“Cooperation is the thorough conviction that nobody can get there unless everybody gets there.” ~Virginia Burden, author
The mission statement of Western Growers is ever-present in my mind and in the minds of everyone who works on behalf of our members. Our mission: “To enhance the competitiveness and profitability of our members and to lead our members and the fresh produce industry toward a healthy, sustainable and profitable future.”
But rarely does a week go by at Western Growers without someone referring to the way in which we seek to meet our mission. We “fight the fight for our members.”
That sentiment captures our identity and our reason for being. In our work on many tough political issues, we must build and sustain positive relationships with elected politicians and regulators wherever we can, even when we find ourselves in strong disagreement. I’m confident that we meet that objective well, but I’m also confident that we never place those relationships above what our members need and what they count on us to do: successfully advocate on issues critical to growers.
I know that Western Growers does this exceptionally well. But I also know that we have great partners representing the industry.
I bet most farmers and others would be surprised at how closely the industry’s trade associations work together. The fact is much of what the associations communicate to their respective members does not do justice to the teamwork and collaboration that occurs every day. That’s understandable when you think about the need every organization has to demonstrate value to its dues-paying members. We all want our members to know what we are doing and how we’re helping them. Perhaps because we do that so well, some farmers may question the value in belonging to more than one trade association.
If you could see the way your industry’s association staffs band together every day to advance your interests, your doubts would be erased.
Take the immigration reform issue as an example. Along with our Western Growers staff in Washington D.C., in just the last few months I have poured thousands of hours (and tens of thousands of airline miles) into the hard work of negotiating an agriculture immigration proposal. But I also know that our partners at United Fresh Produce Association and Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association have put their shoulders to the wheel on Capitol Hill, lobbying hard to create the pathway for legislation to be approved.
On food safety, WG’s Hank Giclas has made a huge impact on the Food Safety Modernization Rule. His work on leafy greens and other guidance documents can be seen throughout the proposed rule. But he is the first to say that the industry’s ability to influence the proposed rule, as well as any changes that are made to it, rests on our collaboration with the expert staff of the Produce Marketing Association as well as United Fresh.
Every year in Sacramento, Western Growers tackles hostile labor legislation sponsored by the United Farm Workers. Our staff in Sacramento is highly respected for their expertise, strategic thinking and strong relationships. But even though agriculture is one of California’s most important industries, politically we are far from the biggest dog in the state Capitol. Our successes in blocking legislation on card check, heat illness and overtime were only achieved because we presented a united front, partnering with California Farm Bureau, the California Grape and Tree Fruit League and other leaders to lobby against these bills and advocate for more balance in Sacramento.
One more example: As I noted in my column last month, wrestling to protect our members’ interests sometimes requires the tough job of seeking to unseat legislators who attack our industry. We organized an effort last year to create and fund an independent expenditure committee targeting two Assembly members who authored hostile legislation on heat illness and overtime. We succeeded in defeating them both because several associations came together to help raise over $500,000 needed to get the job done. California Citrus Mutual, California Grape and Tree Fruit League, the California rice industry, Nisei Farmers League, the California Grain and Feed Association, the California Seed Association and Western Plant Health Association all stepped forward with significant support. I am confident we will have even greater industry teamwork in 2014.
There are many, many more examples I could share. Hopefully, these examples shed some light on what I see every day: An industry that is incredibly well-represented by all its trade associations. We must remember less than two percent of the American population is involved with farming in any way. We need all of these players on the field to fight the fight.
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Western Growers members care deeply for the food they grow, the land they sustain, the people they employ, and the community in which they live.