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December 12, 2016

Convention Bolsters Commitment to Common Cause

As leis laid strewn about the hotel rooms, conference rooms were being cleared out and members said their goodbyes, one thing remained certain after Western Growers 91st Annual Meeting in Kaua‘i: the collective commitment to protecting the future of Arizona, California and Colorado family farmers remains as strong as ever.

During this year’s Annual Meeting, guests had the opportunity to gain further insight into the state of affairs in both the agricultural industry and the nation through a series of educational workshops, networking opportunities and keynote addresses.

The event kicked off with the Western Growers Board Meeting where Sammy Duda, vice president of operations for Duda Farm Fresh Foods in Salinas, Calif., was elected 2017 chairman of the board.  Duda replaces outgoing Chairman Larry Cox, owner of Lawrence Cox Ranches in Brawley, Calif., who will join Duda and the other officers on the association’s executive committee.  These officers include Senior Vice Chairman Craig Reade of Bonipak Produce Inc. in Santa Maria, Calif.; Vice Chairman Ron Ratto of Ratto Bros. in Modesto, Calif.; Treasurer Steve Danna of Danna Farms in Yuba City, Calif.; Executive Secretary Carol Chandler of Chandler Farms in Selma, Calif.; and WG President and Chief Executive Officer Tom Nassif.

Chairman Cox also recognized the contributions of outgoing board members Garland Reiter of Reiter Affiliated Companies in Oxnard, Calif.; Dominic DiMare of The DiMare Company in Indio, Calif.; and Bardin Bengard of Bengard Ranch in Salinas, Calif.  The committee reports focused on federal and state legislative and regulatory issues including immigration reform, labor regulations, farm bill, international trade and water supply and quality.

The meeting coincided with the first workshop of the day—the Top Chef Demonstration—where Chef Adam Tabura showed the lively crowd how to incorporate local flavors and fresh produce in delicious and nutritious dishes.  As he cooked each dish, Chef Tabura and his team passed around samples of the delectable creations for the crowd to taste.

Attendees headed to the Political Action Committee Lunch for a keynote address by Jim Nicholson, former Republican National Committee chairman, Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs and U.S. Ambassador.  Taking place on the eve of the most controversial election in recent history, Nicholson provided insight into the unconventional presidential campaign and what a President Donald Trump or a President Hillary Clinton would mean for the nation.  Nicholson highlighted how “statistics indicate that Democrats are ahead, but the polls are just a snapshot.  The “Z” factor is the people who aren’t saying who they are voting for.”  And indeed, Nicholson hit the nail on the head as Trump won the election.

As the crowd moved closer to the edge of their seat, listening intently to each word, Nicholson touched on how the country will rebound from its deep divide and continue to prosper.  He left the crowd with inspiring words about having passion for the success of America’s future.

“Regardless of who wins, my bet is on America,” said Nicholson. “We won the lottery to live here.”

The day ended with the Foodborne Illness: Criminal & Civil Liability Workshop, where panelists Sarah Brew of Faegre Baker Daniels LLP, Daniel Jarcho of Alston & Bird and William Marler of Marler Clark LLP, addressed concerns and offered critical advice on how to navigate the potential risks of criminal and civil liability related to food safety incidents.

As the second day of workshops and events commenced, Innovation Arena II gave attendees a glimpse of the technologies that will be crucial in helping solve agriculture’s most pressing challenges, including labor and water.  The competition showcased six agtech start-up companies who competed for a complimentary one-year membership with Western Growers and an opportunity to work with the WG Center for Innovation & Technology in Salinas, Calif.; Agralogics and Trace Genomics took home the prizes.

The Major Lunch was chock-full of engaging discussions and accolades starting with Western Growers President and CEO Tom Nassif recognizing Bryan Silbermann, outgoing CEO of the Produce Marketing Association, for his 30 years of service to the industry.  Neill Callis of Turlock Fruit Company spoke about the collective experience of Class III of the Future Volunteer Leaders Program and expressed his gratitude to the board and membership for their guidance and dedication to developing the next generation of agricultural leaders.

As lunch continued, Duda welcomed Larry Cox to the podium to perform his final duty as outgoing Chairman—to give his Chairman’s Address.  Duda talked about how “Larry is a genius and true visionary who has made our industry—and our world—a better place… His attention to detail, his care and concern for each step in the process that has defined Larry’s success in business and in life.”

During his address, Cox shared how his strength and achievements stemmed from his family and faith, and encouraged the audience to “invest in your family and loved ones.” He also expressed how thankful he was to have the support of fellow Western Growers’ members, stakeholders, sponsors and industry allies.

“Western Growers has always believed there is strength in numbers, and we are proud to be counted alongside our partner associations and industry groups.  The only way we are going to overcome our challenges at the local, state and federal level is to fight together,” said Cox. “It may sound cliché, but I could not have done my job as chairman without the dedication and support of each one of them.”

Rounding out the Major Lunch was a keynote address from Rear Admiral Garry Hall, president and CEO of the Association of the United States Navy, on national security.  Hall spoke about his experience in the Navy, why he joined the service (opportunity, adventure and to serve with heroes!) and the national security issues facing future administrations.  “What should the next president do to protect us? Aggressive cyber operations, training and hard power,” noted Hall.

Throughout his address, Hall spoke about an issue close to his heart: childhood nutrition.  Hall inspired the audience by sharing his efforts in combatting childhood obesity and encouraging a balanced diet at a young age, as childhood nutrition inevitably plays a role in national security.

“Nutrition affects national security,” said Hall. “Too many children are too fat to fight!  Childhood nutrition equals national security.”

Guests later participated in the Hawaiian Style Family Games, where colleagues and family came together to for some friendly competition.  When the coconut bowling, raft races and conch shell blowing concluded, the crowd made its way to the Award Dinner, which proved to be one of the meeting’s most memorable events.  Larry Cox and Bob Gray started out the night by introducing the two honorees of the evening: Miles and Garland Reiter.

“The Reiter Brothers have been pioneers in the agriculture industry and both Reiter Affiliated Companies and Driscoll’s are synonymous with quality berries,” said Cox. “The key to their success?  Commitment.”

Surrounded by family and friends, Miles and Garland each gave heart-warming speeches while receiving the 2016 Award of Honor. Miles started by thanking their loved ones and mentors for their guidance and support, and later shared the importance of creating an environment that encourages customer success. “I’m proud to share this award with my brother.  We’ve been down the road a lot together and feel good about what we’ve accomplished throughout the years. We really appreciate being recognized for that,” said Miles.

Garland left the crowd laughing with anecdotes from the brothers’ childhood, sharing what they’ve learned over the past 40 years as farmers and emphasizing the importance of investing in future generations.

“The inspiration for us has been the customer and consumer interest,” said Garland. “Looking ahead with enthusiasm and gray hair, we feel that we have invested in the next generation and new talent to move forward.  If we continue to listen in the field, engage with consumers and empower our youth, we will further bring diversity and success to agriculture.”

The evening concluded with an auction for the Western Growers Foundation and a spectacular performance by celebrity-impressionist Jeff Tracta.

The final day of the Annual Meeting included the annual golf tournament, an island art party and the always-entertaining Suppliers’ Event.

As the meeting came to a close, feelings of hope, determination and an island spirit of aloha resonated within each attendee, further driving their collective commitment to invest in the success and future of the industry and nation.