(UPDATED/EXTENDED COVERAGE, 3:59 p.m.) SALINAS, Calif. — Western Growers members laid out an ever-growing list of priorities they want the group to address this year, from California's severe drought to its historic budget crisis, food safety and a national leafy greens program.
Members gave their views and concerns to a panel of association executives traveling through California during an annual series of meetings.
"They went through a lot," said Jim Bogart, president of the Grower-Shipper Association of Central California, after a June17 meeting in Salinas.
Another meeting took place later that day, and three more are scheduled in Visalia, Coalinga and Bakersfield on July 2.
The closed meeting attracted about 70 members. Board chairman Kevin Andrew and association president and chief executive officer Tom Nassif led the meeting.
The meetings are a way to gauge support and take comments from members on legislative priorities including immigration reform and a proposed national leafy green agreement.
Nassif said members voiced a lot of concern over California's dire drought, regulations and court decisions that are making it difficult to transport more water to the parched San Joaquin Valley, leading to lawsuits.
"We're very supportive of the lawsuits," Nassif said.
Members want the association involved, Nassif said, is the proposed closure of the California Department of Food and Agriculture by Sen. Dean Florez, D-Shafter, which may shift costs of services to users like agriculture companies.
Nassif said there wasn't anything that came out of the meeting that would lead to a great policy shift, but it helps ensure Western Growers is keeping true to members' needs.
Andrew said the challenge for the association is managing all the members' priorities and achieving meaningful results. The issues though, Andrew said, remain similar year to year and it can seem like little can be done to solve problems like foods safety, water shortages, and legislation.
"They are supportive of what we are doing," Andrew said.
The value of the meeting, Bogart said, is the face-to-face contact with executives and time to freely voice problems members think need to be addressed.
Bob Gray, chief executive officer of Duda Farm Fresh Foods, Salinas, said there weren't a lot of questions during the meeting from members but the range of issues the association is following is growing longer and more complicated.
Gray said one of the main issues discussed was keeping uniform food safety and traceability standards in pending federal legislation by having Western Growers lobby against exemptions for small regional or organic growers.
The western U.S. "industry has to consolidate and get bigger to make this affordable," Gray said.