By Tim Linden
It has long been told that Western Growers began its life as the Western Growers Protective Association on March 9, 1926, to represent the interests of shippers of western produce before the Interstate Commerce Commission.
The ICC was created in 1887 by the U.S. Congress to regulate railroad carriers and the rates they charge. But there were constant disagreements over rates, weights, icing charges and a host of other issues involving shipping product from source to market. Shippers determined that they had to unite for equal representation. Many ad hoc groups were formed before WGPA was established to offer a powerful and united voice.
While this specific transportation issue was the catalyst for the formation of the association, WGPA steadily moved into new arenas, establishing a non-stop list of programs and services to benefit its membership. These services and programs have been added and dropped over the years, reflecting the needs of a dynamic industry and a changing universe.
Over the years, Western Growers has been a consistent voice for western producers in the legislative halls of Washington D.C. as well as in the state governments in which its members farm. It has added services to help these grower-shippers focus on their core business of farming, ranging from union negotiations to dispute resolution to insurance services to legal representation. It has collectively established cutting-edge research on crop production, consumer marketing and high-tech farming.
Western Growers history mirrors the changes growers have had to make over the years and is a testament to the resiliency of the western produce industry. The association’s significant milestones are too numerous to list—and in fact, the list covers a wall at WG headquarters in Irvine, Calif. Below is a number of those highlights emblematic of the adaptability of Western Growers and its members.
1928: Advertising campaign is launched to educate Eastern buyers of the value of “iceberg” lettuce grown in the West.
1930s: WG members head to D.C. to lobby on behalf of the establishment of the Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act. WG representatives have been going to D.C. for many years, with their CEO spending weeks there at a time during World War II to represent agriculture.
1942: Name is changed to Western Growers Association
1945: WG launches a Research Department to undertake a study on pre-packaging for grower-shippers. The department got involved in many areas including the relative merits of fresh vs. frozen produce.
1946: WG establishes a lab in Pasadena staffed by a biochemist, two plant pathologists and a physiologist. The program also supported a consumer relations campaign.
1957: Western Growers Assurance Trust is launched to provide health and accident insurance to Teamsters. The insurance programs offered would multiply over the years and cover many different aspects of a grower-shipper’s operation.
1966: PACA Dispute Resolution Department is established.
1967: Western Growers Pension Trust is established to provide retirement income to union workers.
1970s: WG was instrumental in launching research programs for many commodities, including tomatoes, potatoes, lettuce, melons and strawberries. It managed four of those programs for many years.
1972: Western Growers Legal Assistance Department is established with 17 lawyers across the state providing legal services, especially in the labor dispute arena, to members.
1972: Western Growers Political Action Committee gets involved in advocating for individual candidates for the first time.
1973: Western Growers sponsors its first fresh produce trade show in a foreign country (Japan). WG would participate in and sponsor many export efforts over the next 25 years.
1980: Government Affairs office is opened in Sacramento. Phoenix office is opened five years later and a dedicated Washington D.C. office is opened in 2007.
1995: Western Growers develops and releases first-ever best agricultural practices guide.
2001: WG launches a Science & Technology Department.
2002: WG launches School Garden program.
2006: The Western Growers Transportation Program is launched to address rising rates and truck shortages.
2015: Colorado is added as third state under the WG umbrella. New Mexico would be added several years later.
2015: The Western Growers Center for Innovation & Technology is established to help bring high-tech solutions to the agricultural space.
2016: Western Growers Family of Companies consolidates more than 300 employees in four buildings to one headquarters location in Irvine.