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10 WG Members Support Transformative Change in Education through Philanthropy 12 Forward-Thinking Leadership Propels WG Founding Member Jack Bros. into 100 Years of Success 16 Revitalized Grower Trial Network Provides “Star Alliance” Access and Opportunity 20 Difficult Year for Food Donations But Need Continues to Rise 34 FarmWise Completes First Commercial Season 42 WGCIT SPONSOR Canada Becomes First International Sponsor of Innovation & Technology Center

WESTERN GROWER & SHIPPER Published Since 1929

Volume XCI Number 6

To enhance the competitiveness and profitability of Western Growers members

Dave Puglia President

Western Growers davep@wga.com

Editor Tim Linden Champ Publishing 925.258.0892 tlinden@wga.com Contributors Cory Lunde 949.885.2264 clunde@wga.com

Stephanie Metzinger 949.885.2256 smetzinger@wga.com Chardae Heim 949.885.2279 cheim@wga.com Production Diane Mendez 949.885.2372 dmendez@wga.com Circulation Marketing 949.885.2248 marketing@wga.com Advertising Sales Dana Davis Tyger Marketing 302.750.4662 danadavis@epix.net


4 6

President’s Notes Director Profile Legislator Profile

24 29 30 31 32 33 36 38 40 41

California Government Affairs Federal Government Affairs


Western Growers Assurance Trust Western Growers Insurance Services

Ag & the Law

Update from the WGCIT

WG Connections

Contact Us

Western Grower & Shipper ISSN 0043-3799, Copyright © 2020 by the Western Grower & Shipper is published bi-monthly by Western Grower & Shipper Publishing Company, a division of Western Growers Service Corp., 15525 Sand Canyon Avenue, Irvine California 92618. Business and Editorial Offices: 15525 Sand Canyon Avenue, Irvine California 92618. Accounting and Circulation Offices: Western Grower & Shipper, 15525 Sand Canyon Avenue, Irvine California 92618. Call (949) 863-1000 to subscribe. Subscription is $18 per year. Foreign subscription is $36 per year. Single copies of recent issues, $1.50. Single copies of issues more than three months old, $2. Single copies of Yearbook issue $4. Periodicals postage is paid in Irvine, California and at additional mailing offices. POSTMASTER: Send address changes to Western Grower & Shipper , PO Box 2130, Newport Beach, California 92658.



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Through the Looking-Glass In his sequel to Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll depicts a fantastical world in which his heroine finds that, like a reflection in a mirror, everything is reversed, including logic. Since Through the Looking-Glass was published in 1871, the idiom has come to describe situations where you find the opposite of what is normal or would be expected. This frame of reference often pops into my mind as I observe our elected officials and regulatory agencies in California. As our members can attest, the nonsensical and compounding School. Consequently, California businesses are left to employ expensive armies of lawyers and compliance officers to try to avoid running afoul of the state’s convoluted regulatory scheme.

regulatory burdens placed on businesses over the past several decades have taken much of the luster off the “California Dream.” No longer dreaming big, many business owners have succumbed to the relentless march of the regulatory state and now simply seek to keep their businesses alive against the onslaught. I recently ran across a seemingly routine announcement from a state agency that was jarring, at least to me, as an example of the absurdity of the state’s regulatory demands. The California Department of Industrial Relations announced the launch of a program by the Labor Commissioner’s Office to “help employers understand California labor law.” The State of California is using your tax dollars to hire a private company specializing in payroll and human resources, to conduct a series of webinars for confused employers trying to understand the knotted mass of California employment laws and regulations. Truly a Through the Looking-Glass moment. Like so many other aspects of the state’s regulatory reach, California employment law has become an electrified fence maze in which the walls shift without reason and once-safe paths are suddenly blocked without explanation. This can’t be dismissed as exaggeration when the state itself feels compelled to retain private sector consultants to try to help employers avoid the fines, penalties and lawsuits that have come to define their experience with California labor law. Perhaps our state’s elected leaders should consider unplugging the electrified maze and simplifying the pathway through. The Enlightenment-era French political philosopher Montesquieu, who deeply influenced the framers of the U. S. Constitution, posited that laws should be easy to understand so that citizens might be able to protect themselves from punishment for breaking the rules. This novel concept resonated with our Founding Fathers and helped shape our system of limited government. Unfortunately, in the two-plus centuries since our Constitution was written, the law has become, “so complex and voluminous that no one, not even the most knowledgeable lawyer, can understand it all,” according to Jay Feynman, Distinguished Professor of Law at Rutgers Law

