Agriland Farming Excels in Management

Family  and Community Top of Mind

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Editor

Jim Maxwell founded Agriland Farming, Inc., a dynamic farm management company based in Madera County, which has grown from less than 2,500 acres in 1990 to oversee more than 25,000 acres of pistachios, almonds, walnuts, grapes, citrus, kiwis, and figs across seven counties, from Stanislaus to Kern.

Agriland’s clients range from individual owners with 40 acres to some of the largest institutional farm owners in the U.S. Their clients include several large nut processors and marketers and individuals from almost every major ethnic background. Maxwell believes that one of the critical strengths of the company is found in the consistent high ethical and business standards of its clients.

Jim Maxwell, Agriland’s CEO

Maxwell, Agriland’s CEO, and its innovative management team have built the company into one of the largest nut growers in the U.S. In addition to the farm management divisions, Agriland has expanded specialized mechanical services available to outside clients.

“We originally started pistachio and almond harvesting companies to help our clients avoid the risks associated with late harvests, and we have ended up harvesting for many of our neighbors,” Maxwell said.

This same philosophy is why Agriland now runs a deep-well pump company; a farm supply company; and a more recent start-up dedicated to mechanical hedging and topping, mechanical stacking of pruning brush, mummy nut shredding, setting floors for a “no-till” approach to orchard floor management, and AF36 spreading to control aflatoxin in pistachios.

There is no doubt that talented managers and staff across all agricultural production disciplines have helped the company excel in providing “state of the art” farming services to owners of permanent crops. The approximately 275-full-time farm employees, some of whom have been with the company from the beginning, are asked to treat the trees and vines as though they are their own.

It is this mentality of employee responsibility and ownership that has helped Agriland excel in the farm management industry. From top to bottom at Agriland, all workers are considered to be part of the “family” and are often referred to as “associates”—as opposed to the traditional term “farmworkers”—and they are recognized as the company’s number one resource.

Maxwell and his team try to treat every member of the Agriland Family with dignity, respect, and compassion.

“We believe that it is not only the right and proper thing to do but that our clients and company will succeed based on how we treat each of its members.”

Hence, the company conveys compassion for its top resource by providing a wellness plan for every employee and their family. The company also hosts an on-the-farm health clinic, offers a 401K program, and gives holiday and paid time off to field employees.

Part of the Agriland Management and Production Team

The idea behind the health clinic began even before ObamaCare (the Affordable Care Act or ACA) was passed.

“I knew that although our associates would have access to ObamaCare, they would not be able to afford the subsidized insurance,” Maxwell explained. “Furthermore, they were not willing to buy coverage because most had not been to a doctor for many years and therefore did not see the need.”

“So, we entered into a joint venture with Camarena Health—a community-based healthcare provider,” he continued. “We built the small onsite brick and mortar clinic, staffed by Camarena doctors, nurses and other medical specialists regularly. Each company employee, individually and privately, meets with a doctor in a room equipped with an exam table and all of the important screening devices.”

“At the clinic, we do a biometric health screening for those associates who want it,” Maxwell said.

The screening measures physical characteristics such as height, weight, body mass index, vision, blood pressure, blood cholesterol, and aerobic fitness, in addition to an A1C blood test to determine one’s risk of diabetes better. The screening and testing performed at the clinic are in addition to the health booths set up at picnics and harvest celebrations where employees can sit down and check their blood sugar and blood pressure.

“When we started testing, we wanted to identify the employees who were diabetic, pre-diabetic, or hypertensive, because we felt like these were health issues that, if identified early and treated properly, could help these ‘family members’ and make a meaningful, long term difference in their lives,” Maxwell explained

“The goal is to benchmark and evaluate changes in general employee health status over time,” he continued. “Once the metrics are understood, management establishes classes, such as nutrition and weight loss courses, which are presented during evening classes for employees and spouses to attend. We bring in instructors to teach those who are diabetic, pre-diabetic, or hypertensive what to do to protect their health.”

Of course, employees are not obligated to come to the clinic, but Maxwell encourages them by paying them for the time they are there.

“At first, very few employees signed up. Then I pleaded with them to go to the clinic to make sure they were healthy or to identify areas of health needing improvement. Still, very few stepped up.”

So Maxwell offered an incentive, a $50 Walmart or Save Mart gift card, “and that dramatically increased the signups.”

