CA Agriculture Leadership Transitions

CA Agricultural Leadership Transitions: Barry Bedwell to Head CALF, George Radanovich to Lead CFFA

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Farm News Director

There is a change in leadership at the Fresno-based California Fresh Fruit Association (CFFA), where Barry Bedwell has served as president for 13 years. The new president, as of August 1st, is former eight-term member of Congress for Mariposa County, George Radanovich, “and a five-year retiree in Mariposa, too,” said Radanovich.

“Don’t forget to add that,” he insisted. “Yes, the opportunity came up. My son King graduated from high school, and now he’s off to college at Ole Miss. This gives me the time to get back and start working on water and labor issues that I love—and being involved with the ag industry. The timing is perfect, and it’s a real exciting adventure for me.”

George Radanovich
George Radanovich will head California Fresh Fruit Associaition

Radanovich served in Congress from 1995 to 2011, representing a big chunk of the Central Valley in California’s 19th District in the U.S. House of Representatives. While there, he served on the Committee on Energy and Commerce and its subcommittees: Communications, Technology and the Internet, Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection (Ranking Member) and Oversight and Investigations. Radanovich also served as co-chair of the Water Caucus, Congressional Wine Caucus and Congressional Croatian Caucus, as well as being considered an agricultural expert in areas related to water supply and immigration reform.

Barry Bedwell will now assume presidency of the California Agricultural Leadership Foundation (CALF), a non-profit corporation committed to leadership training and transformational learning experiences in partnership with California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly) in San Luis Obispo and Pomona; California State University, Fresno; and the University of California, Davis.

“I am excited about it,” Bedwell said. “I think it’s a great opportunity for myself and a chance to really take what I’ve learned over four plus decades in California agriculture and put it to good and practical use.”

Bedwell will be replacing Bob Gray at the Agricultural Leadership Foundation. “Bob Gray has done an absolutely fantastic job in really focusing the program more on leadership development,” noted Bedwell. “It is really doing personal coaching and working on leadership tendencies. When I was there thirty-four years ago in Class 13, the foundation tried to expose people in agriculture to things outside of the realm of agriculture; but now, they’ve taken it even a step further to say, ‘Here’s how to make you a better leader. Here is how to really strengthen your areas so that in the end, everyone coming out of this program will be a better person and representative for California agriculture.'”

Barry Bedwell
Barry Bedwell Will lead the CA Ag Leadership Foundation

“The program has changed from 24 months down to 17 months, but it’s still a very valuable proposition,” noted Bedwell. “I think the estimated monetary value of what this means to the individuals involved is something like $50,000,” he said.

Bedwell brings to CALF a depth of experience in agriculture. “How do you develop the Leadership Program for maximum benefit?” asked Bedwell. “That’s where I think I can particularly help, knowing the issues that face California agriculture and what we have to deal with primarily in Sacramento. I think that will be a big help.”

Bedwell also emphasized the importance of keeping CALF alumni engaged. “With over 1300 graduates, this program is a powerful force out there,” he said. “We want to continue to build on what we have, and engagement with those alumni is critical, moving forward,” said Bedwell.

And perhaps certain alumni could be the new messengers to Sacramento. “What’s clear right now is we don’t necessarily have the right messengers. This Ag Overtime bill [AB-2757 Agricultural workers: wages, hours, and working conditions], which was reintroduced after failing in the Assembly a few weeks ago, has convinced me that although we went in and explained the negative impact it would have on employees, quite frankly, certain members did not believe us,” said Bedwell.

“We have to change the messenger, or the message gets lost sometimes,” Bedwell commented. “So that’s part of what we have to think about in looking at the future. We say the right things, but they are not getting through, so now we have to figure out how we get through,” Bedwell said.

Farmworkers Win One

Barry Bedwell: Court Decision Returns Constitutional Rights to Farmworkers

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Deputy Editor

Barry Bedwell, president of the Fresno-based California Fresh Fruit Association, discussed the implications of a unanimous decision on May 9, 2016, the California Fifth District Court of Appeal struck down as unconstitutional a 2002 law that stripped workers of their constitutional right to seek invalidation of unlawful Agricultural Labor Relations Board (ALRB) decisions in Superior Court.