Former Governor Jerry Brown acknowledged this problem in a little-noticed remark during his tenure as Attorney General in 2009. “The whole framework of law is crucial for the operations of business enterprises,” Brown told Legal Newsline . “But when over prescriptive, it creates a huge and growing amount of overhead and it does seem that we’re reaching the point of counter-productivity.” Expanding on the point, Brown said: “We are moving every year to add more and more legal prescription to our lives, to our organizations, to our businesses and how we all function…We’re overlaid too much with too many rules.” Brown didn’t exactly relieve employers of the state’s crushing regulatory burdens in his final terms as Governor, but the wisdom of his warning is only more powerful 11 years later. There is a propensity of our elected and appointed officials to pursue new laws and rules without seriously assessing the entire body of laws and rules already in place. New laws and rules make for nice press releases about some action that will show how the government is protecting us from some bad thing. But as Jerry Brown observed, too many laws and rules are a bad thing, too. We’ve reached that point, and many business owners are motivated to move away. While it is more difficult to do when land is your primary asset, companies in the agriculture sector are increasingly looking for the exits. Many of our members privately tell us their plans for expansion do not include California, and we have documented tens of thousands of acres that have already left for other states and countries. I am enthusiastically committed to pressing for regulatory sanity, but if California’s political leaders won’t answer that call, we must help our members work around them. Technology innovation is the beacon of hope. Automation in our fields and facilities reduces exposure to the maze of trip wires that defines California labor law. Technology improvements in irrigation and fertilization reduce exposure to increasingly impossible regulatory demands for efficiency and precision nutrient application. In these and many other aspects of our agriculture endeavors, innovative technology can enable survival and success even in the California labyrinth.



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Every generation of farmer has faced seemingly insurmountable challenges, whether from Mother Nature or the actions of human, and each has responded with an indomitable mix of ingenuity and hard work. That same innovative spirit thrives in our Western Growers Center for Innovation & Technology, and in countless fields across California, Arizona and beyond. Collectively, the innovations born out of these efforts will allow our industry to prosper in an era of diminishing resources and

ceaseless regulatory demands. In an ideal Wonderland, the government would operate as Thomas Jefferson envisioned in his First Inaugural Address, leaving its citizens “free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement.” Unlike Alice, however, Californians for now remain in the illogical world on the other side of the mirror. Let us focus even more of our energies on technology innovation to make it back to the other side.


RYAN TALLEY, Chairman ALBERT KECK, Senior Vice Chair STUART WOOLF, Vice Chair CAROL CHANDLER, Treasurer VICTOR SMITH, Executive Secretary DAVE PUGLIA, President DIRECTORS – 2020 GEORGE J. ADAM Innovative Produce, Santa Maria, California ALEXANDRA ALLEN Main Street Produce, Santa Maria, California KEVIN S. ANDREW Vanguard International, Bakersfield, California ROBERT K. BARKLEY Barkley Ag Enterprises LLP, Yuma, Arizona STEPHEN J. BARNARD Mission Produce, Inc., Oxnard, California BARDIN E. BENGARD Bengard Ranch, Salinas, California GEORGE BOSKOVICH III Boskovich Farms, Oxnard, California NEILL CALLIS Turlock Fruit Company, Turlock, California DON CAMERON Terranova Ranch, Helm, California EDWIN A. CAMP D. M. Camp & Sons, Bakersfield, California CAROL CHANDLER Chandler Farms LP, Selma, California LAWRENCE W. COX Coastline Family Farms, Salinas, California STEPHEN F. DANNA Danna Farms, Inc., Yuba City, California JOHN C. D’ARRIGO D’Arrigo Bros. Co. of California, Salinas, California THOMAS DEARDORFF II Deardorff Family Farms, Oxnard, California FRANZ W. DE KLOTZ Richard Bagdasarian Inc., Mecca, California SAMUEL D. DUDA Duda Farm Fresh Foods, Inc., Salinas, California CATHERINE A. FANUCCHI Tri-Fanucchi Farms Inc., Bakersfield, California DAVID L. GILL Rio Farms, King City, California BRANDON A. GRIMM Grimmway Farms, Arvin, California JOHN JACKSON Beachside Produce, LLC, Nipomo, California A. G. KAWAMURA Orange County Produce, LLC, Irvine, California ALBERT KECK Hadley Date Gardens, Thermal, California FRED P. LOBUE, JR. LoBue Bros., Inc., Lindsay, California FRANK MACONACHY Ramsay Highlander, Inc., Gonzales, California JOHN S. MANFRE Frank Capurro and Son, Moss Landing, California STEPHEN MARTORI III Martori Farms, Scottsdale, Arizona HAROLD MCCLARTY HMC Farms, Kingsburg, California TOMMULHOLLAND Mulholland Citrus, Orange Cove, California ALEXANDER T. MULLER Pasquinelli Produce Co., Yuma, Arizona DOMINIC J. MUZZI Muzzi Family Farms, LLC, Moss Landing, California MARK NICKERSON Prime Time International, Coachella, California THOMAS M. NUNES The Nunes Company, Inc., Salinas, California STEPHEN F. PATRICIO Westside Produce, Firebaugh, California RON RATTO Ratto Bros. Inc., Modesto, California CRAIG A. READE Bonipak Produce, Inc., Santa Maria, California ERIC T. REITER Reiter Affiliated Companies, Oxnard, California JOSEPH A. RODRIGUEZ The Growers Company, Inc., Somerton, Arizona WILL ROUSSEAU Rousseau Farming Company, Tolleson, Arizona VICTOR SMITH JV Smith Companies, Yuma, Arizona KELLY STRICKLAND Five Crowns, Inc., Brawley, California RYAN TALLEY Talley Farms, Arroyo Grande, California BRUCE C. TAYLOR Taylor Farms California, Salinas, California STUART WOOLF Woolf Farming & Processing, Fresno, California ROB YRACEBURU Wonderful Orchards, Shafter, California



