M A R C H | A P R I L 2 0 2 1

W E S T E R N G R O W E R & S H I P P E R

THE NEW FACES OF AG: Young Farmers Making a Difference

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8 The New Faces of Ag: Young Farmers Making a Difference 12 Future Water Supply Elicits Some Optimism But Cuts Appear Inevitable 19 Water Markets in California Can Reduce the Costs of Drought 24 Meet Your Future Volunteer Leaders – Tracy Jones 28 Meet Your Future Volunteer Leaders – Mason Brady 32 Meet Robert Medler: Arizona Advocate for Western Growers 41 5 Facts You Didn’t Know about Innovation at Grimmway Farms 43 WG to Advance Harvest Automation through Global Initiative 45 WGCIT STARTUP : Bear Flag Robotics Automating Tillage

WESTERN GROWER & SHIPPER Published Since 1929 Volume XCII | Number 2

DEPARTMENTS 4 President’s Notes 6 Director Profile 18 California Government Affairs 20 Federal Government Affairs 22 Trade & Markets 26 Member Welcome & Anniversaries 30 Member Profile 34 Agriculture & the Law 36 Western Growers Assurance Trust 38 Western Growers Insurance Services 38 Inside Western Growers 40 Innovation 46 Update from the WGCIT 48 Connections 49 Contact Us 50 Science

To enhance the competitiveness and profitability of Western Growers members

Dave Puglia President & CEO 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



Western Grower & Shipper ISSN 0043-3799, Copyright © 2021 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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The Enviros’ Water Paradox By Dave Puglia, President and CEO, Western Growers Two things struck me recently as I thought about the water headaches that afflict many California farmers, especially those in the San Joaquin Valley.

First up, the matter of “drought.”We all noted with concern the dry fall season, which understandably raised concerns about another drought, and predictably journalists and environmentalists who focus on water policy declared it so. Because drought—of any degree—is always used to further constrict the water supplied to San Joaquin Valley farmers. But then as winter came and a series of major storms produced heavy rain in much of the state and encouraging snow deposits in the Sierras, the narrative changed oddly. Rather than hearing the same commentators express gratitude for the precipitation and the hope that more would be forthcoming, perhaps even removing the threat of drought at least for a year, we were left alone in our optimism. Settle down you (ag) people, the storms were of little help, and by the way California is in a permanent drought. No need to concern ourselves with the many feet of snow accumulating in the mountains. No, that isn’t what you think it is. We’re in a permanent drought, and by the way this is a drought year, too. Okay then. California may well be in a long-term drought; calling it “permanent” seems to assume too much. But in any case, if our emerging reality as the climate changes means California will receive less frequent precipitation, less of it overall, and it will come in warmer, flashier storms that create flood risk rather than as the Sierra snowpack that has been our largest “reservoir,” then shouldn’t the state be moving boldly and quickly to invest in infrastructure that can convey and store more of the runoff from warmer winter storm events, both for flood protection and to bolster our water supply security throughout the year and to hold over water from wet years to meet our needs during drier years? Indeed, many voices involved in water policy across the ideological spectrum have advocated exactly that. It almost feels as though a broad consensus is possible: Increase the state’s surface storage capacity where possible (major asterisks around that), enhance conveyance capabilities to move stored water when needed, and increase groundwater recharge capabilities by streamlining bureaucratic rules and building more small-scale conveyance facilities to get the water where it can be used to recharge basins (e.g., farmland). Which brings up the second thing that caught my eye: A statement from the Center for Biological Diversity, the Sierra Club and other environmental activist groups announcing a lawsuit to block a relatively small—but important—new water storage project from going forward. The proposed Del Puerto Canyon Reservoir Project in Stanislaus County will be funded by water users, mostly agricultural.

