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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Governor Brown signs 2014-2015 State Budget

Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. signed a balanced, on-time state budget that pays down debt, shores up the teachers’ retirement system, builds a solid Rainy Day Fund and directs additional funding for local schools and health care.

“This on-time budget provides for today and saves for the future,” said Governor Brown. “We’re paying off the state’s credit card, saving for the next rainy day and fixing the broken teachers’ retirement system.”

The budget includes a plan of shared responsibility among the state, school districts and teachers to shore up the State Teachers’ Retirement System (STRS). The first year’s contributions from all three entities total approximately $276 million, growing in subsequent years to more than $5 billion annually. This is projected to eliminate the unfunded liability in the system by 2046.

The budget also directs $1.6 billion into the state Rainy Day Fund – the first deposit into the fund since 2007. The fund is expected to grow to $4.6 billion by 2017-18, if voters approve of the measure on the November ballot that was proposed by the Governor and passed by the Legislature.

When Governor Brown took office, the state faced a massive $26.6 billion budget deficit and estimated annual shortfalls of roughly $20 billion. These deficits, built up over a decade, have now been eliminated by a combination of budget cuts, temporary taxes approved by voters and the recovering economy.

Significant details of the 2014-15 Budget:

Paying Down Debts and Liabilities
The budget reduces the Wall of Debt by more than $10 billion by paying down $5 billion in deferred payments to schools, paying off the Economic Recovery Bonds one year ahead of schedule, repaying various special fund loans and reimbursing $100 million in mandate claims that have been owed to local governments since at least 2004. Under the budget plan, the Wall of Debt would be completely eliminated by 2017-18.

Investing in Education and Health Care
The budget continues the state’s reinvestment in local schools, providing more than $10 billion this year alone in new Proposition 98 funding. This includes $4.7 billion for the second year of implementation for the Local Control Funding Formula, which directs new education revenues to districts serving English language learners, students from low-income families and foster youth. The budget also expands the number of low-income preschool students served, increases the rates paid to preschool providers and provides grants to improve the quality of these programs.

In health care, last year the state adopted the optional expansion of Medi-Cal under the Affordable Care Act, providing millions of Californians with affordable health coverage. Enrollment is now expected to rise from 7.9 million in 2012-13 to 11.5 million in 2014-15, for a total cost increase of $2.4 billion.

Addressing Climate Change
The budget includes $872 million of Cap-and-Trade auction proceeds – authorized by AB 32 – for greenhouse gas reduction, with an emphasis on assisting disadvantaged communities. The plan will modernize the state’s rail system, including high-speed rail and public transit, and encourage local communities to develop in a sustainable manner.

It will also increase energy, water and agricultural efficiency, restore forests in both urban and rural settings and create incentives for improved recycling. The budget permanently allocates 60 percent of future auction proceeds to sustainable communities, public transit and high-speed rail. The remaining proceeds will be allocated in future budgets.

Additional details on the 2014-15 budget, including line-item vetoes, can be found at www.ebudget.ca.gov.

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