At Western Growers, we are committed to excellence and the continued delivery of education, development and mentorship throughout our agricultural landscape. That’s why we developed the Western Growers University, an online campus and educational experience focused on the growth and development of both the leaders of today and those of tomorrow. Through interactive, online and public- session courses, we provide the tools to help business owners maintain excellence across both administrative and human resource management. www.wga.com/services/university

For more information, contact Anna Bilderbach HR Learning & Development Manager abilderbach@wga.com 949.379.3889




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Fred LoBue, Jr. Chairman of the Board LoBue Farms, Inc. Lindsay, CA

Member Since 2000 | Director Since 2000 Fred LoBue: A Career Well Spent

By Tim Linden W hen retiring Fred LoBue Jr. approached the subject of his life, he took to it in the same methodical way that largely defined the work he has done for the past 60 years. He began his produce industry career as a bookkeeper and has spent the past 55 years on the business side of the balance sheet for LoBue Farms. “For the purpose of this interview, I’ve divided my story into three sections,” he said. “My personal life. My career. And my service to the industry.” His story begins in Porterville, CA, in 1940, where he was born and first became acquainted with the citrus

industry, which has been his main pursuit almost ever since. His grandfather started the family citrus business in 1934. Fred’s father and his two brothers joined the family business and expanded it. Fred and several of his cousins followed suit, further expanding the grower-shipper company and then taking it back to its roots as solely a farming operation a couple of years ago. But we’re ahead of ourselves. Fred Jr. remembers working on the farm when he was only 10 years old, driving the jeep down the grove as his grandfather sprayed the trees. He worked in the family operation through high school and knew from a very early age that

it would be his lifetime passion. “I worked in the packing house when I was in high school and I just loved it,” he said. “It got in my blood.” LoBue graduated from high school in 1958 as student body president. He first went to the College of the Sequoias and then on to San Jose State, where he received his degree in Industrial Management. “All through college I took classes that would help me run the business – marketing, accounting, investment classes, business finances. I even took an elementary computer class taught by IBM, which was located right down the road (from San Jose State).” After college, LoBue got drafted and spent two years in military service stationed at Fort Lewis in Washington before he was able to



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Left: Graduating high school in 1958

Right: Approximately 1979, includes Joe LoBue, Jr., Fred LoBue, Jr., seated, Robert and Philip LoBue, standing

come back to the San Joaquin Valley and start his citrus industry career in earnest. “In 1965, I went to work in the office learning all the clerical things from the bookkeeper.” He soon took over that slot and spent many, many hours taking pencil to “reams and reams of paper” doing the all-important grower accounting work. LoBue Farms had many independent growers bringing fruit in every day during the season. It was a monumental task to log in every box, record the sales price, back out expenses and make the payments. “We did everything by hand. There were no computers.” By this time, the company was called LoBue Brothers, with Fred Jr.’s father, Fred Sr., in charge of farming, Uncle Mario running the business side and Uncle Joe doing a bit of both. Fred Jr. actually worked under Mario and longtime company executive G.A. Wollenman, who ran the packing facility in Lindsay, CA. Fred’s brother tragically died in the mid-1960s, though several of his cousins and his brother-in-law joined the family business over the next decade or two. By the mid-1970s, this third generation of the LoBue Farms family