Barry Bedwell, president of California Fresh Fruit Association
Barry Bedwell, president of California Fresh Fruit Association

According to a Gerawan press release:

This case arose after a Gerawan farmworker Lupe Garcia filed a lawsuit in Fresno Superior Court in which he claimed that the First Amendment was violated when the ALRB refused to permit him to silently observe the ALRB’s “on the record” proceedings concerning the terms of a contract to be imposed on him and all other Gerawan farm employees. Gerawan Farming supported Mr. Garcia in the Court of Appeal and in the Superior Court, and filed its own action seeking the same relief. The 39-page decision in Garcia and Gerawan Farming, Inc. v. ALRB, Case No. F069896, held that the California Constitution barred the California Legislature from stripping workers of the right to bring claims in Superior Court. In reversing the dismissal of Mr. Garcia’s lawsuit, the Court of Appeal directed the Superior Court to hear the employee’s case.

Bedwell said while this was good news for the farmworkers because they can’t be barred from secret meetings, “it’s even more technical than that. It says [ALRB] cannot deny [farmworkers] the right to sue to be there.” Previously, according to Bedwell, ALRB claimed farmworkers “could not sue in Superior Court on this issue of being denied access to the mandatory mediation hearing. This Court of Appeals has decided that was unconstitutional, that [farmworkers] can now move forward and sue under the theory that their First Amendment rights were denied.”

“I don’t think [the court decision] solves the entire issue,” Bedwell said, “but it clearly indicates the ALRB has really overstepped their boundaries, not only in the case of denying access to these farmworkers, but not allowing the ballots to be counted. What it really indicates is the ALRB is once again denying farmworker rights at a time they should be representing them. This is just more evidence that, unfortunately, the ALRB seems to be more directed towards protecting the union rather than the workers’ rights. This is a continuing pattern; it’s clear that the ALRB is not representing the farmworkers, they are representing the union, and that’s unfortunate.”

In terms of next steps, Bedwell thinks the ALRB may decide—as a policy—they won’t deny access. He commented, “It essentially may have accomplished what the farmworkers wanted in the whole question—of just being able to observe the mandatory mediation process. These were people who were going to be subject to the [union contract] terms, but the ALRB said, ‘Oh no, we don’t want you in. We only want the union representatives in.’ That’s pretty poor,” stated Bedwell.

“The system unfortunately is so biased and heavily weighted toward organized labor,” he continued. “I’m not sure what it’s going to take. I suspect that if we’re going to find justice for Gerawan employees, it’s not going to come through the agencies in Sacramento; it’s going to have to come through the courts.”

Positive Outlook for Table Grapes

Barry Bedwell: Positive Outlook for Table Grapes

By Charmayne Hefley, Associate Editor

At the November 17 Grape, Nut & Tree Fruit Expo in Fresno, Barry Bedwell, president of the California Fresh Fruit Association, reported a positive outlook for table grapes this year. “Production continues to expand,” said Bedwell, “and consumer acceptance of table grapes continues to expand, particularly for exported California table grapes. That’s a real positive. We’re also seeing the development of newer varieties—more proprietary brands that are very consumer friendly.”

Barry Bedwell, president, California Fresh Fruit Association
Barry Bedwell, president, California Fresh Fruit Association

Bedwell said topping this year’s California Fresh Fruit Association annual Board of Directors Top 10 Issues survey are water concerns, followed by food safety and labor. “These are relatively consistent,” Bedwell said, “but we have seen some changes. Since last year, water, of course, has gone to the top of the list. Our members expressed concerns beyond the drought that encompass what future water system will allow proper conjunctive use of water—both surface water and groundwater.”

“We’ve also seen increased concern over food safety. And even though grapes are permanent crops with, I think, a low risk profile, we always have to be very concerned about food safety.

Then we have to look at the labor situation—not only the cost of labor—but also the availability. So, even though it has been stalled, the need for immigration reform is critically important. We will probably be in a defensive position in the next couple of years, compounded by increasing labor costs due to some well-intended, but I think misguided, efforts to increase wages around the state unnecessarily.”

