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March 7, 2014

Sowing the Seeds of Success at Ag Council’s Annual Meeting

Stormy weather was a welcome travel inconvenience for the more than 160 attendees who made their way to Huntington Beach, Calif. this past week for the 95th Annual Meeting of the Agricultural Council of California (Ag Council) that was held in conjunction with CoBank’s Pacific West Customer meeting.

“Financially Ag Council has never been stronger,” said Rich Hudgins, 2014 chair of Ag Council and president and CEO of the California Canning Peach Association. “2013 has been a very good year for our organization with a dramatic increase in our membership base. In the words of Henry Ford, ‘Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; and working together is success.’ Farmer-owned cooperatives are the perfect example of the power of working together toward a common goal.”

95th Annual Meeting Highlights

Sen. George Runner, current member of the Board of Equalization, speaks before Ag Council members.

Sen. George Runner, current member of the Board of Equalization, speaks before Ag Council members.

Ag Council’s Annual Dinner on March 2, featured keynote speaker Senator George Runner (Ret.), and member of the State Board of Equalization. “This is a tough state to do business in,” said Runner during his remarks. “You are overtaxed and overregulated, so I have a great deal of gratitude for those of you who establish a business and stay in California.” Runner discussed his efforts on tax reform and his interest in seeing California taxpayers receive a fair benefit for the taxes they pay as part of his address.

Ag Council’s General Session the next day was moderated by Jackson Gualco, of The Gualco Group. Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC, and a leading political and media strategist whose record includes work on four presidential and three gubernatorial campaigns was the first speaker of the day. Scnhur discussed the state’s political environment and predictions for the coming year.

Mike Kirkpatrick, a financial consultant for Nationwide Insurance’s Land as Your Legacy program outlined the challenges facing family farm businesses as they try to transition to the next generation. “Ninety-eight percent of farms are family-owned, but statistics show us that only a fraction of those successfully pass to subsequent generations,” he said. “Even when those businesses to make it to a second or third generation, there is often discord that occurs that threatens the fabric of a family.” As part of his presentation, Kirkpatrick offered several tips for easing that transition.

Dr. Patrick Lattore, president of PAL~Leadership, LLC closed out the Ag Council General Session with a presentation that challenged attendees to understand how business cultures, whether negative or positive, influence the ability to innovate and stay viable. “Our ability to lead is predicated on our ability to change ourselves and the culture we operate in,” he said. “To be successful as leaders, we have to be an example of change.”

Regulatory & Legislative Update
California’s historic drought was a key topic during the Annual Meeting, and was a primary focus of the organization’s advocacy work during the past year, according to Ag Council President Emily Rooney in remarks she made during her annual address.

“Given the state’s water crisis and the many pending regulations surrounding ground water, the top issues facing our membership heading into the coming year are related to water—both quality and quantity,” she said during her video remarks. “Proposed increases in several fees associated with water use have the potential to be very challenging to our members’ food production businesses.”

California’s historic drought has meant that Ag Council is also focusing a significant amount of its legislative efforts on water issues, according to Tricia Geringer, Vice President of Ag Council who addressed members during the group’s Delegate Body Meeting.

“The only silver lining to the fact that we’re in the driest year on record since the state first began keeping track in 1885, is that water shortages are touching every California resident personally,” said Geringer. “That means, as in the words of Governor Jerry Brown during his remarks to our members at the World Ag Expo in February, ‘the drought seems to have been a wake-up call to people regarding how critical water is to our state’s prosperity.’”

After declaring a drought State of Emergency in January, Governor Brown on March 1 signed legislation to help address immediate water shortages and other urgent drought needs. Most of the funding derives from existing bonds (Prop 84 and Prop 1E) with money going toward local and regional projects that are already planned or partially completed to boost water reliability.

“This is only the beginning of water-focused legislation that we will see in this session,” said Geringer. “There are also several state measures under consideration to revise the $11 billion water bond measure currently on the November ballot. Ag Council, along with other stakeholders, supports the effort to reduce the total bond amount, but is also seeking a $3 billion continuous appropriation for water storage projects. We will continue to emphasize a strong storage component in the water bond during our advocacy work because it is necessary to better prepare our state for future weather events.