With a projected capacity of 82,000 acre feet, it’s a modest facility. But it would provide some of that badly needed capacity to store runoff when it arrives, and deliver it when needed to farms, groundwater recharge and wildlife refuges. Exactly what California should be encouraging as climate change takes hold. Yet as this lawsuit was filed, not a whisper of disagreement came from the many other water policy influencers who know darn well that this little project, and others like it, are badly needed. According to U.C. Davis, regulatory-driven water cutbacks during the 2012-2016 drought caused more than one million acres of farmland to be fallowed, with 43,000 jobs and $5.5 billion in economic activity lost. Compounding matters, the Public Policy Institute of California estimates that implementation of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act of 2014 will result in the permanent loss of no less than 535,000 acres of San Joaquin Valley farmland and $4 billion in annual revenues by 2040. Several water managers in the Valley have projected even greater farmland loss. The best way to recharge critically over-drafted basins without injuring regional economies and the thousands of our fellow Californians who are connected to agriculture is to reverse the steady reduction of surface water provided to farms for irrigation, and to channel flood runoff to recharge lands efficiently. Both require new infrastructure and repair or enhancement of existing infrastructure. The Del Puerto Canyon Reservoir Project—modest as it is—would accomplish those goals. Whether it will be built is now in some question, thanks to environmentalist litigation. Environmental activists want to have it both ways: Declare that California is in a permanent state of drought and simultaneously litigate or otherwise block every sensible effort to create water storage and conveyance capacity sufficient to meet the challenges of climate change. In an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle in 2014, Senator Dianne Feinstein spoke truth to this powerful constituency within her own party, reflecting that environmentalists “have never been helpful to me in producing good water policy. You can’t have a water infrastructure for 16 million people and say, ‘Oh, it's fine for 38 million people,’ when we’re losing the Sierra Nevada snowpack.” Seven years later, nothing has changed except for the loss of valuable time to act before an entire region of our state is steadily decamped by the economic ruination that followed the foolish decisions of our policy makers over the course of decades.



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By Tim Linden I t was in 1911 that Jean Pierre LaBrucherie emigrated from France and came to California’s Imperial Valley. He started a dairy farm and grew alfalfa and other forage crops. His son, Matthew, added a vegetable operation in the 1950s, raised cattle and started a hay export company. The next generation was led by Tim, who expanded their vegetable presence, and continued to build the produce operation on what was then called LaBrucherie Ranch. Custom Organic and Conventional Vegetable Growing in the Desert Region J.P. LaBrucherie, LaBrucherie Produce, El Centro, CA

Though highly educated with a degree in accounting from the University of Southern California and a law degree from Notre Dame University, J.P. LaBrucherie, who shares his great grandfather’s name, had no doubt at an early age that he was going to follow the lead of three generations before him and become a farmer. He went straight from USC to Notre Dame and then worked at the multinational professional service firm

agriculture, creating LaBrucherie Produce LLC, as the company’s moniker in 2011. They have grown many different crops over the years, with lettuces, baby leaf items, broccoli, cauliflower, onions, corn, carrots and melons being the core items. Of late, more focus and acreage has been placed growing all these crops organically. J.P. said the company has always focused its energies on the growing end of the business, leaving the marketing and sales to its shipper partners. LaBrucherie Produce’s website touts its standing as a contract grower working with many different clients producing the top-quality vegetables that fit best into the shipper’s program, noting that each client has “unique opportunities and challenges in the marketplace.” When interviewed by Western Grower & Shipper seven years ago, J.P. was involved in the decision- making process, but he was sure that his father would follow in the footsteps of the two generations that preceded him. “The way we have operated is that each generation works until they die and then the next generation takes over,” he joked at that time. Today, J.P. is the president and runs the operation, while Tim still maintains an important role as CFO and is still quite involved at 74. J.P. emphasized that each generation has grown the business, and he is doing the same. He is hopeful that one of his three children will follow the farming path, but he will not pressure them into the business. He added that farming is a great occupation, but you must truly love it to do it right. The LaBrucherie operation has been a member of Western Growers for 65 years, with the membership coinciding with the advent of its vegetable operation in the 1950s. Matt LaBrucherie served as a member of the Western Growers Board of Directors for three different terms in the 1960s and ’70s.