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In 2015, the California Fresh Fruit Association survey identified the following issues as top priorities: 

  1. Water Supply/Drought Related Issues (#3 in 2014)
  2. Food Safety (#9 in 2014)
  3. Immigration reform (#1 in 2014)
  4. Health Care Mandates/Affordable Care Act (#4 in 2014)
  5. Labor Laws and Regulations (#2 in 2014)
  6. Labor Costs/Minimum Wage Increase Impacts (#5 in 2014)
  7. Groundwater Management Requirements (N/L in 2014)
  8. Water Quality Regulations (Nitrogen, Salts, etc.) (#7 in 2014)
  9. Invasive Pest Issues (#6 in 2014)
  10. Workers Compensation Issues (#8 in 2014)

(Source: California Fresh Fruit Association)

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Links

Grape, Nut & Tree Fruit Expo

California Fresh Fruit Association

ALRB Education Does Not Require Worksite Access

Barry Bedwell Says ALRB Education for Farmworkers is Okay, But Not Worksite Access

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Deputy Editor

Officials from the California Agricultural Relations Labor Board (ALRB) held a public hearing in Fresno TODAY to talk about their proposal for worksite access– private operating farms–to educate farmworkers about the ALRB, and that did not sit well with ag leaders. Barry Bedwell, president of the California Fresh Fruit Association based in Fresno and other ag leaders questioned the ALRB’s motives.

“The real proposal has to do with granting legal access to ALRB agents to agricultural worksites for the purpose of educating workers about the Agricultural Labor Relations Act,” Bedwell said. “Education alone is something that no one I’ve talked to is against, clearly. We want people to understand their rights under the law.”

The Act provides, encourages and protects collective-bargaining rights for agricultural employees, but as Bedwell explained, access to a private worksite is a totally separate legal issue.

“It’s really complicated, unfortunately, because ALRB’s staff has shown to a great degree over the recent couple of years, a distinct bias towards organized labor,” Bedwell said. “The Act is all about a worker’s right to get one or more people together to complain about work conditions and to ask for certain things. It doesn’t mean the employer has to grant them; it’s really about worker’s rights.”

Bedwell said the request from the ALRB is distinctly not about a union’s rights, and “it’s never been about the employer’s rights,” Bedwell said. “We know that. But in this case, we think it’s at best premature to talk about workplace access without first understanding the issue of knowledge [or the lack thereof] out there currently and the best ways to conduct that education.”

Pointing to heat illness prevention and Cal/OSHA as a great example, Bedwell said, “Cal/OSHA did not ask for access to go onto someone’s private property. Instead, they said, ‘We will create the information systems through various media and through seminars which agriculture helped to organize and fund.’ We think that’s a great model for educational services, and we could help.”

Top Ten Issues Facing Ag

The Top Ten Issues Facing Agriculture:

California Fresh Fruit Association’s Bedwell Lays Them Out

By Patrick Cavanaugh, California Ag Today

For the first time in nearly eight decades, the California Fresh Fruit Association met in San Diego to carry on all the traditions established over the previous 79 years by the organization originally known as the California Grape & Tree Fruit League.

“How does that feel?” said President Barry Bedwell as he addressed a big part of his membership. “For the most part, I think the feedback has been more than positive. As we explain the rationale behind the name change and why we have moved from a very dear moniker, if you will, for an association that has such a great history, I think it is altogether fitting and proper to recognize our position in the state of California,” said Bedwell.

The Association covers the state from Lake County in the North to the Coachella Valley in the South, and represents 13 commodities with a combined value of $2.5 billion.

“The new name transition has gone very well,” noted Bedwell. “And as we look at 2015, I think it is a ‘schizophrenic’ time for agriculture. On the one hand, as our chairman, David Jackson, pointed out, economically, things look very strong for most commodities.”

“However, here we are in a situation of increasing anxiety. If you look at the feedback every year on our top ten issues, you can see the concentration of issues that are not simply operational in scope. They may be historic in impact when talking about water availability and groundwater management, as we move forward,” said Bedwell. “The availability of water, along with the availability of labor, are simply game changers. They can change things overnight. And I think, inherently, farmers understand that and all of you in this room working together as a supply chain understand that.”

