CULTIVATING COMMON GROUND: Almond Growers on Assessment Increase

Almond Growers Want Justification and Vote on Almond Board’s Assessment Increase

 

Editor’s note: We thank John Harris for his contribution to California Ag Today’s CULTIVATING COMMON GROUND. The Almond Board’s Response can be read at Almond Board’s Response on Assessment Increase.

By John Harris, owner, Harris Ranch

 

Marketing orders give agriculture a great tool to collect fees from producers to promote products and/or conduct research projects.  The concept is great, and increasing demand is always good. To be successful, the plan needs to be affordable and explained so it is understood and backed by a big majority of the producers.  I am concerned the Almond Board’s recent assessment increase from 3 to 4 cents a pound—in the absence of an almond producer vote—is unwise.

Harris Farms Fresh LogoAt the current rate of 3 cents per pound, money raised will increase as production increases, which seem fairly certain.  Plus, the fund receives significant help from a government program to encourage exports.  A year or so ago, almond growers were doing really well, when many sales were exceeded $4 a pound.  But last fall prices dropped significantly, in some cases to the $2 range. This loss in revenue made it tougher for almond growers to break even. A grower producing 2,500 pounds per acre is now paying $75 per acre in assessments; under the new plan it would increase to $100 per acre.

To get feedback from growers, the USDA published a request for comments. The comment period opened on July 18 and closed on August 2. But the industry was not notified until July 27. I commented at the time that I was not in favor of the assessment without full knowledge of the purpose of the extra money. I am certain many growers have an opinion on this, but only five comments were submitted. I think most growers did not realize both the assessment increase was under discussion and a producer vote would not be forthcoming.

The time frame for comments was alarmingly short; however, the USDA has decided to reopen the comment period for 10 days.  The reopening of the comment period is expected to be announced within the next two weeks and will be communicated immediately to the industry once it is published in the Federal Register.

I urge all producers to take a good look at the proposal and voice your opinions.

This link will take you to the almond assessment comment page: https://www.regulations.gov/docket?D=AMS-SC-16-0045.

There should be more of a democratic process. I think this proposed assessment increase needs to go to a vote among the growers affected by it and should require strong approval by at least 51 percent of the growers representing 60 percent of the production. We don’t want to micromanage the Board’s process, but large changes like this assessment increase should demand some form of referendum.

I also think everyone would like to know how the millions of extra dollars collected would be used.

And, of course I think the industry deserves more awareness of this proposed increase in assessment. I do not hear people talking about it; many growers may not even learn about the extra assessment until they get their check from their handler next year. I think all almond growers need to know this is happening now and not be surprised next year.

If I asked my boss for a 33% raise, I believe the onus would be on me to sell the idea and win support, rather than just push it through providing little information to the guy who would be paying me.

If the Almond Board is increasing their budget by 33%, shouldn’t the burden be placed on the Board to win the support of growers?  I would think they would communicate a clear plan on how to spend the enormous increase—a strong and strategic plan—they would be eager and proud to share with growers and handlers.

To increase any tax/assessment, the logical thought process should be, “No, unless proven to be needed, supported, and affordable,” instead of defaulting to, “Increase the tax unless we get stopped.”


The Almond Board’s Response can be read at Almond Board’s Response on Assessment Increase.


Harris Ranch and Allied Companies


The Harris Family’s commitment to agriculture spans over 100 years, four generations, and four states, from Mississippi, to Texas, to Arizona, and eventually into California.

J. A. Harris and his wife, Kate, arrived in California’s Imperial Valley in 1916 to start one of California’s first cotton gins and cotton seed oil mills. They later moved to the San Joaquin Valley and began farming there.

In 1937, their only son, Jack, and his wife Teresa, began what is now known as Harris Ranch, starting with a previously unfarmed 320 acres of desert land on the Valley’s Western edge. With vision and determination, Harris Ranch has grown into the most integrated, diversified, and one of the largest agribusinesses in the United States.