tree began buying their own citrus groves separately and in partnerships. Eventually, the family holdings grew to 1,000 acres. Fred Sr. died in 1980 with his nephew Robert LoBue taking over the farming side of the business. Fred. Jr., who already was CFO, officially became the president of LoBue Bros. Inc. in 1996. He credits the other members of the executive team for helping him tremendously and bringing the company to new heights as the new century dawned. “You couldn’t replace G.A. (Wollenman),” Fred said. “After he started slowing down and then eventually retired, we took more of a team effort approach.” In the early 2000s, LoBue said the

citrus operation was at its peak, always second or third in size behind Sunkist. LoBue Bros. had three packing facilities by then as well as a robust export business and represented many different growers. “Our average grower had 40 acres,” he said, proud of the family farm legacy that LoBue Bros. helped to perpetuate. “At our peak, we packed 4.5 million boxes a year. We were an important factor for quite a few years.” He said the declining popularity of the Valencia orange caused LoBue Bros. to start to downsize. “We lost about 1.2 million boxes of Valencias,” he said, adding that corporate ownership of citrus acreage was another factor leading to the company’s decreased influence. The advancing age of the partners as well as external issues such as higher labor costs and increased competition made for a tough decision a few years ago. LoBue said no member of the fourth generation was interested in talking over the operation and the partners did not want to invest the millions needed to upgrade and automate their packing facilities. In 2017, after more than 80 years as an independent citrus packer and marketer, the LoBue family merged these operations into a



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Sunkist packer/shipper, with LoBue Farms, Inc. continuing its citrus growing and farm management business. It grows mostly navels on its 1,000 acres but also has some mandarins, grapefruit, blood oranges and a specialty citrus item called Sumo, which LoBue described as a cross of a navel orange, a grapefruit and a tangerine. As impressive as his business career is, LoBue has also left an out-sized mark on the many organization that he has served over the years. He announced his retirement from the Western Growers Board of Directors recently after 20 years of service. LoBue recalls that he first joined the Western Growers Board in 2000 when the Agricultural Producers Labor Committee merged with the much-larger trade association. He explained that Ag Producers, which was founded many years earlier, had a primary purpose of providing labor advice to citrus growers. Over the years, it expanded its suite of services to include health insurance, pensions plans and workers’ comp coverage. LoBue said merging with Western Growers was a great

idea. Initially, WG gave Ag Producers several at large board seats and then carved out a district for the citrus grower community, with LoBue representing that industry sector for two decades. Over the years, he was also a board member and chairman of California Citrus Mutual as well as the Citrus Avocado Pension Trust, and the California-Arizona Citrus League. He was also a founding director of a community bank and is active in many civic and church organizations. During his years of services, LoBue became very involved in the political arena taking many trips to both Washington, D.C., and Sacramento to lobby on behalf of the industry. “My greatest honor was getting to shake hands with President Ronald Reagan,” he said. He and his wife have four children, 12 grand children and one great grandchild. They have a second home in Morro Boy, which they occupy about one-third of the time and they love to travel by cruise ship. LoBue rattled off more than a dozen trips they have taken, including several of them

more than once. “When we enjoy a trip, we like to take it again,” he said. Though he has had a few disappointments and setbacks over his 80 years, LoBue has no regrets. “God has been very good to me,” he said. While he is exiting the industry as a full-time occupant, he remains committed to his farm and the industry at large. “I see innovation and technology being a big part of the future and solving some of the challenges we have,” he said. “That’s the only way we are going to stay in business. Labor and water are still the biggest issues. As someone once said, if you don’t have labor, you don’t have a water problem. And if you don’t have water, you don’t have a labor problem.” Speaking specifically of his efforts on behalf of the ag industry and his optimism for the future, LoBue said he has always been very impressed with how colleagues come together under the auspices of these industry organizations. “The big thing is how competitors mutually work together, partners in a common cause.”



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WG Members Support Transformative Change in Education through Philanthropy

By Stephanie Metzinger E ducation is an engine of possibilities. It has the power to create change, generate new career opportunities and result in economic development for future generations. That is why, throughout the United States and around the world, many have invested in education through philanthropic efforts. According to a study completed by the American Council on Education and funded by the TIAA Institute, in 2017, total giving by Americans surpassed $410 billion for the first time. Education was the second-largest sector of philanthropic contributions in the United States, after religion. The sheer magnitude of American giving demonstrates how education is seen as a valuable investment opportunity. Among the investors, Western Growers (WG) members play a vibrant philanthropic role in educational improvement. WG members understand the value of the next generation, as a large majority of the association is comprised of multi-generational farms and have made giving back to youth a keystone in their organizations. Over the years, farm principals and their teams have funded and provided invaluable support toward achieving profound shifts in postsecondary education.

