July/August 2020

“Hoarders” quickly went from a popular television program to a stark reality earlier this year when states around the nation urged residents to “shelter-in-place” to flatten the curve and prevent the spread of COVID-19. When the quarantine orders started rolling into effect, citizens flocked to their local supermarkets buying food items in mass quantities. As food went flying off the shelves and grocery stores struggled to keep items stocked, America quickly began to pay attention to an unsung group of heroes: farmers and farmworkers.

About 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.

As part of the Trump administration’s trend toward deregulation, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) recently issued guidance allowing companies to include certain types of private equity funds in 401(k) plans, investments that have traditionally been reserved for the wealthy few.

In a statement announcing the decision, Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia argued that private equity will “help Americans saving for retirement gain access to alternative investments that often provide strong returns.”

Matt Lewis

Most of us can agree that when the clock struck midnight at the start of 2020, we were envisioning a year that looks completely different from the one we’ve dealt with so far. These last few months have no doubt been challenging for us all, and many employees are likely experiencing added levels of stress, anxiety, and depression. Amid the constant observances of social distancing and disruption in existing health care services, many of us are looking for on-demand solutions that are convenient and free from additional restrictions.

During this global pandemic, it is often said “the virus doesn’t care…” The virus doesn’t care who you are. The virus doesn’t care where you’re from. The virus doesn’t care if you are a Republican or a Democrat. The virus doesn’t care if you are rich or poor.

If you rely on H-2A employees, the virus doesn’t care that it’s delaying your effort to secure visa interviews for your returning workers. The virus doesn’t care if you can’t completely manage social distancing in your employee housing.

De Ann Davis, PhD, has been named senior vice president, science of Western Growers. Davis brings extensive expertise to the leadership team with more than 25 years of experience in the development and execution of technical global programs, including food safety, quality assurance and regulatory compliance.

By Tim Linden

Henry Lee Giclas III was born in Socorro, New Mexico and recently retired in nearby Albuquerque, but in between, he lived an adventurous life that took him around the world and through several professions.

He is well known in the produce industry where he worked for Western Growers for 30 years but he also worked on the family farm, spent his 20s in the oil, gas and mineral exploration world, and spent a couple of years teaching vocational agriculture before settling into his WG career.

Tim Linden

While driving down the road through the iconic Salinas fog, all looks normal in Monterey County at first glance. Endless rows of lettuce, strawberries, and broccoli line the fields; farmers survey the grounds, meticulously checking on the crops, soil and equipment; and farmworkers span the fields, rapidly preparing for planting and harvesting. But then a sleek, green and white robot with tractor-like wheels moves swimmingly up and down the rows.

The Western Growers Center for Innovation and Technology (WGCIT) was established to identify industry concerns and accelerate the production of technology to address these concerns. The Bosch Group designs smart agriculture products to help growers lower their costs and increase productivity.

The Bosch Group is a leading global supplier of technology and services. It employs roughly 400,000 associates worldwide. In 2019, the company generated sales of 77.7 billion euros.

Western Growers has stepped up as an effective advocate for our members in response to the immediate challenges presented by COVID-19, helping to shape the emergency response at the federal and state level.

H-2A Program: When the State Department suspended regular visa processing at the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City and all U.S. consulates in Mexico early in the pandemic, Western Growers pushed the Administration for an expansion of interview waiver eligibility to ensure that the majority of H-2A processing continued uninterrupted.

By Tim Linden

Of the $1.4 billion in relief checks already provided to more than 80,000 farmers and ranchers impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, less than 2%, about $25 million, has been allocated to specialty crop producers. As is typically the case when it comes to federal government support for agriculture, livestock and field crops are at the front of the line, with the fresh produce industry bringing up the rear.

The last time Western Growers (WG) spoke with Rep. Tim Dunn, he was completing his first full year as a member of Arizona’s House of Representatives and just beginning to tackle some of his constituents’ most pressing issues. Recently, WG had the opportunity to reconnect with Dunn to speak about the outcome of his efforts from our last conversation, along with his current legislative priorities.

Meet Rosa. She is an H-2A worker from Mexico who was harvesting fresh produce for a Western Growers member company during the past winter vegetable season. Despite her age, she is over 55 years old, Rosa was relatively new to farm work, with less than five years of experience. Intuitively, Rosa fell into a higher risk of injury category. But did the data agree?

It is fair to say that 2020 has thus far proceeded in ways no one could have predicted. The issue that is top of mind for the industry is the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and economic fallout. While much of the attention and impact has been domestic-facing, COVID-19 has also thrown international supply chains into disarray. Given the significant global economic shock and expected lingering effects in markets around the world, U.S. agricultural export projections for the remaining year are falling. USDA’s own recent export forecast dropped by $3 billion from just five months prior.

Tracey Chow

New Mexico Member Profile

The Baca Family

Bueno Foods

Albuquerque, New Mexico

Member Since 2014

The Baca Family of New Mexico has much to be proud of as they have very deep roots in their home state, continue to build a thriving business as their family firm approaches its 70th anniversary, and just may well be the most well educated family in agriculture.

Tim Linden

“Words matter,” begins Michael Mandelbaum, professor emeritus of American foreign policy at Johns Hopkins University, and former faculty member at Harvard University, Columbia University and the U.S. Naval Academy.

He continues on, “especially words defining complicated political arrangements, because they shape perceptions of the events of the past, attitudes toward policies being carried out in the present, and expectations about desirable directions for the future.”

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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.