SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. — Calloway County native Brent Burchett said Thursday that he is still getting used to life on the West Coast.
However, he thinks his new position as the executive director of the San Luis Obispo County Farm Bureau is keeping him busy enough that he does not have time to long for Kentucky. At least, it seems that is true most of the time.
“Yeah, the other day I called home (to talk to parents Mike and Debbie) and Dad told me he was getting his plow ready to go out in the field. I’ve got to admit that made me a little homesick when I heard that,” said Burchett, who is nearly a month into his new job after leaving the Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner’s Office, where he was director of plant marketing for Commissioner Ryan Quarles.
He said the scenery does help ease those feelings.
“I’m about a 15-minute drive from the (Pacific) ocean, so that’s cool. However, right now, it’s kind of cold here. I’m used to the Gulf of Mexico waters, having been down there several times. However, we are in a four-year drought out here and they’ve had some problems with that,” he said of a situation that is the premier issue when it comes to agriculture, or anything else for that matter, in San Luis Obispo. “Out here is wine/grape country and that is the farming that uses the most water, and water is something everyone wants.
“The saying here is that if you don’t have water, your property is going to be worthless. I’ve also been hearing from many farmers here how environmental politics prevents the building of dams and other facilities from helping that problem. I went to Sacramento just last week and heard how the blue tail lizard and spotted trout are endangered and seemed to be more of a concern. It is a different culture here for sure.”
Burchett also said he asked the obvious question soon after he assumed his new job. “What about the ocean?”
“They told me they have some limited desalinization they do (to take salt out of the water so it can be used inland), but a lot of our water comes from snow melt (from nearby mountains to the east,” he said, also noting that issues from many years ago get in the way. “You have what are called original water rights and it determines who has access to the ground water. Right now, things are OK because this is the time of year they get the most rain, which, on average, is about 15 or 16 inches. In a few months, it’ll be dry everywhere.”
Burchett also said farm bureaus in California differ greatly from those in Kentucky.
“My job is purely on the side of advocacy and lobbying for our people here in the county. We don’t have insurance connected to it,” he said. “Plus, when I tell people about where I am now and how I’m a ‘county’ farm bureau director, you’re talking a county that is 3,600 square miles, and that is similar to how most counties are here in the state. California only has 47 counties (compared to 120 in Kentucky). It takes about two hours to drive from one end of this county to the other.
“So, when I say ‘county,’ it really is more of a regional thing. You’re almost talking the size of the entire Jackson Purchase.”
San Luis Obispo County is located along the Pacific almost halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco and nearly due west of Bakersfield. Burchett said San Luis Obispo County itself generates $1 billion a year from agriculture alone. The wine industry is quite strong, but the county also consists of numerous cattle farms, along with farms that specialize in vegetable and fruit crops.
“When you think that $5 billion is produced in all of Kentucky, that gives you an idea of just how big agriculture is here,” he said.
In his former job in Frankfort, one of the main points of emphasis for Burchett was Kentucky’s dive into the world of industrial hemp, which he said has not been discussed too much in California so far, even after Congress legalized it in the 2018 farm bill. In Murray for the annual Lincoln-Reagan Dinner for the Republican Party last week, Quarles praised Burchett for his efforts.
“He deserves a lot of the credit for where we are now with it,” Quarles said of Kentucky hemp. “He helped moderate the hemp program, essentially. He dealt with technical issues when it comes to the federal government, as well as banking issues. He also dealt with matters on the transport of hemp from one state to another state.
“He was very valuable because like anything else, we experienced growing pains, and every day it seemed like he had a new issue to deal with. But Brent faced those challenges and helped us get through them and we’re going to miss him.”