Deloitte to achieve his CPA hours. Along the way, he passed the California Bar Exam and then came back to the farm to work. The path he took was very similar to that of his father, who also earned an accounting degree and a law degree, at USC and Stanford, respectively. J.P. started full time in 2003, with vegetable production being his main area of concern. He and his father have further emphasized production



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Name: J.P. LaBrucherie Title: President of LaBrucherie Produce Namesake: Great Grandfather Jean Pierre LaBrucherie started the El Centro farm in 1911 Family: J.P. and his wife, Stephanie, have three children: Ashley, 16; Timothy, 14; and Matthew, 11. College Rivalry: J.P. earned his undergraduate degree at USC and his law degree from Notre Dame. “I love both schools and I win each time they play.” The Short & Sweet

Proud Accomplishment: “I am an Eagle Scout and attended the 17 th World Scout Jamboree in South Korea in 1991.” Great Trips: “I love to travel. My favorite trip was to India. I went there in 1997 and 2001.” Relaxation Time: “I binge watch television most nights. Yellowstone is a show I like a lot.” Hobby: “I like to jog and spend time with the family.” Fun Fact: “I met and fell in love with my wife in the accounting school at USC. And then we both went to Notre Dame as I earned my law degree and she earned an MBA.” They have been married 18 years.



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The New Faces of Ag: Young Farmers Making a Difference

By Stephanie Metzinger T he United States is currently undergoing an extreme societal shift, as Baby Boomers (U.S. adults born 1946 to 1964) continue to retire and Millennials (born 1981 to 1996) have now become the largest generation in the labor force. According to the Pew Research Center, in the third quarter of 2020, about 28.6 million Baby Boomers reported that they were out of the labor force due to retirement. This is 3.2 million more Boomers than the 25.4 million who were retired in the same quarter of 2019. As the pace of retirement for Baby Boomers continues to accelerate, companies need a strong workforce plan for replacing exiting workers. Western Growers (WG) is dedicated to helping member farmers cultivate the next generation of agricultural leaders to ensure a smooth transition. Ten years ago, WG rolled out the first program in a string of strategic initiatives geared toward arming the future workforce with the skills and knowledge needed to become influential leaders in the specialty crop industry. The Future Volunteer Leaders Program launched with a mission to identify and prepare the next generation of WG members for positions of leadership within the Western fresh produce industry. Over the course of two years, participants of the program engage in a series of hands-on activities that allow them to become well versed in federal, state and local issues affecting agriculture as well as burgeoning industry opportunities such as agtech development. The Future Volunteer Leaders Program inaugurated its sixth class in February 2020, and for the first time in program history, it welcomed a young leader from Colorado. Since the program’s inception, seven alumni have graduated into a seat

% of the U.S. Labor Force

5% Post-Millennials (born 1997 and later)

2% Silent/Greatest (born 1945 or earlier)

25% Boomers (born 1946 – 1964)

35% Millennials (born 1981 – 1996)

33% Gen Xers (born 1965 – 1980)

*source: Pew Research Center; data as of 2017

Alex Muller during the WG DC Board Meeting in 2019 with then Arizona Senator Martha McSally



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on the WG Board of Directors: Brandon Grimm (Grimmway Farms); Eric Reiter (Reiter Affiliated Companies); Kelly Strickland (Five Crowns Marketing); J.P. LaBrucherie (LaBrucherie Produce); Neill Callis (Turlock Fruit Company); Stephen Martori (Martori Farms); and Alex Muller (Pasquinelli Produce Company). “When I started in the Future Volunteer Leaders Program, I was the food safety manager, and in the few years since graduating, I have become the president at Pasquinelli Produce,” said Muller, who also serves on WG’s current 2021-2022 board. “During my time in the program, I got to sit at the table and hear from and communicate with industry leaders. Some of the discussions I recall having span topics from E. coli outbreak response, the ever-changing world of H-2A, the

perceptions of GMOs, to balancing family life in a demanding industry.” Muller notes how one of the most impactful activities from the program was his interactions with Karen Timmins (WG senior vice president, Human Resources) while learning how to elevate his company and workforce through the principles of the Arbinger Institute. “I believe that if you build a strong and healthy work environment, employees will see Pasquinelli as an extension of their own personal success. At the end of the day, we are a family business and we never want to lose sight of that,” said Muller. To further develop the agricultural workforce, Muller has also introduced students to the various careers offered at Pasquinelli through the WG’s rising career

