2023/24 Annual Message

Ian LeMay

CFFA President

Let me begin by acknowledging what a pleasure it is to be celebrating the California Fresh Fruit Association’s 87 years of representation and advocacy. I am pleased to report the Association’s role remains just as important today as it was 87 years ago: To serve as the primary public policy advocate for the fresh fruit growers and shippers of California.

As I look back, 2022 was a year filled with challenges and opportunities. My parting words in last year’s report were “the work, the fight, the process continues,” and CFFA truly lived up to that moniker.

In life you can either ignore tough situations or face them head on. There is no more paramount challenge before our industry than AB 2183, the Card Check bill. After three decades of fights, pragmatic advocacy engagements by industry and multiple gubernatorial vetoes, Governor Gavin Newsom signed AB 2183 into law. I wish I could tell you that his decision to sign this legislation was based on fact, sound policy or personal conviction. The truth is it came down to peer pressure. As the Governor’s Chief of Staff told me in a private meeting back in October 2022, the Governor and his staff felt that they were the only Democrats in the nation that did not support the bill. We know that was not true and the same justification that they relied on just a year earlier when he vetoed AB 616, the predecessor to AB 2183, was still true in September 2022. It was and is a bad bill. A bill that strips away the right of the California farmworker to a secret ballot election and now affords organizations like the UFW unencumbered opportunity to pressure and manipulate farm employees into unionization.

Our collective disappointment in the Governor’s decision is still evident today, it is a weight that bears heavy on me personally. But we do not have the luxury to dwell in disappointment, we have the responsibility to respond on the membership’s behalf. That response is very much taking shape. Over the last four months, with the unwavering support of Ron Barsamian, of Barsamian and Moody, CFFA has the industry in educational forums to prepare the grower-shipper community on what to expect now that the legislation is law. We are beginning to move into phase two of our outreach campaign, working with strategic industry partners to begin engaging and educating the employee community. This fight will not be over quickly, it will be an engagement campaign that could span years. But it is one that we at CFFA know we must help lead.

For anyone who wasn’t aware, 2022 was an election year and for a public policy association, that means we were again in the business of making new friends. In which case, CFFA via our political action committee, FruitPAC, and our partnership in the Alliance for Farmers and Ranchers was very successful. Out of the 18 races that CFFA engaged in, 14 of the candidates wone their races. We are excited to begin exercising these new relationships and educating the over 30 newly elected officials on the importance of what CFFA members do.

In the area of water, CFFA continues to play a leadership and coalition building role via the Blueprint for the San Joaquin Valley. Each month, more than 40 individuals representing water agencies, agriculture associations, local governments and NGO’s come to CFFA’s office to engage in a constructive conversation towards mitigating the impacts of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA). As Chair of the Blueprint, I am proud to say the organization has become a trusted representative for interested parties throughout the San Joaquin Valley. It is viewed by state leaders as a pragmatic and solutions-based coalition interested in advocating for needed water infrastructure throughout the state.

CFFA has also worked over the last year in a coalition format to build the more than 100 priorities for the 2023 Farm Bill Reauthorization via the Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance. A personal thanks to Kathleen Nave of the California Table Grape Commission and Lorren Walker of Elias Walker for their partnership and steadfast advocacy on behalf of the California fresh fruit industry. With their help we successfully proposed, adopted, and now are actively advocating for proposals that will help advance our sector of the agriculture industry in the areas of agriculture technology, domestic promotion and federal procurement, and last but not least, in the areas of food safety.

Last year, CFFA began to execute on a priority for the organization that was identified during a strategic planning session by our Executive Committee back in April 2019. The task was to begin to develop a program and presence in the space of food safety. With the strategic assistance and leadership of George Nikolich, former CFFA Board member, we set out at the beginning of 2022to build out our program. What followed was a serious assessment of member interests and needs, followed by a series of food safety roundtables where conversations over “best practices” were exchanged. George provided representation of CFFA at the Center Produce Safety’s annual symposium and helped facilitate the Association’s first annual Food Safety Summit that took place in February 2023. The Summit was a fantastic way to cap off our first year, allowing CFFA to partner with Reedley College and present a star-studded series of presenters who informed and advised on how to improve our industry’s food safety practices. George and the CFFA team are eager to see where year two of our partnership will take us.

As I have done in previous years, I would like to close with some personal acknowledgements. First, to our Board Chairman Wayde Kirschenman, thank you for exemplifying leadership and supporting our staff as we maneuvered our Association through the trials of 2022. Your commitment to the fresh fruit industry, its history and its vibrant future is greatly appreciated.

Next, to our staff, Courtney, Caroline, Adam, Allyson, and Mary, thank you for your tenacity and commitment to our membership. It remains an honor to have the privilege to work with each of you. And to our entire membership, thank you for your continued support and dedication to the California Fresh Fruit Association. None of our advocacy efforts would be possible without each of you at the table.