Agriculture’s influence has waned through the years in California, said an influential industry lobbyist at the 2013 meeting of the California Grape & Tree Fruit League.
At the meeting, held in Laguna Beach in March, George Soares with Kahn, Soares & Conway, LLP, moderated the keynote discussion which centered on what keeps growers and shippers awake at night. There are a whole host of problems as the state has transitioned away from an economy totally dominated by ag, said Soares, noting that in 1950 the state’s leading ag county was Los Angeles. “We were once California,” he said.
Still, the state’s nearly $40 billion ag sector is not without influence, as was reflected by the comments of an esteemed lineup of panelists: Brian Leahy, director of the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR); Sylvia Torres-Guillén, general counsel of the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board (ALRB); Charlie Hoppin, chairman of the State Water Resources Control Board; and Richard Schmidt, president & CEO of the United Agribusiness League.
• Leahy — In his time as head of DPR, Leahy said he has found pesticide company leaders very responsive, and when he asked them why, they had a simple answer: “Where California goes in pesticides, the rest of the world follows.”
The only drawback to that high profile is that ag attracts a lot of attention, not all of it necessarily welcome. For example, Leahy said the president of the state’s Senate, an urban Democrat, recently asked him specifically when chlorpyriphos and chloropicrin would be phased out.
• Torres-Guillén — Conceding the deep distrust of ALRB, Torres-Guillén said audience members should know that three of the eight attorneys on her staff are farmers, two of them walnut growers. She urged growers to be more aware of what’s going on in their orchards and vineyards, as many of her investigations into complaints have turned up the fact the grower wasn’t even aware of what was going on. “There’s not a single grower I’ve come across who’s not interested in peace and justice,” she said.
• Hoppin — It may sound surprising to learn that Hoppin is the first grower to head up the state’s water agency, as Soares noted, but maybe that’s why he’s so quick to notice the waste. “Urban use is our biggest challenge,” he said, “especially the non-professionals.”
Being in a minority, growers face some serious problems in the future regarding access to water. “Ag is a scapegoat,” he said. “It’s easier to blame someone else than take care of your own problems.
• Schmidt — What keeps him up at night is the Affordable Health Care Act. Schmidt said it’s simply not designed for a business like agriculture, with its seasonal employment. “It is anything but affordable; it’s very expensive,” he said. “At the end of the day, the ones who find it least affordable is you — the employers.”
Schmidt, who said he’s still working with other agribusiness lobbyists on getting a waiver for agriculture, is especially frustrated that conscientious employers get the short end. “What this law does is penalize the employers who’ve been providing health insurance all along,” he said. “I wish I could be more optimistic about it and tell you that it will reform health care in a meaningful way.”
At its 77th annual meeting, the California Grape & Tree Fruit League re-elected Chairman of the Board Ryan Zaninovich, V.B. Zaninovich & Sons, Inc., as well as the current Board of Directors, which includes First Vice Chair David Jackson, Family Tree Farms; Second Vice Chair Harold McClarty, HMC Farms; and Secretary/Treasurer Louis Pandol, Pandol Bros., Inc.
The five new members who joined the Board of Directors are: Bo Brett, Mountain View Fruit Sales, Inc. (Reedley); Mike Jackson, Kingsburg Orchards (Kingsburg); Blair Richardson, Rivermaid Trading Co./WesPak, Inc. (Dinuba); Matt Surber, M. Caratan, Inc. (Delano); and Russ Tavlan, Moonlight Companies (Reedley).
The League also honored Herbert Kaprielian, owner of Reedley-based CRJ Farming Co. LP with the Lifetime Achievement Award. Doug Hemly of Courtland-based Greene and Hemly, Inc. presented the award to Kaprielian. The award recognizes individuals who are service-oriented, have provided long-term, consistent service to the California Grape & Tree Fruit League by serving on the Board of Directors or various committees for an extended period of time throughout their career and a person who, through their time and effort, has influenced CGTFL in a positive way. The first recipient, named in 2008, was long-time grower member and past Board chairman, Sarkis Sarabian of Sarabian Farms.