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What is Ag?

Dan Mufson
This presentation was made to the Napa County Planning Commission on Sept. 30, 2015 as they were considering the recommendation of the Agricultural Protection Advisory Committee regarding possible changes to the definition of agriculture in the County General Plan.

It's been six months since we had the open forum where the community came and voiced concerns about various issues, and so I have some thoughts about ag.

The question is: what is ag, and are we protecting it?

There are several definitions of ag floating around. The county code says that Napa agriculture means the raising of:

crops - trees, vines, berries and hay;

the grazing of livestock;

animal husbandry;

and the sale of agricultural products raised on the premises.

Ag is not a whole bunch of roosters, however.

Many years ago we defined the ag preserve.

In 1990, 25 years ago when taking a look at what would become the winery definition ordinance, the preamble said any project that directly or indirectly results in the removal of existing or potential vineyard would deplete the inventory of such land forever.

It went on to talk about how the interspersing of non-agricultural structures will result in a significant increase in problems and costs.

In 2008 the general plan suddenly started talking about agriculture as being the production and processing of products but also related marketing and sales and other accessory uses. and in 2010 we allowed for the marketing of wine including food service.

So we all say we want to protect ag, but I'm wondering what ag we're protecting.

In the county code it says that tours and tastings may include food and wine pairings where food service is provided without charge.

If you look on the internet you find that you can have a 3 course meal, a vineyard view lunch for $165 a person.

Here's a picture of a restaurant in Napa, a Michelin star restaurant, and food from a wine pairing - which one is which? Can you tell the difference?

You can have ag weddings apparently.

You can have an ag secret cinema where a screen was set up in the vineyards.

You can have concert ag. This concert was in caves in the ag preserve, and I have to stop and wonder that if this were actually at the city winery in downtown Napa maybe they wouldn't be going out of business.

You can have circus ag.

You can have ag rent-a-room.

Car sales ag.

Ag castles and holiday parties, puppies and pinot, it goes on and on and on.

Rob McMillan on his Silicon Valley Bank blog about wine said that the apocalyptic version of wine communities is what's being debated; we can all lose what makes wine county worth visiting and instead end up with unabated winery development and production, deforestation of the hillsides and open space, more hotels more events more restaurants... his list also goes on.

The General Plan talks about having a predictible regulatory environment that encourages investment by the private sector but also balances the rights of individuals with those of the community and the needs of the environment.

In June the Board of Supervisors issued a proclamation called "Compassionate Napa" in which they said that "doing more and building more and earning more will not make Napa County a better place. Our true wealth is the people of our community."

That's what we're asking of you, that you come up with a definition of ag that protects ag. And that protects our community."

How can you do that? You can start by defining ag as ag. And defining the tourist attractions that are dubbed "marketing of wine" as something else. Agriculture needs protection if it is to survive. Tourism and the urban development it creates need no such protection. They need regulation if agriculture is to survive.

So what is ag?

The Napa County Farm Bureau has presented a definition to you: that agriculture is the raising of crops trees and livestock, period. And that production of agricultural products may be permitted and must remain related subordinate and incidental to the main use.

The Farm Bureau, I would think, knows what ag means. Listen to them.