Friday, June 22 , 2018, 4:48 pm | Partly Cloudy 66º


Local News

Ag Industry Gathers for ‘Growing Possibilities’ Event in Santa Maria

EconAlliance hosts forum, hands out awards for outstanding employees, top innovators

The “Growing Possibilities” ag forum included three Innovatiive Practices Awards to, from left, Steve Jordan, Mark Adam of La Brea Ranch and the Bien Nacido’s Miller Family, represented by Stephen Miller. Joining the three winners are Fourth DIstrict Supervisor Peter Adam, far left, and Fifth District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino, back right, and Lisa Valencia-Sherratt, aide to First District Supervisor Salud Carbajal.
The “Growing Possibilities” ag forum included three Innovatiive Practices Awards to, from left, Steve Jordan, Mark Adam of La Brea Ranch and the Bien Nacido’s Miller Family, represented by Stephen Miller. Joining the three winners are Fourth DIstrict Supervisor Peter Adam, far left, and Fifth District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino, back right, and Lisa Valencia-Sherratt, aide to First District Supervisor Salud Carbajal. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

A forum Friday in Santa Maria focused on innovation in agriculture as several representatives also spoke about the importance of the labor force found in Santa Barbara County’s fields and vineyards.

“Growing Possibilities” at the Santa Maria Fairpark drew approximately 300 people for the event organized by the Economic Alliance of Northern Santa Barbara County

Keynote speaker Jenny Lester Moffitt, a deputy secretary for the California Department of Food and Agriculture, touched on many topics, including what innovation means to growers.

“I think innovation is taking that next step, bucking the trend, if you will, and saying, ‘I’ve got this challenge and I’m going to tackle it in a completely different way than I would have tackled it years ago, with new knowledge, with new information and with mindfulness of what’s going on in my operation,'” she said.

“I think as Californians we’re the leaders in innovation, certainly our farming operations are,” she  added. 

Local growers shared information about innovative practices taking place among their operations, and the need to remain open to new ideas that can lead to better produce and improved production.

Ian Justus, senior manager of controlled environmental production for Driscoll’s, said the firm seeks ways to make berries more accessible to harvesters so they don’t have to take unnecessary steps. They also seek ways to grow larger fruit that is easier to see, he added.

“We find time and time again that when it’s better for the harvester, it’s obviously better for the plant as well, and in that case everyone’s winning,” Justus said, adding that bigger fruit means the light can get to the berry.

Three Innovative Practices Awards handed out Friday went to:

» Mark Adam, owner-operator-partner of La Brea Ranch, who converted gas engines to solar-operated electric pumps for getting water to hillside cattle and wildlife watering troughs. 

»  The Millers, a five-generation family involved in winemaking innovation at the property now known as Bien Nacido. The family is credited with many milestones, such as pioneering night harvesting, pricing by acreage, and reportedly being the first to create a cool-climate syrah. 

» Steve Jordan, a Lompoc Valley grower who became a pioneer in the artichoke industry as he and his brother earned the world's first artichoke patent. 

In addition to speeches and panel discussions, the event recognized several people in the ag industry, including a pair of long-time employees, Juan “Tigre” Soto, harvesting supervisor for Tri-Valley Vegetable Harvesting, and Amparao Gonzalez, vineyard forewoman with Bien Nacido Vineyards.

The loyalty of agricultural workers was noted more than once during the event, along with the longevity of many farming employees.

“It can’t be said enough: The people are the heart of everything, and we all need to keep that in mind,” Andrew Rice, manager of OSR Enterprises, said as the audience applauded.

Even while looking to innovations, growers are coping with familiar challenges, including worker’s compensation and a shortage of workers.

“Without some sort of significant immigration reform, labor will continue to be a challenge for the future,” Rice said, adding that it remains the biggest obstacle on whether crops get harvested.

“Labor is the one issue that is scary because there is no one fix to it right now,” Rice said. “I just can’t emphasize enough — there’s got to be some sort of comprehensive immigration reform."

The ag industry also needs to better market itself, Rice told the audience.

“I think the ag industry as a whole generally does a really crappy job of educating the public, and we need to do a better job,” Rice said.

“We also need to be more proactive and out educating people as to why we want to build greenhouses, why we want to build cooling facilities, what it’s going to do for us, how it’s going to make us more efficient, how it’s going to allow us to use less natural resources,” he added. “In general, I just think we wait until we’re attacked and it’s too late.”

Kari Campbell-Bohard, from Campbell Ranches, agreed, and told of a recent event hosted by Soup Plantation to celebrate growers, including her dad, Bob Campbell, or “Broccoli Bob” as he was nicknamed.

“It was wonderful because it was showing these kids who’s actually growing their food,” Campbell-Bohard said, adding it’s important to reach the children at a young age.

Friday’s forum also presented several agriculture sector awards and recognized local families with 75 years in the business. 

One of two Lifetime Achievement Awards went to Louis Lucas, who planted one of the county’s first commercial vineyards, the 800-acre Tepusquet Vineyard, and now co-owns Lucas & Lewellen Vineyards.

Also accepting a Lifetime Achievement Award was Victor Tognazzini, who hails from a pioneering family and was active in all levels of the Santa Barbara County Farm Bureau through the years.

He worked for more than 43 years in agricultural management or as a consultant, and often spoke up for agriculture, testifying in Sacramento and Washington, D.C., on behalf of the industry.

Also Friday, Lorena Chavez, controller of LG Farms, accepted the Extraordinary Achievement Award. She is the first woman and first Latina to serve as chairperson of the California Strawberry Commission.

Northern Santa Barbara County families engaged in agriculture for 75 years also were noted. The “Diamond families” included the Adam, Ardantz, Donati, Ferini, Frazier, Freitas, Lundberg, Mahoney, Rice and Sheehy families.

EconAlliance representatives said families involved in field, floral or nursery crops, ranching, wine grapes, citrus and other crops will be spotlighted at future events.

The nonprofit organization began as grassroots effort of economic and community leaders interested in increasing family wage jobs in North County through innovation and support of the key growth industry sectors that fuel the region's economic prosperity.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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