One big plus in being a large agricultural trade association is that you often have the opportunity to interact with the very people who are regulating your industry.

During these times, industry has a chance to display to the regulators just what it is that we do. The truth is that many of these government regulators have very few opportunities to get out of the office and actually learn about and experience life in the agricultural fields and talk to the growers that they have a responsibility to regulate.

During my tenure here at WPHA, I have gone on numerous field trips with officials from the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) and other governmental agencies, the first being in 2006 when I attended a field trip with then-DPR chief Mary-Ann Warmerdam and a bus load of DPR officials and ag representatives who were taken to creeks in Roseville to witness the effects of household pesticides on the urban landscape. The tour focused on fertilizer and pesticide runoff into local streams. More precisely, the tour was about how pyrethrins – chemicals with urban usages in eradicating household pests, weeds, and even shampoos used on pets – were impacting the ecosystem of small aquatic organisms and fish. DPR officials later said they learned a lot of useful information on the tour.

Additionally, my nonprofit organization – the Western Plant Health Association – helped organize a field trip in 2009 for the staffs of DPR and the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA). The main objective of the tour was to provide in-field insight to those department and agency staffswho might have limited experience regarding crop protection, farming systems and onsite agricultural procedures – all in the spirit of enlightening them about the industry that they regulate and the impacts of the regulations they create on everyday farming operations. Furthermore, a couple of years ago, WPHA member Trical Inc., a company that largely works in the fumigation process in commercial crop production, hosted DPR, CDFA members, and other state and commodity industry groups to a field demonstration showing the actual tarping process done in the application of fumigants.

Awareness

Where am I going with this? The above are just a few examples of the outreach efforts taken by industry to work with, and enlighten, state regulators about the actual field experiences that commercial growers live through, day in and day out, and to make them aware of the farming conditions that they are expected to understand and regulate.

And one key vehicle for doing this is WPHA’s Summer Regulatory Conference that is held every year in Sacramento that brings together members of the crop protection industry and state and local government regulators.

This year the conference was held July 26-27, at the Sheraton Grand Sacramento, and from all indications it was a huge success. Some 80 attendees and two dozen speakers participated in the day and-a-half conference in downtown Sacramento.

The meeting gave participants a chance to learn about what’s new in the arena of state regulations regarding agriculture – specifically pesticides – and to meet and network with friends, business associates and state regulators themselves. Chris Reardon, chief deputy director of DPR, was the keynote speaker at the event, and discussed a wide range of issues, especially focusing in on the new government administration under California Gov. Jerry Brown.

He also discussed various lawsuits that have been filed against DPR, the most recent being a challenge against the new fumigant methyl iodide that has been registered in California to replace ozone-depleting methyl bromide.

Also addressing the crowd was Jim Houston, CDFA deputy secretary.  He said under the new leadership of Karen Ross, CDFA is “beefing things up in the area of science” so the department can be “more of a voice for agriculture in the state.” He said he prefers to take a “holistic” approach to agriculture, believing that all aspects of the industry need to exist in a “friendly atmosphere.”

Making sense

“We look forward to making sure that industry gets regulations that make sense,” he said. “Pesticides and fertilizers are major ingredients of ag’s success. Often times pesticides have a rough road in that they are heavily regulated and biotech and pesticides have become bad words.  But feel proud of what you do,” he told the audience. “These products are an integral part in the success of agriculture and will be key players in feeding 9 billion people in the next 25 years.”

The conference wrapped up with a panel discussion about the future of regulation in California presented by WPHA CEO/President Renee Pinel, Cynthia Cory of the California Farm Bureau Federation, and George Soares, a well-known attorney in agricultural issues in California and across the nation.

Cory noted the importance of using “social media” to combat environmental activist groups who have learned to use it so effectively to spread their anti-pesticide and anti-conventional farming messages. She pointed out that agricultural groups must become more engaged in defending themselves through social media networks in efforts to counter the negative publicity being generated by activist organizations.

Soares noted the urgency of simplifying complex agricultural concepts to educate the general public and especially legislators. He stressed the “genius in simplicity” and that currently regulations impacting industry are being driving by a populace that doesn’t fully understand agriculture. Pinel pointed out that regulations seem be more “philosophically and politically driven” instead of taking into account sound scientific principles that agriculture depends upon to succeed.

In a nutshell, the agricultural community is well aware that relationships with state government regulators are imperative. To have regulators involved and knowledgeable about the various intricate methods and systems utilized by successful farming operators is key to guaranteeing a sustainable, affordable and plentiful food supply going into the future.

And remember, the largest segment benefitting from these healthy relationships is the consuming public itself – and there’s a lot to be said for that.