January/February 2022

How do we keep our spirits up in times like this? How does one find reasons for optimism when so much is going wrong?

Over the course of my nearly 17 years at Western Growers, I have learned that being around farmers long enough will temper even the most cynical minds, and as someone who has spent decades working in politics it is fair to say that I am especially vulnerable to bouts with cynicism.

But as we embark on a new year and who-knows-what-crap the world will throw at us in 2022, I am optimistic.

Dave Puglia

By Ann Donahue

There is—perpetually, it seems—an extensive menu of issues that face the agriculture industry. There are problems that can be ordered up at breakfast, lunch, dinner, and even for a midnight snack when sleep doesn’t come easy: water, labor, regulations, immigration, pesticides, shipping, transportation, COVID. And then maybe you can have something like climate change for dessert?

For Albert Keck, the newly-appointed 2022 Western Growers Chairman of the Board of Directors, a major concern of ag can’t be chewed over, and can be summed up in two words.

Ann Donahue

Lacy Litten
Teixeira Farms, Santa Maria, Calif.

Lacy initially started her career in agriculture as a human resources manager. Hungry to learn more about the industry, she quickly added on responsibilities in safety and food safety, and eventually was selected to head up food safety at Innovative Produce. Today, she serves as a “jack of all trades” at Teixeira Farms, bringing new and groundbreaking ideas to improve efficiencies in the cooler and on the farm.

Lacy has formed a deep passion for the industry throughout the years and continually strives to demonstrate the importance of agriculture as No. 1 economic driver in California and re-connect consumers to the dedicated farmers that grow their food. Using her degree in mass communication and media studies, she launched “Facts from Farmers”—a digital initiative that showcases all the good farmers do beyond providing nutritious foods.

Stephanie Metzinger

Two Updates from WG Members:

John D’Arrigo Receives Lifetime Achievement Award from the University of Arizona 

Gary Pasquinelli Named Arizona Farm Bureau Farmer of the Year

Ann Donahue

By Cory Lunde

With the cancellation of the Western Growers Annual Meeting in 2020, its return in 2021 represented an opportunity to celebrate the resiliency of the Western fresh produce industry. Amid a global pandemic, Western Growers members have rallied to continue providing a healthy, abundant supply of fruits, vegetables and tree nuts to consumers across the country and world. More than ever, the value of common association was demonstrated by strong participation from members and industry allies, and substantial support from recurring and new sponsors.

Attendees of all stripes were treated to the first-class social events, educational sessions, speakers and entertainment that have become the hallmarks of the Western Growers Annual Meeting.

Cory Lunde

As I type this column, it is the wet season across much of the West. Snow is falling or rain is being dumped on the landscape. At this time of year, for the unknowing, water concerns seem far away but farmers in the West know better. They know that we have seen historic drought conditions impact farms and communities throughout the West. We know that even one very wet rainy season probably will not break the cycle of water shortages we have seen recently.

Most farmers know that water infrastructure investments are essential to prepare for changing Western hydrological conditions, expanding populations, pressing environmental needs and other challenges. Farmers have long pointed out that our water infrastructure is old—in many cases as old if not older than the national highway system—and it needs to be modernized. Indeed, without immediate action to ensure adequate and well-functioning infrastructure, future droughts will result in increasingly devastating impacts. This inevitably will threaten the ability of existing systems to provide reliable water to our Western cities, farms and rural communities, many of which are already bearing economic, health, and environmental burdens.

For decades, Western Growers has progressed the science, technology and innovation of our industry to enhance agricultural practices, improve food safety and protect the environment. Today, that same mission flows through everything we do as an organization.

Between world-class food safety guidance and an abundance of educational and informative resources, our Science team strives to provide timely food safety services for our members and the agriculture industry at large. To sustain our environment and ensure it continues producing for generations to come, we are refining best management practices, developing sustainable solutions, and furthering climate change science and crop protection chemistries. Through data, we continue unlocking possibilities and are propelling the industry into a new realm of data-smart solutions and technologies.

Social media platforms are a dime a dozen. A plethora of new platforms and apps come online each year, leaving marketers to guess at which one(s) to pursue—all in hopes that their gamble pays off and their blind choice will be the winning platform that gains sudden popularity. As brands finalize their public relations and marketing plans for the upcoming year, the phrase “I like my peanut butter chunky—not spread too thin” is one to live by.

At Western Growers, this peanut butter-based guiding principle helps remind us to not become overwhelmed with every burgeoning social media platform and spread ourselves too thin by signing up for each one.

Stephanie Metzinger

As the protector of twin ports Long Beach and Los Angeles, California State Assemblymember Patrick O’Donnell has long advocated for efficiencies in and support of the ports. O’Donnell, a Democrat, has served as the 70th District Assemblymember since 2014. Throughout his term, he has accelerated the protection of natural resources, advanced state university educational offerings, led efforts to grow the maritime industry and encouraged a balanced budgeting approach that fosters a thriving economy for the Golden State.