Gray Allen Receives California Cultivator Award

Gray Allen (l) receives the Cultivator Award from Ag Council Chair Rich Hudgins (r).

Gray Allen (l) receives the Cultivator Award from Ag Council Chair Rich Hudgins (r).

A highlight of Ag Council’s 95th Annual Meeting was the presentation of the prestigious 2014 California Cultivator Award to Gray Allen, a public relations consultant who has dedicated his career to cooperatives, and more recently has been serving as a member of the Placer County Water Agency.

“Gray’s lifelong dedication to promoting and advancing the cooperative business model through his public relations work for Ag Council, then with California Canners and Growers, and now as a consultant to our coop makes him an ideal candidate for this award,” said Susan Brauner who nominated Allen for the Cultivator Award and serves as director of public affairs for Blue Diamond Growers. “He has been working tirelessly as an advocate for co-ops and farmer-owned businesses for 55 years, and continues to do so to the present day.”

Raised in New Orleans and educated in North Carolina and Arizona, Allen began his career in public relations in 1959, working with agricultural cooperatives in North Carolina and Arizona before moving to Sacramento in 1966 to accept a position with the Agricultural Council of California. From 1973 to 1983, he worked with California Canners and Growers, and from 1983 to 1989, with National Semiconductor Corporation in Santa Clara. In 1989, he started his consulting business based in Roseville, Calif.

“I am humbled to be receiving this award,” said Allen after being presented with the Cultivator Award by Rich Hudgins, current chairman of Ag Council and president and CEO of the California Canning Peach Association. “Farmers working together cooperatively to ensure their economic well-being has been a leading factor in the remarkable success of the American food industry. I am awed by what has been achieved and humbled by having witnessed it up close and personal.”

This special award is given to individuals who clearly have made significant contributions to agricultural cooperatives, or have demonstrated leadership and personal commitment to the industry. These contributions can be in areas such as proven leadership and dedication, innovation and/or environmental stewardship.

Storage Component Boosted in Water Bond Measure

Assemblyman Anthony Rendon (D-Lakewood), Chair of the Assembly Committee on Water, Parks and Wildlife.

Assemblyman Anthony Rendon (D-Lakewood), Chair of the Assembly Committee on Water, Parks and Wildlife.

Assemblyman Anthony Rendon (D-Lakewood), who is Chair of the Assembly Water, Parks, and Wildlife Committee this week added $1 billion in water storage funding to his water bond bill, AB 1331. With this addition, the water storage component in AB 1331 is now $2.5 billion, which is much closer to the $3 billion supported by Ag Council and other agricultural organizations.

Rendon said, “After holding hearings across the state, it’s clear that Californians want more storage in order to meet the growing water needs of our state. This increase in water storage funding will help protect California from future droughts and provide tens of thousands of new jobs at the same time.”

If approved, the funds would go toward both above and below ground storage and would be available through a competitive grant process since no earmarks are in the bill. In addition to the $2.5 billion for water storage, AB 1331 also proposes $1 billion in drinking water improvements, $1.5 billion for the protection of rivers and watersheds, $2 billion in regional climate change response projects, and $1 billion to protect the Delta.

AB 1331 is one of several water bond bills pending in the Legislature, including a measure by Senator Lois Wolk (D-Davis) and another by Assemblyman Adam Gray (D-Merced). Given that Rendon is Chair of the Committee on Water, Parks and Wildlife, his bill is one of the leading water bond measures under consideration in the Legislature.  A hearing is scheduled on March 25 to consider AB 1331.

As background, The Safe, Clean, and Reliable Drinking Water Supply Act is an $11 billion water bond measure that is certified to be on the November ballot. The water bond currently on the ballot was originally part of the legislative package crafted in 2009 by Governor Schwarzenegger and state lawmakers to meet California’s growing water challenges. The water bond measure was set to be on the state’s 2010 ballot and was later moved to the 2012 ballot. In July 2012, the California State Legislature, approved a bill to take the measure off the 2012 ballot and put it on the 2014 ballot to provide a public cost share for elements of the package that benefit the public.