversing California contend with ragged roads, unsafe bridges, and increasing traffic. Shippers are gridlocked in congested ports and waterways.

Issues surrounding water are highlighted. Moreover, the administration pinpointed other areas to enhance agriculture: research and development, strengthening the food supply chains for food systems to expand processing capacity, distribution facilities, and food aggregation; and food energy – that is, modernizing energy systems for rural communities by building out renewables and energy grids – which is critical.

The money is waiting, but it doesn’t just materialize. Ag industry professionals, local agencies, and community members must join in educating our new local official so that they can successfully apply for it.

It’s encouraging that right now new projects are underway. One exciting example in ag tech is the cutting-edge, $250 million redevelopment of a 28-acre pre-cooling and cold storage campus in Salinas, set for completion by 2026.

Projects such as this, which benefit grower-shippers, distributors and retailers, are just some of what needs to be accomplished.

Beyond federal funds we need an influx of private investment dollars. The surest way to attract them is through tax incentives.

Tax incentive programs aren’t new. In fact, a federal tax incentive plan was laid out in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of December 2017 called Qualified Opportunity Zones. The plan offered tax incentives to investors as a strategy for infusing sorely-needed, long term private sector funding into infrastructure and other projects in urban and rural areas nationwide. By channeling capital gains from sales of real estate, stock and other assets into Qualified Opportunity Zones such as those in Santa Cruz, institutions and investors receive significant tax breaks, including tax-free appreciation from their investment and a deferral of taxes due on initially invested capital gains until 2026.

Currently, there remains uncertainty regarding what the capital gains tax rate will be at the time these deferred taxes are due. In order to assuage investor concerns, Treasury should proactively fix the 2026 capital gains tax rate for Qualified Opportunity Zone investors, to allow for greater transparency and instill confidence in the program.

We urge state leaders to put tax incentives and other programs for investors into place. At the same time, we must recognize that federal money is available now for public and private companies to develop and build out the infrastructure needed by the agriculture industry.

As a team, concerned citizens, members of the ag industry and our incoming representative can make great strides in obtaining the funds for California’s roads, water, housing, and energy needs.