Bedwell then announced his traditional Top Ten Issues Affecting Ag and the association and discussed how they changed from the prior year:

#10  Workers’ Compensation costs.  We bought up our partnership with Zenith Insurance. It’s about how to run programs more efficiently to save you money, but we understand that when it comes to the issue of worker’s comp, it is the issue of the legislature changing the laws to benefit certain classes of participants that leads to higher costs that render our competitiveness more difficult.

#9 Invasive Pest Issues. Look no further than what’s happening with the citrus industry and their struggle agains HLB and the idea of the Citrus psyllid continually being found in new counties throughout the state. Pests for us on one hand are more associated with things like the European Grapevine Moth, where we have done a good job, made progress, and have a chance at eradication, but pests are always on our minds because we are only one quarantine away from not being able to ship our fruit, and we understand that.

#8 Water Quality. We hear so much about water availability, but creeping up into our mindset as well, is water quality because we know we have issues with salts and nitrates in the Valley. How does agriculture get involved with this? It continues to be an issue.

#7 Groundwater Management Legislation. We saw on our list—for the first—groundwater management legislation. This is potentially a game changer. We just had a meeting with some of you in Visalia with the California Water Foundation. They are trying to explain the timeframe for this new law, and quite frankly, the more you learn about it, the more you have to be concerned about any potential outcome other than the scope of agriculture in the state of California.

Because what they are saying in an almost commonsense contradiction is that this has nothing to do with your water rights. Those don’t change, but we may limit the amount of water you can use. That is a tough one to figure out at times, but that is potentially where we are headed in the fourth year of the drought. As you hear the vernacular in Sacramento, the mindset begins to change from one of, ‘Maybe we’ll get rain this year,’ to ‘Maybe we are in the fourth year of a ten-year drought.’ So all of the sudden, the mindset begins to change to more management of water. This is a major concern.

#6 Labor Costs. Knowing and trying to educate legislators about the fact that seventy to perhaps eighty percent of our variable costs as farmers is tied up with labor because we deal with the most labor-intense costs possible with our 13 commodities. I don’t look at any as being machine harvested or machine pruned. So, every time there’s a good-will gesture of, ‘Boy, we should move that minimum wage up,’ we try to explain to people we don’t pay minimum wage. Wages are higher; but incrementally, all of our sectors move up, whether you are a tractor driver or an irrigator, and that has a major impact on our ability to compete on a world-wide basis. And you start to see the labor influence spilling into Baja, California.

As you read recently, workers there are demonstrating because they are making about $8/day, and we are probably more about $12/hour for seasonal labor. But we still have to compete with those instances, so labor is always going to be a concern. We always talk about labor laws and regulations.

#5 Agriculture Labor Relations Act. A year ago at this time, we talked about a case involving one of our members, Gerawan, and the United Farm Workers (UFW), who won an election back in 1990, disappeared for 22 years, then showed up again last summer. The UFW said, “We are the certified representatives for the employees, we’re now here, we want our contract.” The catch was that the employees said: “We don’t know anything about you; we don’t know why we should pay you three percent of our wages for dues.”

That situation resulted in a hearing beginning on September 29th. At that time, the hearing was in front of an administrative law judge in Fresno, and was scheduled to go for ten weeks. Those ten weeks finished up about two weeks ago—after 23 weeks had past. That’s incredible, to think, we have heard it cost as high as 7 million dollars to have that administrative hearing, all paid by California taxpayers.

This is not really how the law was intended to benefit the workers. So, as we move forward, we are always going to see efforts by organized labor to change the law to change the scale for their benefit. We saw it last year with SB 25, which really tried to create a perpetual mandatory mediation situation.

We have to continually push back on these bills. The most effective way to do that is to communicate the voices of those impacted, and in this case it is the employees. And so we have tried very hard to create a relationship with the members on the Agricultural Labor Relations Board, and a couple of weeks ago when we were in Sacramento, we had dinner with two of the three board members. And I know the chairman spent most of the time speaking with Harold McClarty, president of HMC Farms, so I know we are in good shape. It is really about relationships and that is what we continue to work on.

