January 7, 2019

“Growth” A Resonating Theme throughout WG Annual Meeting

This past October, California’s Coachella Valley hummed with energy from the 500 leading agricultural professionals who flooded the ballrooms of the JW Marriott Desert Springs Resort & Spa for Western Growers’ (WG) Annual Meeting.

The 93rd Annual Meeting offered a host of workshops and events that embodied the theme of “growth.” Guests had the opportunity to participate in educational sessions that focused on expanding their knowledge in the hottest science and technology trends, as well as listen to world-renowned speakers who provided tools to influence behavior. Attendees also enjoyed a flurry of networking activities that provided an opportunity to reflect on 2018 and ignite conversation on how to grow the industry in 2019.



The Annual Meeting was filled with celebration, thanking outgoing chairman Craig Reade, of Bonipak Produce, for his service and welcoming Ron Ratto, of Ratto Bros., Inc., as the 2019 Chairman of the Board. During Reade’s moving farewell address, words of inspiration filled the room as he spoke about the next generation of leaders who will disrupt current norms and spark an evolution in agriculture.

“The increasing regulations on agriculture are an increasing burden,” said Reade during his speech. “Technology allows us to overcome these regulations. Millennials understand how to adapt to use technology and the innate innovativeness of millennials will allow agriculture to thrive.”

This theme of growing young talent was also reflected when the new roster of board members was announced on day two of the Annual Meeting. The Board of Directors welcomed four former Future Volunteer Leaders to the team: Neill Callis, Turlock Fruit Company, Brandon Grimm, Grimmway Farms, Alex Muller, Pasquinelli Produce Company, and Kelly Strickland, Five Crowns Marketing, Inc. They join Steve Martori, Martori Farms, and now represent five current board members who have graduated from WG’s Future Volunteer Leaders program, a two-year cohort designed to cultivate the next generation of leaders within WG member companies.

Next year, the board will convene under the leadership of Ratto, who was elected to serve as chairman for a one-year term.

“Ron has made significant contributions in his current role as a board member and senior vice chairman, advancing both the innovation and advocacy side of agriculture,” said WG President and CEO Tom Nassif. “I look forward to working with him as our new chairman, along with the rest of the board, to facilitate the ongoing growth of Western Growers in support of our members and the fresh produce industry as a whole.”



Steve Patricio, Westside Produce, who has helped move the needle on critical issues facing ag such as water scarcity and food safety, was designated as the 2018 Award of Honor. In addition to the Award of Honor, Patricio was also presented a resolution from the California Legislature—a Joint Members Resolution from Representatives Anthony Cannella, Heath Flora and Adam Gray.

Preceded by introductory remarks from Nassif, Patricio delivered an inspirational speech that resonated with each and every guest.

“Growing up, our parents instilled an important principle in us that I have tried to impress on my children,” said Patricio. “That simple principle was hanging around with the good kids. By being around the better kids, it would make you better. By being around the best kids, it could make you work harder and achieve more. Western Growers are the better kids. They are the best kids, and hanging around these kids have made me better.”



Augean Robotics, an early-stage robotics company that has built an autonomous vision-based robotic platform, walked away from the WG AgSharks® Competition with a $250,000 equity investment offer after facing off against four other startups.

The seed funding, which was awarded by S2G Ventures, will allow the robotics startup to continue to scale and fine tune their product toward early commercialization next year. Its product, Burro, is a robot that follows farmworkers and functions as a virtual conveyor belt between pick points and collection points, allowing hand pickers to pick continuously rather than wasting up to 30 percent of their time shuttling produce.

“In S2G and Western Growers, we see a group with boots on the ground and eyes on the horizon—keenly aware of the day to day needs of farmers and the incredible potential for robots in agriculture over the coming decade,” said Charles Andersen, CEO of Augean Robotics. “We are honored to have their support and look forward to working together as we bring collaborative robots to the industry that needs it most.”



The topic of embracing growth and change were top of mind during the Changing Minds to Influence Results with Arbinger and Advances in Genomics sessions during the Annual Meeting.

Juan Enriquez, one of the world’s leading authorities on the uses and benefits of genomic research, shared a presentation on genomics and how advancements in the field will fundamentally change life in the future, while Mike Merchant, senior consultant for the Arbinger Institute, facilitated an emotional and eye-opening conversation about achieving an outward mindset. Through personal stories from WG members, the workshop demonstrated the importance of taking into account one’s impact on others and focusing on the needs of the organization as a whole.

“Arbinger is more than a culture. This is a healing,” said Merchant. “It’s a way to humanize every interaction and speak the same language.”

Additionally, keynote addresses from Judge Andrew Napolitano, Robert O’Neill and Jon Dorenbos left guests in awe. During the PAC Lunch, Fox News’ Senior Judicial Analyst Judge Napolitano shared insights on the current political environment. On the following day, O’Neill took the stage and provided an inside look into leadership and decision-making as a Navy SEAL Team Six leader.

“This nation will never quit,” noted O’Neill during his keynote. “It will do everything it can to preserve and protect its people.”

O’Neill—who released the famous three shots that dispatched the world’s most wanted terrorist, Osama bin Laden—has held leadership roles in more than 400 combat missions and shared some of his personal key principles to success with the audience:

•  Separate emotions from decision-making.

•  Never quit. Only move forward.

•  Complacency kills.

•  Trust your team. Trust your people.

“Bravery is recognizing fear and putting it aside. Put your head down, don’t give up and keep moving forward,” said O’Neill.

The Annual Meeting culminated in a jaw-dropping magic performance by former Philadelphia Eagles long-snapper Jon Dorenbos, where he wowed the audience with his skills as a sleight-of-hand magician and inspired the crowd with his life story.

Though the festivities of the 2018 Annual Meeting have concluded, it is never too early to begin thinking about WG’s next annual conference. WG is headed to Wailea Beach Resort – Marriott, Maui, on November 10 – 13, 2019, for another Annual Meeting filled with growth opportunities, interactive activities and ag collaboration.