WESTERN GROWERS OFFICERS – 2021 RYAN TALLEY , Chairman ALBERT KECK , Senior Vice Chair STUART WOOLF , Vice Chair CAROL CHANDLER , Treasurer VICTOR SMITH , Executive Secretary DAVE PUGLIA, President DIRECTORS – 2021 GEORGE J. ADAM Innovative Produce, Santa Maria, California ALEXANDRA ALLEN Main Street Produce, Santa Maria, California KEVIN S. ANDREW Illume Agriculture, 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 LOREN BOOTH Booth Ranches, Orange Cove, California GEORGE BOSKOVICH III Boskovich Farms, Oxnard, California RODNEY BRAGA Braga Ranch, Soledad, California NEILL CALLIS Turlock Fruit Company, Turlock, California EDWIN A. CAMP D. M. Camp & Sons, Bakersfield, California CAROL CHANDLER Chandler Farms LP, Selma, California LAWRENCE W. COX Lawrence Cox Ranches, Brawley, 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 Peter Rabbit Farms, Coachella, 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 J.P. LABRUCHERIE LaBrucherie Produce, El Centro, 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 TOM MULHOLLAND 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 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

Careers in Ag alumna Anahi Huerta currently serves as food safety coordinator at Prime Time International



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pathways program, Careers in Ag (CIA). To fill the agricultural workforce gap, WG launched the CIA program in 2016 to encourage college students to pursue science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) careers within the agricultural industry. As part of the program, college students embark on three-day tours of agricultural and technology operations in Monterey County, the Central Valley, and the Coachella and Imperial valleys and Yuma, Arizona. Throughout the tour, they learn about the vast array of STEM jobs available in the industry, meet ag professionals who provide career insight and guidance, and connect with Western Growers members to possibly pursue an internship or job within their operation. More than 250 students from UC Davis, Cal Poly Pomona, Cal State L.A., Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, Fresno State and numerous California community colleges have participated in the program to date, with several having been placed in internships and jobs as a direct result of the program. “The Careers in Ag Program reinforced my desire to work in the ag industry,” said Anahi Huerta. Huerta, who participated in the program’s December 2018 tour while attending UC Davis as a managerial economics major, was offered a food

safety coordinator position at Prime Time International shortly after graduation. She has been part of the Prime Time team for nearly a year now, coordinating compliance paperwork and customer requests. Before she participated in the Careers in Ag Program, Huerta had not considered a career in food safety. “I remember visiting a lettuce field being harvested, being handed a hairnet, and the food safety lady began speaking on the importance of food safety practices,” said Huerta. “It was my first experience with the subject and the complexity of it interested me. To this day, every time I see a lettuce field, I reminisce on that moment and the knowledge I learned.” To help provide other young women such as Huerta with the tools needed to pursue leadership positions within agriculture, WG recently rolled out the WG Women program. WG Women prepares females for positions of leadership by providing them access to a series of ongoing activities—both virtual and regionally- based—aimed at supporting professional growth and paving the way for influential leadership opportunities within the fresh produce industry. WG Women, which launched in February 2020, was created for women farmers by women farmers. To ensure that the program was tailor-made for women in