Most recently, HMC Farms donated a jaw-dropping $1 million to found the Reedley College Center for Performing Arts. The generous gift made by Harold McClarty and his family farm will allow Reedley College to further its art education programs and facilities as well as provide students with advanced tools to prepare them for a world where performing arts intersects with technology. “Our family feels that any time we have the opportunity and resources to make a difference, we should do what we can,” said McClarty. “What better way than music and art to make our community a more enjoyable place to live.” In addition to supporting student achievement, the building, which has since been renamed the McClarty Center for Fine and Performing Arts, will contribute significantly to the arts offering in Reedley and the Central Valley at large. Reedley College serves a largely rural, high minority area and the new world-class facility will help provide intentional and equitable access to the arts, resulting in improved educational attainment and better regional economic vitality. The McClarty Center for Fine and Performing Arts is slated to be completed in late 2022. Nearly 250 miles south, another state-of-the-art facility launched by a significant donation from a WG member is in the midst of construction. Dan Andrews, the owner of Dan Andrews Farms LLC, pledged more than $500,000 to improve the athletic facilities used by the baseball program at his alma mater, Cal Poly Pomona (CPP). Andrews’ generous gift was used to commence CPP’s baseball stadium revitalization project in 2015 which, when completed, will bring a wide range of benefits to the university, community and athletics department. “When Coach John Scolinos passed away in 2009, a lot of the former student-athletes started to think of ways we could honor him while also improving the community of Pomona and the university,” said Andrews. “This baseball stadium project is a perfect opportunity.” His pledge was used to initiate phase one (of three) of the project, focusing on the construction of new lights. A brighter, more welcoming stadium would encourage youth teams and other outside groups to gather at the university; enrich the university experience by encouraging CPP students to engage in campus functions after class; and provide additional hands-on

The McClarty Center for Fine and Performing Arts will enhance access to the arts



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Students receive hands-on experience at Fresno State Bee Sweet Citrus Processing Laboratory the fruit, to sorting it, to grading it, students receive ample hands-on experience.” Bee Sweet furthered their partnership with Fresno State in 2019 when the citrus giant donated an advanced robotic palletizing arm to move and arrange boxes of produce, adding to the cache of learning tools available at the Fresno State Bee Sweet Citrus Processing Laboratory. Students now can learn how to operate and program the arm, improve their skills and knowledge of automated equipment and become savvier with agriculture technology. “It is great exposure, especially since a lot of the industry is moving to new technology like this robotic arm,” said Noe Toribio, a Fresno State industrial technology major, during the WG video campaign. “It’s going to be a great experience for us to learn. Especially since it’s on our campus!” By investing in higher education, WG members’ philanthropic efforts have and will continue to play a significant role in bolstering workforce development and career readiness. Though these are just three examples of charitable giving, they reflect how countless WG members are committed to improving human welfare through the cultivation of tomorrow’s leaders.

Dan Andrews pledged $500K to improve Cal Poly Pomona athletic facilities

experiences and opportunities for student-athletes. With support from generous donations such as Andrews’, the renovation project recently completed phase two and will be moving on to phase three in the coming year. Contributing to hands-on learning is a common theme among WG’s membership. In 2017, Bee Sweet Citrus donated a citrus packing line to Fresno State University. The packing line provides students with access to an industry-like laboratory experience, ultimately affording them a competitive advantage when they graduate into the workforce. The equipment, valued at $600,000, also gives students studying food science, plant science and industrial technology hands-on instruction for mechanical systems and industrial maintenance as it applies to food processing and safety. “Utilizing this packing line, students can take their food science, food safety, business or management skills and apply that to the real world,” said Monique Bienvenue, director of communications at Bee Sweet Citrus, in a recent WG video campaign. “The citrus packing line gives students a taste of what it’s like to work in production agriculture. From packing

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Forward-Thinking Leadership Propels WG Founding Member Jack Bros. into 100 Years of Success

By Stephanie Metzinger P lant. Water. Harvest. Repeat. Jack Bros., Inc. has mastered this technique, making the exact calculations needed to achieve longevity and success. For more than a century, the Jack family has made it a common practice to be ahead of the curve by anticipating changes and utilizing the latest technologies. “Our farm is very innovative, and we’re not just depending on what’s been done by generations past,” said Alex Jack, a third- generation farmer and owner of Jack Bros. “We are always looking five years ahead to see where things are going and adapt to them now because those that are late to the switch won’t be here in 10 to 20 years.” This type of forward-thinking leadership is what has propelled Jack Bros. to achieve more than 100 years of success. Lady Luck, he said, has also played a role in helping his family farm reach this monumental milestone. “Having good fortune with weather, prices and implementation of regulations is only part of the equation. You also need to have future generations who want to be a farmer,” Alex said. “Now you’re starting to see why luck, and God’s grace towards farmers, is the key to family farms making it to 100 years.” Jack Bros. Builds Extraordinary Legacy through Tech Adaptations The legacy of Jack Bros. dates back to 1914 when Alex’s grandfather Earl, founded the farm alongside his brother, Alvin. In the late 1950s, Earl’s son, Neal, returned to the farm to take over operations after serving in World War