Beginning with cotton and grain, Harris Ranch now produces over thirty-three crops annually, including lettuce, tomatoes, garlic, onions, melons, oranges, lemons, almonds, pistachios, walnuts and winegrapes, all backed by their commitment to superior quality and satisfaction. Harris Farms thoroughbreds are raised and trained to compete internationally. Harris Feeding Company, California’s largest cattle raising operation, and Harris Ranch Beef Company produce and market a premium line of packaged and fully-cooked beef products, including Harris Ranch Restaurant Reserve™ beef. All Harris products are served and sold at the internationally acclaimed Harris Ranch Restaurant and Inn.


The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by the various participants on CaliforniaAgToday.com do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs, viewpoints or official policies of the California Ag Today, Inc.


 

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“My Job Depends on Ag” is Growing

Steve Malanca on the Future of “My Job Depends on Ag”

By Charmayne Hefley, Associate Editor

Three months ago, a grassroots effort to spread the word of agriculturalists began in the form of the movement, My Job Depends on Ag. The organization held its first meeting this week at Harris Ranch in Coalinga with 50 members in attendance to discuss the future of the group.

Steve Malanca, co-founder of the movement, said his hope for the organization is to educate the consumer, as well as to unite the ag community. Malanca also sells agriculture equipment for AGCO.

“We really feel that educating the non-ag community about who we are and where our food comes from is very important,” Malanca said.

“We want to unite the ag community so that we all are represented together,” Malanca continued. “We want to encompass everybody—the organic farmer, the commercial farmer, the trucking company, the logging industry. But everybody that’s involved in ag we want them to know that we all have a stake in this, and if we can all come together and be as one, I think that we’ll be able to hopefully give a message to the general public that we have a need for people knowing where their food comes from.”

Malanca hopes to host a My Job Depends on Ag Festival in the future. The group is considering Los Banos as a location for the potential festival due to its accessibility with an airport, several hotels and a nearby fairgrounds for the event.

“We’re considering a festival in order to bring everybody together,” Malanca said, “and we’re considering combining the Salinas Valley growers with the San Joaquin Valley growers in a town for example like Los Banos.”

“We want to, perhaps, have ag tours around the city of Los Banos,” Malanca suggested, “and have buses available for people who aren’t familiar with ag to take a ride and come see what kind of crops are grown and how they’re done.”

“An historical pavilion would be nice to show people the history of agriculture, and California—not just central California, but the entire state,” Malanca stated, “and we’d bring in some big time entertainment and food, of course. And we’d have a way for everybody to be proud of what they do and to show people where their food comes from.”

Malanca said he hoped the group’s decal could be an icon that symbolized the importance of agriculture.

“We’re grateful for the response we’ve had with our decals,” Malanca said. “We hope that little decal being shown on people’s vehicles and equipment will be a sign or a vision for people to see where they’re food comes from and know that we are a huge community and that we are good people. Ag is good, and ag is where you’re food comes from.”

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West Side Farmer/Rancher Says Drought is Tragedy

John Harris, owner of Harris Ranch, recently weighed in about how the drought is affecting his farming operation in Coalinga.

“This is probably the most depressing time I’ve seen in agriculture on the West Side,” he said. “We have employees that have been here for 30 or 40 years who are facing getting laid off.”No Water Logo

Harris said he and his crew have spent a lot effort to develop trees, which are doing well, that are facing the chance of being taken out.

Harris lamented, “You drive around and there’s nothing green.”

“It’s just a tragedy,” he said, “but we’re just trying to sort out how best to cope with it. We’re looking at drilling more holes and trying to buy water here and there.”

“There are just a few things we can do but nothing that is a real silver bullet,” Harris commented. “We’re probably 70% fallow right now.”

In terms of a bright side, Harris said, “If there’s anything good about it, this makes it so bad that it becomes so evident that the Endangered Species Act needs to be changed. It brings it home that you just can’t live with that.”

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