production agriculture, WG staff teamed with a steering committee comprised of 10 female farmers from across the industry to help build the program. Briana Giampaoli, a fourth-generation farmer at Live Oak Farms, who was a member of this influential steering committee, said, “When I was approached by Western Growers with this opportunity, I knew that I could not only aid in creating a program with a mission to help women throughout the organization, but it would also be a great opportunity for me to learn from other women in the industry.” Giampaoli was among the first to officially apply for the program. As a staunch advocate for women in agriculture, she noticed the program’s potential from the beginning and believed it to be a chance to create a community for women in the agricultural industry to collaborate, learn and share their experiences. “Programs like WG Women are giving individuals the tools to move the industry forward in a positive way,” said Giampaoli. “I have always believed you can’t tell someone to do something and always expect it to happen. You must give the person the tools that are needed for the job and then there is no excuse for it not to be accomplished. WG Women is giving women in ag the tools to become leaders within the industry.” Though WG Women had to pivot to a virtual format due to COVID- 19, participants of the program are still immersed in impactful activities including: mentorship, networking, leadership training, political advocacy, community outreach, and consumer advocacy such as traditional and social media training. “The trainings have not only helped identify my strengths, but also how to develop the skills to best play into those strengths. They were all very informative and relatable for me as a woman in ag and a leader in the industry,” Giampaoli stated. The WG Women program, along with the Future Volunteer Leaders and Careers in Ag programs, is not only playing a critical role in filling the looming skills gap but is producing young farmers who are making a difference. By providing the next generation with the skills needed to both innovate and fight for the industry, these strategic initiatives are ensuring the sustainability and survival of agriculture.

4th-generation farmer Briana Giampaoli played a key role in the creation of the WG Women program.



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Future Water Supply Elicits Some Optimism But Cuts Appear Inevitable

By Tim Linden W ater has long been listed as one of the two most important elements when considering the future of California farming. Agricultural experts often put it at the top of the list or sometimes in second place with labor issues edging it out. There is some optimism about the labor situation moving forward as there appears to be momentum for federal immigration reform with the new administration and there is also a lot of technological innovation that promises to reduce the need for labor with automation. But what about water? What are the prospects that future generations of California farmers will have a reliable water supply and an affordable rate? Gail Delihant, who is senior director of California Government Affairs for Western Growers with water issues in her portfolio, said that is the question that farmers need answered. It is the $64,000 question. She said Western Growers members are of course interested in the details. Will there be new above-ground storage facilities built? How much groundwater will they be able to use? Will there be new conveyance infrastructure to get more water through and around the Delta? What environmental hurdles need to be jumped? But at the end of the day, she said it boils down to cost and availability. WG&S discussed this basic question with more than a handful of players in the California water game including several water district representatives and water association executives. What emerged was a consensus that the current effort to forestall regulatory action by signing 15-year Voluntary Agreements between governmental agencies and the water districts to provide water for habitat restoration while studying that effort is critical to moving forward. Virtually all of those interviewed also expressed guarded optimism that new infrastructure will be part of the long-range solution and that

production agriculture will always be part of the California landscape. However, there appeared to be a realization that some productive farmland—including a significant amount in the San Joaquin Valley—will have to be transitioned to other uses or fallowed as part of the solution. There was also disagreement about just how positive a spin one should put on the prospects of supply certainty if it means further reductions. Should the proverbial half-full glass of water be celebrated or bemoaned. Following are the boiled down viewpoints of seven water experts. They are presented here in the order in which the interview occurred, denoting no bias of importance of the affiliation. Jennifer Pierre, general manager, State Water Contractors The SWC is a voluntary association of 27 of the 29 public water agencies that are State Water Project contractors. The association provides representation for the group concerning legal, policy and regulatory matters dealing with the project. Pierre said SWC is moving down many different parallel tracks with the ultimate goal of preserving and increasing the water supply of its members, which, in turn, serve agriculture and urban users alike. She said the group is focused on many areas including infrastructure changes and improvements, better

managements of water flow using sound science to guide those decisions, and increasing Delta outflow. Concerning the Delta, Pierre presented a viewpoint early in the discussion that was echoed by virtually every interviewee: the current system of managing water through the Delta simply doesn’t work. It reduces the flow of water for agriculture and other users, increases the amount of used water that flows out to the Pacific Ocean, and has had no beneficial effect on fish populations. It’s a lose, lose, lose. She focused much of the interview on the Voluntary Agreements work that SWA and water agencies have been working on for more than a year. “We’ve done a ton of work and are now ready for the state to take a leadership role.” Pierre explained that if the state and federal agencies sign off on this approach, the voluntary agreements will create a collaborative system to managing the flow in and out of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Bay-Delta. The goal is that sound science and creative thinking will replace “the complete spaghetti bowl of litigation” that is in the works. The State Water Quality Control Board would be one of the agencies accepting the negotiated voluntary agreements in lieu of its mandatory regulations. The goal is that a 15-year plan can be put in place and carefully studied while assuring that State Water Project contractors of some certainty concerning