#4 Healthcare Mandates. What is happening with the Affordable Care Act, and how is impacting you?

We saw some very practical instances last year where many of our members who use farm-labor contractors were approached. And the labor contractors said, “Well, because of the Affordable Care Act, I’m going to have to raise my rates from $0.70 to $1.10/hour. But under closer examination, we said: “Well—hold it. What percent of your workforce really has to be covered under the Act?” In many cases we found that it certainly wasn’t 100 percent; it was sometimes closer to 10 percent. So we are trying to help administer the understanding of that Act for the best benefit of our members.

#3 The Continuing Need for Immigration Reform. It hasn’t gone away. I am so pleased to have Tom Stenzel, president of the United Fresh Produce Association, here with us today, along with his Board chairman Ron Carkoski, because we work very closely on these national issues with Tom and Ron. And our voice is still there. Our level of frustration has grown because as we entered this legislative session in Congress, guess what? What did we hear most about? E-Verify; the Legal Workforce Act; and the concern that we have documented workers. We don’t disagree with that. We think that’s a great idea, but you don’t put the cart in front of the horse; you don’t do E-Verify before you create a system for a legal workforce. That’s a very simple message we are trying to get to the leaders in Congress, and Tom and Ron do an absolutely fantastic job in helping to get that message across.

#2 Food Safety. Last July, I received a phone call from one of our members on a Saturday. It was hard to gauge the impact at the time, because that member said, “I want to let you know that we had four peaches show up in Australia, and there was an indication of Listeria.” Now in Australia, there is technically a tolerance for Listeria, and these were such low levels of Listeria, that that shipment was released.

It went on its way with no issues. But under further examination, Listeria was discovered in the plant. As the U.S. and FDA have no tolerance for Listeria and as U.S. law requires, there was a recall. This was not a small recall. It was a period from June 1st to, I think, July 17th. That is a huge amount of product.

During that time, there were no confirmed illnesses. That doesn’t mean there weren’t claims, because once you start a recall and information goes out to the public, there will be plenty of claims. But from an association point-of-view, how do we react and plan for the future with regard to food safety? Because all of the sudden, the perception of tree fruit in this instance, and peaches and nectarines, in particular, being a low-risk commodity, has changed.

Is it really a low-risk commodity? Absolutely, it is a low-risk commodity. But are we immune? Absolutely not. We found out that we have food safety issues, like so many other fresh produce commodities. We had to communicate the right way not only to the segment of our members who were involved. Many of them were, quite frankly, in a state of denial, saying, “This shouldn’t be happening.” Well it happened.

But I want to applaud the industry, and especially our leadership Association, who said, “We have to do the right thing. We have to communicate our concern. We have to be positive about this.” They not only moved forward with our membership aspect, but  they also created the partnership with the Center for Produce Safety in Davis to develop the best possible practices as we move ahead.

Food safety was further complicated late in the year because of the apple recall. Now those were candied apples, they had caramel on them. But as you can see, the fact is the Listeria found was attributable to the apples, not the coating. Again, we had an industry that thought, quite rightfully, they were low-risk. And once again, we are learning we are not immune. As we move ahead, food safety is going to be a very important component of our work as an Association.

We have created a food safety sub-committee, chaired by George Nicolate.

#1 Can anybody guess? Water. From our perspective, there are three general areas of water we have to focus on. Number one, the Water Bond, and what happened last summer. It is a very good success story, in that we were able, with the help of individuals in the legislature, to maximize the amount of dollars in that bond for above-ground storage. But in Sacramento today, there are challenges and perceptions regarding dams. People have mindsets that unfortunately go to the extreme and in many case, dams is one of those.

I can guarantee that through the efforts of people who were involved in our Association and through the Agricultural President’s Council, we were able to move up what was first a $2 billion proposal, then $2.5, then $2.7, with a commitment for a subsequent legislation on Cross-Valley conveyance in Kern County.

This was a major accomplishment, but as accomplishments go, unless you follow-through, you’re never going to realize the results. And I think George Soares, attorney with Kahn, Soares, and Conway in Sacramento, said it best when he said, “As these things happen, amnesia sets in with people very quickly. And all the sudden the people with whom you were discussing above-ground storage with will start to say, ‘Well, you know the bond says it doesn’t have to be above-ground storage; maybe we could do local projects, regional projects, or maybe we can do underground banking.’”