O’Donnell currently serves as Chair of the Assembly Select Committee on Ports and Goods Movement, providing expertise on the complex challenges and opportunities faced by the freight sector, supply chain and logistics industries. Western Grower & Shipper recently interviewed O’Donnell to gain his insight and analysis on port challenges and supply chain disruptions.

The discussion to ban single-use packaging has been ongoing in the California Legislature for the past few years with the introduction of several bills related to the subject. All of them, except SB 343 (Allen – recycle labeling), have stalled due to successful lobbying efforts by Western Growers (WG) staff and a coalition of business interests.

Amidst these repeated legislative failures at the Capitol, environmentalists have pushed a plastic recycling initiative that is eligible for the November 2022 statewide ballot. It would levy a new one cent tax on producers of single-use plastic as well as require single-use plastic packaging, containers and utensils to be reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2030. The tax would add funds to bureaucratic recycling and environmental programs.

The Private Attorneys General Act of 2003 (PAGA) was enacted into law to address the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency’s (LWDA) inability to keep pace with its obligations to enforce the California Labor Code because of budget cuts, inadequate staffing and a rapidly expanding workforce. Traditionally contained solely within the purview of the Attorney General and Labor Commissioner, PAGA outsourced Labor Code enforcement and deputized private plaintiffs to sue their employers for alleged labor law violations. Since then, PAGA, aka the “Bounty Hunter Law,” has become a favored mechanism by plaintiffs’ attorneys to file several thousand shakedown lawsuits a year against businesses large and small.

PAGA authorizes current and former employees to sue their employers on behalf of the state for Labor Code violations allegedly committed against the employee and other aggrieved coworkers. 

When Western Growers Assurance Trust (WGAT) was launched in 1957, our mission was to give Western Growers members an affordable option for health care benefits by offering highly customizable benefit plans to meet their diverse needs. WGAT, together with PinnacleRx Solutions (PRxS), continues to find additional ways to help employers save money on their health care costs each year.

According to a report by the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists, overall pharmaceutical expenditures in the U.S. grew 4.9 percent in 2020 year-over-year, for a total of $535.3 billion. Plan members use pharmacy benefits more than any other benefit, so choosing the right PBM is more critical than ever. PRxS is a full-service pharmacy benefit manager (PBM) that helps lower a company’s pharmacy costs while improving the quality of benefits available to employees.

David Zanze

Conversing with several members of Western Growers about their business operations, there is a common understanding that long-term personal relationships with current brokers are difficult to break. We agreed there is no expectation to leave such a relationship based simply on a Western Growers affiliation.

However, time changes all. Whether that be within business structure, team compilation or the current broker relationship. Outgrowing the capability of a broker in the insurance industry is a commonly ignored occurrence, which typically arises from client growth over time.

Changes in a business are a matter of when, not if. Before that change happens, we want a seat at the table to demonstrate our capabilities, so that when the inevitable happens you have a partner that has a proven track record of seamless transfers. Our success supporting members through these changes gives us the confidence and wherewithal to step in when you are ready.

Jeff Gullickson

One of the ongoing questions in agtech is why agtech startups so often struggle to raise venture capital. Through multiple blog posts, podcasts and social media posts, Sarah Nolet, Matthew Pryor and I have produced content that provides two different answers for these struggles.

Two of the most significant and common challenges are as follows:

  1. The long R&D cycles make exits inside most fund’s 10-year fund window difficult, so many funds favor segments like mobile apps that have a much easier fit into their timeframes.
     
  2. The capital-intensive nature of many agtech segments (including most agtech robots) makes it hard for agtech startups to get to scale for anything less than $25-$50 million in many segments. In most startup segments, getting $25 million or more from venture investors means the basic product is built and tested and the funds will go to scaling the business by ramping up sales and marketing. In agtech, this process can take significantly longer, which makes fundraising more competitive for agtech startups.

A key problem with biologicals is that by the time they move through the supply chain they have often lost much of their effectiveness.

At least that is the view of Bruce Caldwell, CEO and Founder of 3Bar Biologics, a company that was designed to solve that problem and, in fact, won the AgSharks® Competition at the November 2021 Annual Meeting of Western Growers. The company is currently in negotiations with AgSharks sponsor S2G Ventures on its $250,000 investment offer that it made to Caldwell following his AgSharks win.

Five years ago, Western Growers launched its Center for Innovation and Technology (WGCIT), housed in the Taylor Farms building in downtown Salinas. WGCIT brings together the ag industry and firms operating in the technology space to actively work on some of agriculture’s most vexing problems.

An update from some of the startups housed in the WGCIT.

By A.G. Kawamura

In December 2009, I attended COP15 in Copenhagen, representing California agriculture on behalf of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and a delegation of other cabinet members. During that meeting, it became painfully clear that the discussion around climate change was moving rapidly forward but without any inclusion or realization that agriculture was going to be one of the central areas of impact in a world with significant shifts in weather patterns.

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