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the amount of water they will get each year, based on availability. Pierre would like to see the initial framework endorsed soon so that the hard work of hammering out the details can begin and conclude as soon as the end of 2021. She admits the devil will be in the details but the alternative is not sustainable and that is that two million acre-feet of water be used to flow through the delta and out to sea for a fish benefit that has not been scientifically vetted. She admits that how much water is needed for habitat restoration is unknown, but the voluntary agreements will call for the water agencies to deliver a specific amount of water for that purpose. In the initial framework 700,000 acre-feet in aggregate has been proposed. She said the long term goal would be to have another 15-year plan in place long before this one would expire, which would be based on the learnings over the coming years. Pierre expressed a high degree of optimism that “relatively soon,” the approach will be approved by state and federal officials and that a deal will be reached by the end of 2021. Brent Walthall, assistant general manager, Kern County Water Agency KWCA was created in 1961 to serve as the local contracting entity for the State Water Project. Walthall takes a pragmatic view of the future of water for California agriculture. He said regardless of the source of the water, regulators are in charge of what a farmer will receive. In recent years, they have tightened supplies and he does not expect that trend to be reversed. Consequently, he believes the focus should be on dealing with regulators and their rules and try to exact some certainty to future supplies so that growers can plan accordingly. “Anything we can do to add stability to our supplies is worth pursuing,” he said, adding that he knows it’s a herculean task, but if farmers are given certainty they will adapt. The Kern County water specialist is optimistic that the long-awaited 2019 biological opinions (Endangered Species Act permits) with respect to the operation of California’s federal water projects will be put into place and will be the regulations by which water providers are guided. Biological opinions are to federal

projects as incidental intake permits are to the State Water Project. In each case, the document informs how the flow of water impacts endangered species and informs the flow amount. Walthall believes the 2019 biological opinions were the result of sound science. He called them “pretty fair and down the middle,” meaning that they equally balanced the position of environmentalists versus that of water providers and users. While his opinion of the biological opinions might be fairly representative of the constituency he represents, those opinions were widely criticized by the environmental community, and the state of California sued the federal government to block their implementation. Walthall is hopeful that the biological opinions will be upheld by the Biden Administration’s water regulators and litigation can be averted. He expressed some level of confidence that the competing stakeholders can work this out administratively now that there is not such adversarial relationship between California officials and federal officials. While the biological opinions are an entity

of themselves, they would be part of any voluntary agreements reached between the water agencies and government officials. Again, Walthall said reaching an agreement is critical as it will lead to at least a 10-15 year period of water stability, which he believes is golden. With a water stable environment, he believes it is possible to move forward on some water infrastructure efforts including delta conveyance and the Sites Reservoir project. “If both of those things happen, the future will look much better for agricultural production,” he said. He did add that a very important part of the equation is the ultimate cost of any project and if it can deliver water at an economically viable rate. He did express optimism about the public’s appetite to support water bonds, noting that they have typically passed such bonds. Thomas Birmingham, general manager, Westlands Water District Westlands serves farmers and rural communities on the westside of Fresno and King counties and is the largest

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provider to water to agricultural users in the state. “There isn’t any question that water supply for agriculture is a significant challenge,” he said repeating an oft-heard comment from all the experts. “Over the last three decades, there has been a significant reallocation from agricultural use to environmental use.” Birmingham expects that trend to continue with the implementation of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA). “As much as 20% of the land in the San Joaquin Valley will have to be fallowed to comply with the requirements of SGMA.” But he believes there is potential hope on the horizon as he also points to the 2019 biological opinions and believes the reliance on real-time monitoring is a step forward. He said if all sides are serious about protecting endangered species a new approach must emerge as the one being used for a generation has not been successful. Birmingham is also optimistic that the voluntary agreements will be the path forward offering stability for farmers and breathing room so the best available science can be utilized to logically balance the needs of people with those of endangered species. He noted that if large amounts of land have to be fallowed, the economic impact on California will hit heaviest on disadvantaged communities throughout the San Joaquin Valley. He said a UC Berkeley report estimated that California could take a $7.2 billion hit to its economy with 42,000 ag-related jobs being lost. He said the voluntary agreements represent a collaborative rather than regulatory approach and expressed confidence that state, federal agencies, environmentalists and business stakeholders will be able to reach an accord. In early February, he expressed optimism that “within a matter of weeks” the industry would be able to present its work to the government agencies and create a framework to move forward on those agreements. Birmingham also expressed optimism that there will be new infrastructure projects to help California agriculture on the supply. He ticked off several on-going projects that Westlands is involved in—including on with the Friant Water Authority—that will increase water availability. He also took a holistic view of the future of California

