January 25, 2023

Highlights from the 2022 Western Growers Annual Meeting

The 96th Western Growers Annual Meeting continued its long tradition of being the marquee event in the fresh produce industry. Over four days in early November, hundreds of growers and industry stakeholders gathered at The Venetian Resort in Las Vegas to strengthen the bonds that contribute to our continued collective success.

The Annual Meeting also provided a platform to recognize the significant accomplishments of our members, the visionary leadership of our volunteer Board of Directors, and the integral role our sponsors and suppliers play in ensuring the competitiveness and profitability of our farming businesses.

Following a packed opening Welcome Reception Wednesday evening, Nov. 2, the Annual Meeting hit the ground running Thursday morning, Nov. 3, with a riveting Keynote Kickoff presentation by Jennifer Sey, the former Levi’s top executive who resigned in early 2022 rather than be silenced for her views on COVID school closure policies.

Concurrent with the Kickoff Keynote, the Board of Directors conducted their quarterly meeting to deliberate on critical issues facing Western fresh produce growers. In addition to its official business, the board recognized the service of seven outgoing directors, including three former chairs—one of which is part of the only grandfather, father and son trio to serve as WG Chair (John D’Arrigo). The 38-year tenure of David Zanze, Executive Vice President of Western Growers Assurance Trust and President of Pinnacle Claims Management, was also celebrated.

Contributing to the strongest lineup of speakers in recent Annual Meeting memory, former Deputy Chief of Staff and Senior Advisor to President George W. Bush Karl Rove headlined the WG Political Action Committee (PAC) Luncheon. Considered one of the most influential Presidential appointees of all time, Rove captivated the audience during his on-stage interview with WG President and CEO Dave Puglia, as the two covered everything from the vibrant-but-discordant history of American politics to President George W. Bush’s unexpected skill as a painter.

The first featured session of the Annual Meeting took place Thursday afternoon as WG Chair Albert Keck moderated a dynamic panel titled: When Family Farms Give Way to Outsiders. Featuring Brandon Grimm, General Manager, Organic Operations at Grimmway Farms; Heather Mulholland, COO at Mulholland Citrus; Ted Reimers, Vice President, Agribusiness at American AgCredit; and Derek Yurosek, Managing Director at Arable Capital Partners, the panelists covered a range of topics related to the increasing role of private equity in the Western fresh produce industry.

Thursday evening concluded with an evening of ‘60s glitz and glamour at the Party with the Partners. Partygoers danced and sang along with “The Rat Pack and Marilyn” while enjoying the greatest hits from Frank, Dean and Sammy.

Friday morning, Nov. 4, began with a special breakfast recognizing the highest tier of Annual Meeting sponsors. Representatives from Diamond Sponsor companies Bayer, Farm Credit, Nutrien Ag Solutions and RDO Equipment networked with the board of directors, and each enjoyed a moment on stage in the spotlight.

The morning continued with the fifth annual AgSharks competition, where three selected startups pitched their innovations in front of a panel of judges and a live audience of more than 300 fresh produce growers and industry leaders. Hosted by Stuart Woolf, President and CEO of Woolf Farming and Processing, NutJobs—which transforms nutshell waste into bio-based, compostable alternatives to single-use plastics—emerged as the winner of the competition, earning a record $6 million investment from S2G Ventures. NutJobs was also the winner of the Audience Choice Award.

WG Chair Albert Keck hosted the Chair’s Luncheon and Keynote, where Four-Star Admiral William McRaven shared wisdom he gleaned from 37 years in the U.S. Navy, including high-ranking positions of command during the Persian Gulf War, the War on Terror and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Drawing on his lifetime of service, Admiral McRaven captivated the audience with a dramatic recounting of the mission that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden in 2011 and his message of teamwork, personal accountability and resilience.

Later that afternoon, the educational portion of the Annual Meeting wrapped up with one final featured session: The Promises and Challenges of New Breeding Technologies. Moderated by Jenny Maloney of Bayer CropScience Vegetables, the panel featured experts from the plant genetics industry, including Dr. Sarah Evanega, Lead, Stakeholder Communications to the Pairwise Team; Ernie Farley, Partner at Andrew Williamson Fresh Produce; and David Marguleas, President and CEO of Sun World. Together, the panel discussed the viability of cutting-edge breeding technologies in the fresh produce industry.

Friday concluded with the VIP Sponsor Reception, an intimate venue for premier-level Annual Meeting sponsors to socialize with WG grower members and executive staff, and the Award of Honor Dinner Gala honoring agricultural icon John Harris of Harris Farms. With more than 50 years of experience in ranching, farming, hospitality and thoroughbred horse racing, Harris embodies the diversity and entrepreneurship in California agriculture. Following the award ceremony, the audience was treated to the spectacular sounds of Super Diamond, a tribute band that honors the much-loved international pop icon Neil Diamond.

The Annual Meeting wrapped up Saturday morning, Nov. 5, with some friendly competition during the 2022 Western Growers Par and Away Golf Tournament at the Revere Golf Club.

As we look forward to another memorable gathering next year at the 97th Western Growers Annual Meeting, to be held at the Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort & Spa Nov. 12-15, 2023, we remain committed to delivering a top-notch experience for our members.