The agricultural overtime bill AB 1066 that was passed back in 2016 spells trouble for the sheep industry. The legislation is continuing to be phased in for large employers with 26 or more employees. For smaller employers, the phase-in of the new overtime rules begins on January 1, 2022. An exemption to overtime requirements for sheepherders has been eliminated through the legislation, creating significant cause for concern. Ryan Indart is the President of Indart Group Inc., a third-generation sheep ranching company based in Fresno. He said that the impact of AB 1066 will essentially eliminate the sheep industry in California.
“It will mean a 50 percent increase in wage overhead for those employers. At the end of the day, what that means is it’s going to be the nail in the coffin for our industry. It’s already difficult enough. We’re already the highest-paid sheepherder state in the country,” Indart noted. “It’s not sustainable. It’s not feasible and it’s a showstopper for our industry.”
The sheep industry has been working with legislators to try and negotiate a 48-hour sheepherder workweek standard to no avail. Indart indicated there is a precedent establishing Governor Gavin Newsom’s authority to implement the plan. However, all efforts encouraging the governor to address agricultural overtime for the sheep industry have been unsuccessful. “I don’t know what it’s going to take to get our governor just to listen to us…we’ve done everything we can do to get his attention,” Indart explained.
California has the second-largest number of sheep of any state and is number-one in lamb and wool production. At the same time, the value of a robust sheep industry has been underscored in recent years in relation to wildfires. Many producers have been engaging in grazing activities more and more to mitigate wildfire dangers. Indart and his sheep have been grazing large-scale solar projects in California for the past few years. AB 1066 puts that at risk as it begins to affect the sheep industry starting next year.
“Our sheep, our four-legged firefighters, are having a direct, positive impact on protecting our energy grid from wildfires and we’re proud of that. In the process we’re also sequestering carbon, we’re adding organic matter to soils, and the pastures underneath the solar projects are becoming rejuvenated. So, it’s a positive impact all around,” Indart noted. “We have just begun to scratch the surface of the ecological and environmental benefits that sheep provide the landscape.”