agriculture. “California farmers can produce greater yields with fewer inputs than any other farmers in the world.” He said it is a matter of national security that we produce our own food and he indicated that that fact will carry weight at the end of the day. “There are real challenges but there are real solution,” he opined. Jason Phillips, CEO, Friant Water Authority Friant maintains the 152-mile Friant-Kern Canal, 36-mile Madera Canal, Friant Dam, and Millerton Lake. Phillips was the least optimistic of all those interviewed. Like others, he believes the voluntary agreements do offer a path forward but he said that path has been meandering in the same directions for decades, which means less water for agriculture. “The problem that I have seen over the last 20 years is that California water agencies, which are run by hired help, are continually forced to cut deals that in the short term give up water supplies with no long-term supply commitment.” He said these five-, 10- and 15-year deals may look good to water agency staff, but farmers, who often trace their roots back many generations, need to take a longer view…and it doesn’t exist. “We may have to agree to a deal even if it’s not a particularly good deal. Once again, they have their guns to our heads,” he said talking metaphorically about those who don’t have agriculture’s best interest at heart. Phillips reminded that this latest voluntary agreement effort replaces a joint plan that was submitted by the water industry to regulators in 2018. “We (Friant board) unanimously supported that because it was good for our member agencies and it limited the losses. But it was not adopted by the State Water Control Board. Now we’re back again. Whatever is agreed to, it is guaranteed it will be worse for farmers.” He is not certain the Friant board will support such an agreement. But Phillips admits the alternative is a cadre of lawyers in courts filing litigation and spending money that could be better used improving the water supply. Phillips believes that farmers, who ultimately pay that bill, must engage in this fight to secure their own future. “We need to lock in supplies for 50 years, not just 15,” he said.

The Friant executive does support a collaborative approach but he said it needs to think longer term and with regulatory lock-in of supplies and committed political leadership. He said if that can occur, growers can move forward with certainty and help plan California’s agricultural future. He does not believe solving the state’s water issues are a top priority for California’s political leaders, which informs his lack of optimism moving forward. He said it has become conventional wisdom that San Joaquin Valley has to reduce its agricultural acreage by a significant amount. Phillips believes that viewpoint represents failure. “We need the support of the farming community to get the governor or the next governor to partner with us to create water balance,” he said. David Guy, president, Northern California Water Association NCWA represents water districts, water companies, small towns, rural communities and landowners that use both surface and groundwater resources in the Sacramento Valley. Guy focused his remarks on what he called a “game changer” and that is reactivating the flood plains in Sacramento Valley as the best place to re-invigorate fish and wildlife populations. “I feel we have an opportunity to re-imagine our water system,” he said. He is taking the approach that improving fish and wildlife habitat is not at odds with increasing water supplier for agriculture and other users. He is basically arguing that the Sacramento Valley is the best place to accomplish that task, which could arguably reduce the need for mitigation efforts in the Delta. In fact, NWCA is moving forward on this project and he said preliminary results are that only a few inches of water in the flood plains creates a plethora of bugs that allow for fish and wildlife to proliferate in the area. Salmon, for example, can then move downstream in huge numbers. He claims to have substantial buy-in on this plan for environmental groups. “This will improve the salmon population and take pressure off of ag water suppliers,” he said. As Guy looks down the road, he sees positives for his member agencies and users. He believes Sites Reservoir is an incredible asset for agriculture that will also provide water for environmental uses. He adds that