II and the Korean War. Neal brought many of the innovations that were used in WWII back to the ranch and modernized that technology to simplify and enhance operations. He led Jack Bros. to become one of the first farming companies in the Imperial Valley to have car-to-car radios—the radios very similar to the ones he used in reconnaissance missions during the war—to communicate with employees in the field. Neal also brought in one of the first drivable service trucks used to service equipment in the field. In the mid-1970s,

he tried wheel line sprinklers, and a few years later was among the first to put in buried drip. “Back in the ‘70s, water conservation was not an issue like it is now,” said Alex. “But even back then, my father was trying to set a good example of conserving water.” Neal put almost every dollar made during his tenure into land improvements, cement ditches and underground drainage. His efforts paved the way for Alex to build upon this foundation and enable the farm to continue its legacy of innovation and dedication to advancing the industry.

Clyde, Earl, and Carol Jack



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“My grandfather spent all of his money buying ground. My father basically spent all of his money improving the ground. And then I am the one who gets to play with it,” said Alex. Since Alex took the reins in 1989, he has implemented numerous groundbreaking projects in an effort to create a solid foundation for the next generation. To date, he has put in approximately 1,100 acres of underground piping for drip irrigation, installed electric pumps throughout the ranch, and eliminated nearly all of his diesel booster pumps, which were previously used to power the farm’s sprinkling operation and drip system. “Not only are we trying to be a better farmer, but we are also trying to stay greener, be smarter with our water and predict what food safety regulations are going to look like in the future,” he said. “In a few years here, I don’t think regulators will allow water to touch the plants so I’m just trying to position us to be in an ideal situation.” Additionally, Alex has tapped everyday organisms to help the farm achieve a more sustainable future. He is currently using earthworms to combat soil diseases

and reduce the need for pesticides. Alex has invested $130,000 into building a worm farm where he will use their castings, or poop, as an organic form of fertilizer for his crops. The castings will be put into bags to percolate in water and the resulting “black tea-like” mixture will be injected into the drip system to protect the soil and crop. “Worms are fabulous for crops because they help fight soil diseases and suppress whitefly and aphid,” he said. In addition to the worm farm, Alex has been working with algae to minimize the number of commercial fertilizers used on his crops. He is currently on round two of building a farm for algae, which, when infused into the irrigation water, will enable soil particles to release more phosphates and therefore require less fertilizer. Alex is also in the midst of installing geothermal heating technology to naturally heat and cool his buildings while significantly reducing the impact on Mother Earth. Alex credits “the University of YouTube” for many of his ideas, but gives praise to Western Growers for allowing him to focus on building and sustaining his business while having the peace of

mind that industry-wide issues are being expertly handled. Founding Member Counts Western Growers among Keys to Longevity and Success Twelve years after Earl and Alvin established the Jack Bros. empire, they once again decided to partner to launch a new type of enterprise. At the time, the farming industry was in flux and growers were faced with an onslaught of transportation issues. The Jack brothers, along with a handful of other growers, knew that the industry needed one united voice to battle and overcome these challenges. On March 9, 1926, this small group of pioneers established the Western Grower Protective Association. The association, now known as Western Growers, has grown from a transportation-focused advocacy agency into a well-rounded support system that provides specialty crop farmers across California, Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico with a wealth of resources and assistance. In addition to continuing to promote fair trade in the industry, Western Growers is now a powerful voice in Sacramento, Phoenix

