By Cory Lunde
With the cancellation of the Western Growers Annual Meeting in 2020, its return in 2021 represented an opportunity to celebrate the resiliency of the Western fresh produce industry. Amid a global pandemic, Western Growers members have rallied to continue providing a healthy, abundant supply of fruits, vegetables and tree nuts to consumers across the country and world. More than ever, the value of common association was demonstrated by strong participation from members and industry allies, and substantial support from recurring and new sponsors.
Attendees of all stripes were treated to the first-class social events, educational sessions, speakers and entertainment that have become the hallmarks of the Western Growers Annual Meeting.
The Welcome Reception, hosted on the Fairmont Grand Del Mar’s Aria Lawn Sunday evening, provided the first opportunity for Annual Meeting attendees to network and build both personal and professional relationships. Conversations spilled over into planned and impromptu dinners at the fine dining establishments on property, where bonds were further deepened.
Monday morning commenced with the Annual Meeting Board Meeting, which highlighted the service of Western Growers legend Hank Giclas and honored the extraordinary two-year tenure of outgoing Chairman Ryan Talley of Talley Farms. During the traditional passing of the gavel ceremony, Talley turned the 2022 chairmanship over to Albert Keck of Hadley Date Gardens.
Coinciding with the board meeting was the inaugural Kickoff Keynote featuring Magatte Wade, a remarkable Senegal-born entrepreneur, visionary business leader and inspirational speaker. Her passion for creating positive change in Africa captivated the audience.
Lawyer, author, columnist and television commentator Gordon Chang headlined the PAC Lunch, where his extensive expertise on China was on full display. Chang used his remarks to discuss current geopolitical trends in China and forecast the future of U.S.-China relations.
The topic of the packed afternoon featured session was water and agriculture in the West. Western Growers President and CEO Dave Puglia moderated a riveting, and sometimes sobering, panel on the ways in which climate change, more frequent and severe droughts, and existing and potential regulatory policies will impact the future of fruit, vegetable and tree nut production in the Western U.S.
Monday evening began with the VIP Sponsor Reception, an intimate event recognizing the premier sponsors of the Annual Meeting at the Diamond, Platinum and Gold levels, and providing them with dedicated access to the Western Growers Board of Directors and Executive Staff.
Rounding out the evening was the main Annual Meeting social event, a beach ball-themed Party with the Partners, complete with lawn games, s’mores and the good company of Western Growers friends and family. Delicious gourmet barbeque food and cocktails were consumed long into the night.
Tuesday started with an emerging fan-favorite tradition, the 3rd Annual Diamond Breakfast in honor of our five Diamond Sponsors: alliantgroup, Bayer, Farm Credit, Kincannon & Reed and RDO Equipment. Hosted by Puglia, each Diamond Sponsor presented a corporate video and shared remarks in front of an audience of Western Growers Board Members and Executive Staff. The event concluded with a special trophy presentation in recognition of the generous contributions of each Diamond Sponsor.
The morning got rolling with the 4th Annual Western Growers/S2G Ventures AgSharks® Competition, which provided the requisite drama as five start-ups vied for $250,000 in investment capital to support the growth of their business. Ultimately, 3Bar Biologics walked away with the coveted prize as its living agricultural microbe products captured the judges’ imaginations (and S2G Ventures’ pocketbook).
During his outgoing Chairman’s Speech at the Chairman’s Luncheon and Keynote, Talley provided an earnest case for the importance of fathers in building strong homes and communities. What followed was an equally passionate keynote from Constitutional scholar and lawyer Timothy Sandefur in which he examined the concept of a permission society and illustrated how the freedoms of Americans are increasingly being treated as privileges by the government.
Another hot topic was explored Tuesday afternoon during the final featured session on vertical farming, or controlled environment agriculture (CEA). Western Growers Vice President of Innovation Walt Duflock moderated a high-profile panel that covered the grower, retailer and investor perspectives on the future of CEA in the fresh produce industry.
During the capstone event, the Award of Honor Dinner, trailblazing agricultural advocate Carol Chandler was recognized for her lifetime of service to Western Growers and the fresh produce industry. Emphasis was placed on Chandler’s enduring legacy of building a future generation of women leaders in agriculture. Capping off the magical evening was a nuanced, masterful comedy performance by The Greatest Average American, Nate Bargatze.
WG provided attendees with an exceptional experience that exceeded expectations and looks forward to setting the bar even higher next year at the 96th Western Growers Annual Meeting in Las Vegas.