Our message has been very clear, “No, the deal that was made was on two above-ground storage units, and the fact is that these will be decided by water commissioners. There are public benefit formulas, and those projects should be at the top. And until they are disqualified, they should be the first two that are qualified.”

As we were up in Sacramento a couple weeks ago, I think there was frustration among our participants as we heard the governor’s point person on water start to demonstrate that amnesia right in front of us. And that was a concern.

Number one, we have to push the true intent of the water bond to the finish line.

Number two, we have to have input into the groundwater management regulations a process that will require regulations sustainable management agencies for local water agencies. This is a very complicated issue. It’s very difficult to talk about what sustainability is. When they set baselines to talk about the ability to use groundwater, it is vital that we have the opportunity to give our input to stress the importance of sustainability and to emphasize that human health also involves vibrant farms and the employment of individuals. We have to have those concepts melded together.

Lastly we have the long-term issues of water conveyance in the state. If we are going to remain the agricultural giant that we are with the, I believe, all time record in 2014, we are going to have to find a more efficient way to move water, whether is that is the governor’s BDC plan, which doesn’t appear to be gaining traction, or not. But longer-term, members have said, “We are not against moving excess water South. We have to make sure the health of the Delta is maintained. We have to respect environmental laws, but we have to respect the impact of agriculture on our quality of life. So, water is at the forefront.

So, how’s the association doing? Very well. Financially we are on strong terms, I feel very good about our name change and our voluntary leadership moving ahead. I think we can take confidence in looking ahead at the future for this Association.

In summary, I just want to reiterate my thanks for being able to work for production agriculture. It is frustrating at times. It’s always difficult. Working with people who sometimes don’t understand, … it reminds me of the saying that I read in the paper yesterday and need to share with you. It is by Mark Twain, who said, “You never want to get into an argument with a stupid person, they will simply drag you down to their level, and then beat you with experience.”

Many times, in the world of public policy, that’s what we’re are dealing with at times. But we tend to look at it as an opportunity to educate as well as advocate. Those are two separate things, you have to be good at both of them, and I think our leadership does a very good job with them.

Bedwell gave special thanks to this year’s Chairman David Jackson and his wife Gale. He also reached out to thank his staff for the great job they are doing back at the office and in the field.

For more information, go to: California Fresh Fruit Association.

Governor Brown’s Groundwater Legislation Signing was Imminent

The Process of the Governor’s  New Groundwater Legislation is Flawed

 By Kyle Buchoff, California Ag Today Reporter

On September 15, Governor Brown signed a new package of groundwater legislation into law.

Barry Bedwell, president of the California Fresh Fruit Association, which represents a large part of the tree fruit industry across the state, says the signage of those bills was imminent. Bedwell, known to be an agricultural leader who fights for farmers, remarked, “I think given the severity of the drought, and the fact that everyone has been calling for action, no one should be surprised that the governor has decided to sign these bills.”

“I think the problem is that the process itself is flawed,” Bedwell continued. “We, as stakeholders, particularly from Agriculture, did not have the opportunity to vet the ideas, weigh in on this groundwater legislation and try to come to a consensus–much like we did on the water bond–to make sure that agriculture had a buy-in to the process. That is what was lacking here,” said Bedwell.

Bedwell says that no one in Ag argues against the need for sustainability in groundwater management. “We all understand that. But once again, when you have three bills that were amended the last few days of the session, and then voted on in the wee hours of the night on the last day, it is just not a system that inspires confidence. You just can’t do that.”

Bedwell predicts attorneys will be lining up for litigation. “For the next 30-40 years, maybe, these people will be in litigation on these kind of issues,” he said.

CA Grape & Tree Fruit League Changes Name to California Fresh Fruit Association

The California Grape & Tree Fruit League announces it has officially changed its name to the California Fresh Fruit Association – an identity its members believe better defines the broad types of commodities it represents.