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flood plain reactivation can lead to more water being available to recharge ground water aquifers. He calls the voluntary agreements the mechanism to bring all these activities together and work toward solving California’s water problem. He believes the 15-year length of those agreements will allow his group and others to prove their theories and sign longer agreements. Back to flood plain reactivation, Guy calls it’s the “transformative piece” with no downside. Weighing in on the future of ag in California, he believes there is no alternative path. He said the three elements of life are land, water and sun of which California has an abundance. He takes it as gospel that others do an will embrace this reality and agriculture will continue to thrive. Thad Bettner, general manager, Glenn- Colusa Irrigation District Glenn-Colusa is the largest irrigation district in Sacramento Valley. Bettner declares he is optimistic about agriculture’s future in California but at the same time, he said he does not see expansion and even maintaining the status quo will be a challenge. But he thinks the future is brighter than it was 10 years ago. He said SGMA, which was passed in 2014, gives growers in his service area some level of knowledge that they did not have before. They can plan for the future, though he does expect some ag land throughout the state to be converted to other uses. But he argued that some of those uses will offer a return such as solar fields and even getting paid for converting land for environmental use. He also admitted that is optimism for the future of agriculture in his district is guided by the fact that more water falls in his district than in other regions of the state. Bettner does believe the flood plain reactivation could provide some relief to water providers as it could alleviate some pressure on restoration of habitats in other

areas. He also firmly supports the voluntary agreements path has a way to give some certainty for at least 15 years. He said the process allows all side to come together and prioritize needs in a give and take manner. “That is what we (water providers) do every day. We manage trade-offs.” He added that the process is at a significant cross-road. “This is a pretty significant point of time. We either go in this direction or we head down a regulatory path, which doesn’t help the environment. It is our opinion that it is now up to the state to start moving this. Governor Newsom needs to put someone in charge of it.” Bettner said his optimism for the future of California agriculture is also driven by the investment community. “People are investing lots of money,” he said. “They must believe there is a path forward.” He also advocated for more involvement by farmers. “Landowners have to be engaged,” he said, adding that he is buoyed by the new generation of college-educated farmers who do want to be more involved. Jeff Kightlinger, general manager, Metropolitan Water District Los Angeles-based MWD is the largest water provider in the state with most of its users being urban dwellers but it does service several ag community in the Southland. Kightlinger did acknowledge that the state and agriculture is facing many water challenges for a variety of reasons. He listed climate change as one of the biggest challenges. MWD gets its water from two sources: the Rockies through the Colorado River and the Sierras through the state and federal California water projects. The Rockies, he said, are definitely experiencing a cut back in precipitation, which means less water in the Colorado River. He said the change in the Sierras appears to be less snowpack and more rainfall. That reality, he

said has to be managed with more storage and better conveyance. He indicated these two issues can be solved but it’s going to take money. At the present time, he indicated urban dwellers are feeling an acute need and so they don’t appear to be willing to subsidize expensive infrastructure projects. Agriculture has the need but the cost could be prohibitive. He said the past three California governors have said they want to address California’s water situation but none have given that topic the priority status it needs to accomplish the task. Kightlinger and MWD have been materially involved in the voluntary agreements path and believes that direction is a necessity, largely to give stakeholders an additional 15 years to focus on the bigger picture, which is the infrastructure that is sorely needed. Like others, he believes the ball is in Governor Newsom’s court and will take his involvement to get over the hump and make the voluntary agreements a necessity. “The water community has put together a credible approach, but we have gone about as far as we can go.” He admits that signing on to the voluntary path is not without its risk to the governor as he will take flak from some in the environmental community, which is one of his natural constituencies. Speaking specifically of agriculture as a very knowledgeable observer of the state’s water situation, said the industry does have its challenges. Agriculture, he said, does have to deal with SGMA, which will reduce availability of ground water. He indicated agriculture is going to need new infrastructure to survive without severe acreage cutbacks. He did say the construction of Sites Reservoir as well as the expansion of several other reservoirs are viable projects that will help the water supply over time.



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