February 8, 2024

Stuart Woolf Takes Over as Chair of Western Growers

As Albert Keck passed the gavel representing the position of chair of the board to Stuart Woolf at the 2023 Western Growers annual meeting in Kauai, Hawaii, in November, it was more than a handoff of the role. It was a clear view into how deep the bench is in the Western Growers board for leadership.

Though a new chair of the board may mean a different tone in guidance, the collaborative and unified nature of the board will keep to a proactive trajectory set by Keck ─ and the many who came before him ─ to keep Western agriculture fit for the bobbing and weaving needed to stay productive in a dynamic industry. “I’m not looking to suddenly change the course of anything,” Woolf said. “I’m looking to build and bolster the path we’re on. I feel like I’m very aligned with the organization and its overall mission.”

Stuart is President and CEO of Woolf Farming & Processing, a family-owned operation primarily focused on the production and processing of agricultural commodities. Woolf was involved with the establishment of two related entities: Harris Woolf California Almonds and Los Gatos Tomato Products. Harris Woolf is a processor and handler of raw almonds and Los Gatos manufactures bulk tomato paste for industrial users. Woolf is deeply connected within agriculture from his experience serving as Chairman of the California League of Food Processors, the Almond Board of California and the UC President’s Commission of Agriculture and Natural Resources. Along with his position on the Western Growers board, Woolf currently serves on the boards of the California Chamber of Commerce and the recently established California Agave Council.

The Western Growers Family of Companies is vast and complex. Any member of the board has a lot on their plate just understanding the dynamic and varied needs of the companies. At the helm of it all, Woolf has his attention on a few clear objectives: “I’m interested in reviewing the overall health and sustainability of the organization, which I wish to maintain and build upon. This means reviewing the strategic plans for our business units, investing in the best and brightest, maintaining strong financials, establishing key metrics, etc. In addition, I would like to see the influence of our advocacy to grow by aligning with more like-minded ag interests.”

Advocacy on a state and federal level has long been a priority and core purpose of Western Growers, and its importance won’t waver with Woolf at the lead. Our regulatory challenges are not going away with mandates associated with water rights, labor, environmental, pest control and plastics (to name a few). “We must remain vigilant in making the case for reasonable business environment for those of us who grow our nation’s food.” The Chair of the Board of Western Growers has a formidable group of government affairs experts at the ready both in represented states and in Washington D.C.

In a recent article, Western Growers President & CEO Dave Puglia said, “We are all agriculture.” All Western Growers members’ large-scale challenges converge through the association, strengthening the amplification of the one voice made from the many. “A thing that I really like about advocacy and the policy work we do, it benefits all members big and small,” Woolf said. “It doesn’t differentiate.”

While advocacy is one of the pillars of the organization, it also engages strategically to address its members’ long term challenges. For example, Western Growers has created the Center for Innovation and Technology (CIT). CIT now has over 100 startups and 35 sponsors connecting innovators and our members. We’re using the power of “the many” to meet the needs of an industry where individual efforts may be harder to come by. According to Woolf, “Western Growers investment at the CIT are poised to pay real dividends in regard to mechanizing harvesting and weeding in a world of uncertain, high-cost labor.”

Food Safety is another area of focus for the organization. The organization is working with regulators to ensure their efforts generate better outcomes for both suppliers and consumers. Data analysis determining the root causes of food borne illness and how to track and prevent them as opposed to solely relying on broad-based recalls that punish all producers, is a step in the right direction. Greenlink® is a Western Growers sponsored initiative to enhance prevention and better fact-based responses.

Western Growers is unique in offering these kinds of solutions. “I love the idea that this organization positions itself strategically to address issues directly pertinent to its members as well as the ag industry at large. More often, adaptation comes from innovators and entrepreneurs, not from trade associations. I’m excited to have been asked to lead such a dynamic organization with members I’m proud to rub shoulders with.”

Woolf will hold the gavel for the next two years, and there is no doubt that there will be both successes and challenges within those two years. Members of the Western Growers Association can trust that Woolf will handle the time with resilient, confident and capable leadership. “I’m always amazed at the work that’s being done at Western Growers…yet if there was one area that I would really like to see a mark improvement on, its simply telling our story better. We need to do a better job ‘tooting our own horn’ highlighting what we bring to the table for not only our members, but the industry at large.”

Along with the change inboard leadership that moves Woolf to the Chair of the Board seat, the other officers of the Association are: Vice Chair Rob Yraceburu, President of Wonderful Orchards; Treasurer Neill Callis, General Manager, Turlock Fruit Co.; Executive Secretary, Don Cameron, Vice President and General Manager of Terranova Ranch; and Puglia. Rounding out the Western Growers Executive Committee are Past Chair Keck and EC Members at Large Ryan Talley of Talley Farms and Catherine Fanucchi of Tri-Fanucchi Farms.