The California Fresh Fruit Association will formally present its new name to executive and legislative officials in Sacramento, CA during its Annual Fruit Delivery on Tuesday, August 12, 2014 from 10:30 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. And to celebrate this important milestone, an evening reception will follow with government officials and California Fresh Fruit Association members at Esquire Grill (1213 K St., Sacramento, CA) from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

The membership-based organization is one of the oldest agricultural trade associations in California, dating back to1921 with the California Growers and Shippers Protective League and in 1936, with the California Grape Growers and Shippers Association. Together, these organizations merged into the California Grape & Tree Fruit League. Today marks another momentous occasion, as the association has become the California Fresh Fruit Association and continues to represent its members in all aspects of public policy.

The Association’s Strategic Planning Committee presented the possibility of a name change in 2013 upon the completion of its five-year strategic plan. Members were approached by the Board of Directors to consider a new name that would encompass more of the commodities it represents, such as fresh grapes, blueberries and deciduous tree fruits including: peaches, plums, apricots, nectarines, pears, apples, cherries, figs, kiwis, pomegranates and persimmons. In summary, the Association represents the state’s permanent fresh fruit crops with the exception of citrus and avocados.

With support from the Board of Directors and the organization’s nearly 350 members, the California Fresh Fruit Association proceeds with business as usual under its new name, advocating for fresh fruit growers, shippers and marketers in Sacramento, CA and Washington, D.C. The California Fresh Fruit Association’s headquarters will remain in Fresno, CA.

“While undergoing a name change is no easy task, little has changed as we’ve made sure to continue with our responsibilities as usual,” said Barry Bedwell, president of the California Fresh Fruit Association. “As we began the process, we wanted to proceed with a name that accurately represents our members and the commodities they provide. We couldn’t be happier with our selection – California Fresh Fruit Association is exactly who we are and what we represent.”

 

About California Fresh Fruit Association

The California Fresh Fruit Association is the advocate for its members on a daily basis, which is made possible through the voluntary support of growers, shippers, marketers and associate members. The organization was created in 1936, mainly to negotiate railroad rates for shippers, and has since evolved into filling the industry’s need for public policy representation. Visit www.cafreshfruit.com or call (559) 226-6330 to learn more.

Table Grape Harvest Now Underway in SJV

Source: Cecilia Parsons; Ag Alert

Color, sugar content and berry size of many early table grape varieties hit harvest targets last week in the southern San Joaquin Valley.

Harvest in the Arvin area of Kern County is a week to 10 days earlier than normal this year, according to grape grower Ryan Zaninovich. Harvest of the San Joaquin Valley’s 70 to 80 varieties of red, green and black table grapes will continue through November.

Zaninovich, chairman of the California Grape and Tree Fruit League and manager at Vincent B. Zaninovich & Sons Inc. in Richgrove, said warm spring weather is driving earlier harvests in all grape-growing regions of the state. The desert region table grape harvest began in late April and will wind down this month, as harvest transitions to the southern San Joaquin Valley.

Coming off a record-production year of 117.4 million 19-pound boxes for all growing regions in 2014, Zaninovich said yields from this crop are estimated to be about average to larger with excellent quality. An updated crop estimate will be released in July, prior to the peak of the California harvest. Coachella contributes about 5 million boxes to the total.

Zaninovich and retired Kern County Cooperative Extension viticulture advisor Don Luvisi said no serious pest or disease issues are looming for growers. Grape quality is expected to be excellent again this year, with only minimal sunburn where canopies are light.

“When we have good spring weather, that generally means the quality will be high,” Zaninovich said. Grape mealybug is always an issue, but growers have been able to keep them under control, he added. Growers keep up with pest control and suppress powdery mildew early, Luvisi said.

The biggest challenges this season for growers will be water and labor. Most depend entirely on groundwater supplies for irrigation. Adequate water not only ensures higher yields, but also protects vines from stress that invites pests and disease.

“We’re all relying on groundwater and hoping the wells don’t go dry. I’ve heard of a few growers who are having issues with their wells,” Zaninovich said. “We all have strategies for best water use and to protect the longevity of the vines.”

Zaninovich said different varieties of table grapes use different amounts of water during the year. Varieties that are harvested early in the season or have lighter yields use less water than heavier producers or varieties harvested later in the season.