In addition to health-related classes, the company provides English as Second Language night classes for employees and their families.

“We built the Training Center for two purposes: to serve those who work here and their families and to serve the needs of the community.”

The company actively promotes the education of the children of their farm workforce by incentivizing academic excellence in middle school and high school, followed by college scholarships for those who qualify.

“We have to be able to tell seventh graders that if they get good grades and are qualified to go to college, we will be there for them by the time they graduate from high school. Our scholarships are generally $2,500 per student, per year, for four years of college attendance. When we give them the first scholarship check, we also present them with a new laptop computer for them to use in college,” Maxwell said.

Many farmworker families, going back generations, have never had a family member go to college.

“If a child of one of our farm employees works hard, gets good grades, and goes to college, he or she will likely be the first generation and possibly break the cycle,” Maxwell said. “And I believe that the children of these students will follow their parents and also go to college.”

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Expert Emphasizes Farm Equipment Safety

Nut Harvest Safety – Part 4

By Jessica Theisman, Associate Editor

On the job injuries are all too common in agriculture when working with tractors and other machinery. We spoke with Paul Williams, a senior loss prevention consultant with the State Compensation Insurance Fund, about the importance of farm equipment safety.

One big safety concern is unguarded PTO shafts and missing guards, which could also lead to a hefty fine. Checking these areas are part of the preseason inspections that should be done at harvest. Farmers should get out there and make sure everything is working properly.

Farm Equipment Safety
Paul Williams

“It is cheaper to repair equipment in the shop than it is trying to make the repairs in the field. Just proper maintenance and making sure things are properly guarded,” Williams said.

According to Williams, wearing seat belts while operating tractors is also extremely important. “Every year we get these fatalities operating tractors. Fifty fatalities a year maybe in tractors; they’re all so preventable,” he said.

“We are all used to driving cars in our California, wearing our seat belt. We get on farm equipment, all of the sudden we don’t know what that seat belt’s for anymore,” Williams said. “There are all kinds of excuses for not wearing a seat belt. At the end of the day, your safety is worth the extra three seconds it takes to put one on.”

Even if your tractor has rollover protection, it is very important to wear a seat belt as well. A lot of safety equipment is the cause of death when a worker does not wear their seat belt.

“They are ejected and tractors roll over and what kills the worker? It is that rollover protection that crushes them into the ground,” Williams explained.

Many workers rush because they think that it makes them more efficient. If you are being rushed, you are putting yourself at risk.

“The whole idea at the end of the day is to go home to your family, safe. Be able to return the next day to your work. You should always work to provide, to live, not live to work,” Williams said.

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Wawona Packing Co. Takes Precautionary Step of Voluntarily Recalling Products

Wawona Packing Company of Cutler, Calif. is voluntarily recalling certain lots of whole peaches (white and yellow), nectarines (white and yellow), plums and plots packed between June 1, 2014 through July 12, 2014 due to the potential of the products being contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes

Wawona Packing has notified retailers of the specific lots being recalled. No other products are impacted by this recall. To our knowledge health officials have not linked any illnesses to this recall.

Listeria monocytogenes, an organism which can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and other with weakened immune systems. Although healthy individuals may suffer only from short0term symptoms such as high fever, sever headache, stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea, Listeria infection can cause miscarriages and stillbirths among pregnant women.

The recalled products were shipped directly to retailers and wholesalers who resell the products. Because we do not know the locations of the companies that purchased the products from our direct customers, the company is issuing a nationwide recall. Consumers can identify the recalled products by the information on www.wawonapacking.com.

Anyone who has the recalled products in their possession should not consume them and should discard them. Consumers with questions may contact Wawona Packing at 1-888-232-9912, M-F, 8am – 11pm ET, or visit www.wawonapacking.com for a copy of this press release.

Wawona Packing has already notified its business customers and requested that they remove the recalled products from commerce. Wawona Packing is voluntarily recalling these products in consultation with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The recall was initiated based on internal company testing. The company shut down the implicated packing lines, retrofitted equipment, sanitized the facility and retested. Subsequent daily test results have been negative.

“We are aware of no illnesses related to the consumption of these products,” said Brent Smittcamp, President of Wawona Packing Co. “By taking the precautionary step of recalling product, we will minimize even the slightest risk to public health, and that is our priority.”

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