Custom-built algae farm will minimize commercial fertilizer use on crops



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and Washington, D.C., advocating on behalf of farmers and working with policymakers to ensure the success and stability of the agriculture industry. “We are incredibly proud that our family is a founding member and the only original member of Western Growers that is left,” said Alex. “They are always fighting for the issues that impact farmers most, and over the years, they have just been rock solid.” One instance, he said, where Western Growers truly flexed its muscle was during the 9/11 terrorist attacks, where the association swiftly reversed a directive that would have prevented farmers from continuing to grow the food needed to feed the nation. When the two planes flew into the Twin Towers, the third hit the Pentagon and the fourth crash-landed in Pennsylvania, the federal government grounded all aircraft; this included crop dusters and helicopters that sprayed crops. Western Growers immediately reached out to Washington, D.C., insisting that these important agricultural air vehicles resume flight. They succeeded in their effort. “Western Growers, with all their might and power, jumped in and got that situation squared away within a four or five-day period which was astounding considering all that the government was going through at the time during 9/11,” said Alex. As Alex mentors the next cohort to take over the farm, with his son, Russell, at the helm on the business side, he plans to continue and build upon the nearly century-long relationship with Western Growers. Alex notes how he is proud that both Jack Bros. and Western Growers have grown, side by side, throughout the years, adapting to unpredictable circumstances and leading change within the industry. He looks forward to sharing his passion for farming with future generations and will continue to ensure that his farm is on the cutting edge, flourishing for another 100 years to come. “I look at life like a teeter-totter. You are either going up or going down. Right now, our teeter-totter is straight up in the air,” he said.

Top: Jack Bros.’ Automatic Drip Irrigation System Bottom: Alex Jack uses earthworms to combat soil diseases



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Revitalized Grower Trial Network Provides “Star Alliance” Access and Opportunity

By Stephanie Metzinger P owering up the computer to see perfectly rectangular boxes with familiar faces peeking through, tiled one after the next, has become the new norm. When the COVID-19 pandemic struck and hosting in-person gatherings was ill-advised, video conferencing became a common practice. Events and meetings across the world went virtual, opening the floodgates to broader reach and more opportunity. Members of the Grower Trial Network (GTN) have fully embraced the change and are using this COVID-induced opportunity to expedite the trial and adoption of technology within the agriculture industry. The GTN is an organized group of Western Growers (WG) members who trial and evaluate technology coming out of the Western Growers Center for Innovation & Technology (WGCIT) in Salinas, CA. The group, which is led by Future Volunteer Leaders and supported by WG board members and the Center’s sponsors, held its kick-off meeting in February 2019 at Harris Ranch in Coalinga, CA. Since then, they have gathered at various locations up and down California and Arizona to hear pitches from agtech start-up companies, provide feedback and connect on potential trials or collaborations. However, when COVID-19 hit, all meetings went virtual and ultimately expanded the network’s capabilities. “The growers and participants like the virtual format because sessions are an hour with only a couple companies presenting at a time so it’s more in-depth,” said WGCIT Director Dennis Donohue. “Even after COVID, the virtual aspect will stay part of the program in addition to physical gatherings.” As part of the new format, growers can hear about budding technologies from startups residing in the WGCIT—some of which are located in other states and across the globe. These startups also now have the unique opportunity to speak to growers who previously would not have been able to attend

in-person pitches due to conflicting schedules. The convenience of virtual GTN meetings has birthed new opportunities for growers and startups to, together, refine technologies to meet the exact needs of the agriculture industry. “Technology has become such an integral part of agriculture, and it will continue to play a key role in the industry moving forward. The success of start-up companies depends upon receiving quality grower feedback,” said Colby Pereira, vice president of operations at Braga Fresh. “Specialty crops need tailored technologies in general and individual companies have very unique needs, so the GTN is an invaluable forum to facilitate the exchange of that information.” During the sessions, Pereira focuses on providing direction on measurable objectives on the farm as well as input on certain data/ metrics, cost-benefit analytics and ease of implementation. The meetings have resulted in numerous relationships with companies



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“Specialty crops need tailored technologies and individual companies have very unique needs, so the Grower Trial Network is an invaluable forum to facilitate the exchange of that information.”

—Colby Pereira, Vice President of Operations at Braga Fresh

that have either previously been part of, or are currently part of, the GTN. “I try to make a point of keeping in contact with companies I’ve connected with during the GTN meetings. I find it to be mutually beneficial as the startups are constantly evolving with their capabilities and we as growers are constantly identifying new operational needs for these technologies to fill,” she said. Along with pitching their products, the startups also have the opportunity to receive feedback on their business model. WG members who participate in the GTN meetings are leaders at their companies—many of which have been in business for 50 or more years—and provide the entrepreneurs with guidance on how to

build a thriving company. Most entrepreneurs in the Center are still in the beginning stages of building a scaling business, so the advice and mentorship from growers have proved invaluable. Connecting with these growers during the GTN meetings has also played a crucial role in helping entrepreneurs grow their network. At each session, startups are in the “virtual room” with a handful of agricultural leaders, technology pioneers, business moguls and potential investors and customers. The online forum creates a more intimate environment, allowing both startups and WG members to further their engagement and deepen their relationships. “A lot of the benefit we get from GTN is in introductions to