Labor will cost more this harvest season and availability could become a problem for growers later in the season, and many varieties and other hand-harvested crops demand labor, said Barry Bedwell, president of the California Grape and Tree Fruit League.

“There are no reports of shortages now, but the crunch time comes in August and September, when we’re competing with other harvests,” he said.

Harvest crews are paid by the hour with bonuses per box. Bedwell said they average higher than minimum wage, but growers base their pay on the state minimum wage. The harvest requires skilled labor, and crew members can average $10 to $14 an hour, he said. Table grapes are field packed into boxes and trucked to cold storage prior to shipping.

California’s approximately 500 table grape growers are looking at strong prices and robust export sales this year, according to Bedwell. The trend for both is upward, as growers are coming off two strong sales years.

Kathleen Nave, president of the California Table Grape Commission, said table grape growers have been extending their harvest season with new early and later varieties of grapes. Red grapes dominate the top five. Flame, Scarlet Royal and Red Globe are the top three varieties in acres planted. Autumn King and Sugarone are two of the most popular green grapes, while Autumn Royal is the most popular black grape.

“With a longer harvest season and promotion efforts, we expect exports to be up,” Nave said.

Canada, Mexico and China are top export destinations for California table grapes. Bedwell pointed out that while California products are popular in China, that country’s table grape production far outpaces California. With annual production hitting 1 billion boxes, their Red Globe varieties alone equal all of California’s production.

China has begun the process of exporting grapes to the United States, Bedwell noted, and is currently in the pest review process—which could take another three years.

Luvisi said the biggest change in table grape production over the past 20 years has been the development of many seedless varieties.

“Seeded grapes are really hard to find now,” Luvisi said. Older varieties like Thompson Seedless are also being replaced with varieties that hit certain market windows. He noted Kern County table grape growers have planted a newer green variety, Superior Seedless, after taking out Thompson Seedless vineyards. Zaninovich said he has planted another newer green variety, Autumn King, which is a heavy producer.

In the past few weeks, Luvisi said, Kern County growers were checking vineyards for color, sugar and berry size to determine when to harvest. Market demand and prices also drive the decision, he said.

Recent weather has been an advantage. Temperatures above 95 degrees slow down development; cooler days with 85 to 95 degrees push maturity. When bunches of red grapes are 95 percent colored, Luvisi said harvest will begin. Green grape maturity is determined by sugar content. Berries will continue to size until picked, he added.

“We’ve had perfect weather for making sugar,” he said.

Sustainability Questions From California Officials

At the annual United Fresh Conference in Chicago, which attracts the produce industry from California and all over the United States, there was a talk on sustainability. Could it be just another regulation?

Barry Bedwell is the President of the California Grape and Tree Fruit League in Fresno. He thinks the whole idea of farming sustainability could just be another regulation.

“When you look at sustainability you have to understand that we need to show value and rely on the value by the existing regulatory network. While we may not always agree with has been regulate or to the extent of regulation, it should provide confidence to other third parties particularly our demand-side partners.” said Bedwell

Barry mentions that much of what the sustainability initiative wants is already provided.

“There is compliance with social accountability issues, there is compliance with environmental friendly issues. There is compliance actually with economically viable issues as well. So number one, understand the value of the regulatory system before you go to a new initiative, understand what is already in place thorough regulations.” said Bedwell.

Bedwell says some of the proposals that have been brought forwards have secondary agendas.

“With somebody who comes in and says “Well I want to participate in a food safety initiative” it may be that their primary goal is involved with worker organization, under organized labor. The retailers and demand-side partners should understand that sustainability should not be used as a marketing tool. That there shouldn’t be a rush to “out sustain” one another. Because by doing that and creating further unofficial regulation on the producers you’re going to do the opposite, you’re going to make them less sustainable.” said Bedwell.

“So are message is, sustainability is an absolute positive thing, we probably have been doing it for many many years, what we haven’t been doing is communicating effectively. Can we improve? absolutely.” said Bedwell. “But lets understand what’s already in place, lets understand some of the motives of those that are pushing sustainability. Then also understand the role of the true partnership between the demand and supply sides.”