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other companies and potential customers,” said Bryan Banks, founder and chief operating officer at KipTraq. “While we have not yet closed any deals with companies we have been introduced to through GTN, we're close to closing a few.” KipTraq, which creates a flexible mobile data collection tool that streamlines any data collection process in minutes, is also delving into collaborations with other members of the GTN. The agtech company has been part of the WGCIT since May 2019, and since its involvement, has made significant connections by engaging in WG-related events such as the Forbes AgTech Summit and now the online GTN meetings. Moving forward, the WGCIT will make the program more customized to better meet the needs of both the grower and the startup. GTN meetings will now target specific companies to be paired with specific growers. For example, WGCIT startups working on technology to help mitigate bee colony losses will be paired with almond growers and water technology startups. The new tailored model will be implemented in future sessions with the help of Netafim, a GTN and WGCIT sponsor. Israel- based Netafim, a global leader in precision irrigation solutions for sustainable agriculture, has played an integral role in identifying participants for the program—in both the previous in-person forum and new virtual format. “Netafim is on a vital mission to help our hungry world grow more food, using less of our precious resources,” said Roy Levinson, Netafim's digital farming commercial lead. “The

Grower Trial Network provides us with the unique opportunity of connecting our most forward-thinking growers with the latest innovation in agtech. This allows us to help growers vet new product offerings and we can contribute to the refinement of the startups offering to ensure efficacy in the field.” Netafim joins a whole host of WGCIT sponsors from around the globe who have generously funded and supported the WGCIT. These include philanthropic-minded WG members across California, Arizona and Colorado as well as new supporters from Canada, New Zealand and the Netherlands. Though an unexpected shift, the quick adaptation to virtual meetings due to COVID-19 has introduced a global connectivity element for WGCIT resident start-up companies. Startups housed in the Center can now have access to an unrivaled number of companies worldwide and can pitch to growers across the nation and in other parts of the world. GTN strives to provide widespread access similar to that of the world’s largest global airline alliance, Star Alliance, which offers its members a network that is constantly expanding and presenting new global business opportunities in emergent economies. “Because the world is so virtual, thanks to COVID, it is also now smaller. You can talk to anyone, anywhere,” said Donohue. “The Western Growers Center for Innovation & Technology has strengthened our global ties, and we are well on our way to providing ‘Star Alliance’ access through our Grower Trial Network.”

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Difficult Year for Food Donations But Need Continues to Rise

By Tim Linden I t’s November and lots of harvesting equipment has transitioned from coastal California to the western desert growing regions for winter. And so has the search for fresh vegetable donations. Feeding America is a nationwide network of food banks that provides an untold number of meals every year to millions of U.S. residents every week through food pantries and other programs. The umbrella organization, as well as the individual food banks, rely on government programs, cash donations, surplus food and fresh produce donations to help narrow the nutrition deficits that often plague the most needy among us. Melissa Kendrick, executive director of the Food Bank for Monterey County said the approximately 10 million pounds of fresh produce her organization receives each year from local growers is critical to supplement the shelf-stable products that form the backbone of the federal government’s surplus food program. In fact, the Monterey Food Bank built a 30,000 square foot cold storage facility a couple of years ago. Kendrick admits that the main goal is to feed people who are hungry and her team accomplishes that task in any way it can. But fresh food is a vital element in that program as it provides good nutrition along with needed calories. Kendrick said 2020 has been a very difficult year and it has been challenging to keep up with the need, especially as fresh donations have waned a bit. The Monterey Food Bank executive is quick to avoid the blame game. The entire nation was hit hard by the coronavirus, including both Monterey County growers and county residents. The restrictions caused by the pandemic hit just as growers were beginning their spring/summer season and still planting field after field of fresh vegetables. Orders from the foodservice industry literally ceased overnight. While that could have meant a rash of donations if the season was a little bit further along, instead it resulted in fewer acres being planted moving forward and grower-shippers scrambling to salvage some returns on their already-harvested crops. It also meant the plowing up of some fields meant for foodservice as growers did not want to sink more dollars into a field that could not be harvested. That meant less surplus produce this past season. As the Monterey Food Bank saw a tremendous increase in the number of people who needed help it also saw a significant drop in its fresh food donations. “We love our growers and couldn’t operate without them,” said Kendrick. “Unfortunately, this has been a very difficult year. And now that we are moving into winter, there will be more unemployed people and a greater need.” Though there has been a drop in overall fresh produce donations, and for good reason, Kendrick does note that many Salinas Valley food bank partners continue to send over donations every day. She specifically mentioned some of the larger firms that

ArizonaWestern College students harvesting food from the school’s ag plots, which was then sent to the Yuma Community Food Bank



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