The Silicon Valley and Selma may reside under the same state flag, but for California they represent a large chasm in attitudes among Californians, and perhaps the rest of the United States.
Joe MacIlvaine shares a story about a panel discussion he was on with noted author and professor Victor Davis Hanson. MacIlvaine shares the story that Hanson tells about his daily commute from California’s raisin capital of Selma to its high-tech capital in Palo Alto.
Some have likened parts of the Central Valley to that of a Third-World country as Hanson tells people he lives in a place where the per-capital income is $15,000 per year and commutes to work in a location where that number is $150,000 per year.
MacIlvaine shares Hanson’s comments when he says that Bay Area residents simply do not care what happens in California’s Central Valley, and as such, neither do the lawmakers urban residents like that elect on a consistent basis.
MacIlvaine is the president of Paramount Farms, a California-based large farming operation that sells approximately 450 million pounds of California-grown pistachios and almonds around the world each year.
Paramount farms more than 100,000 acres of agricultural properties, primarily planted in almonds, pistachios and pomegranates in the same Central Valley that Bay Area residents could care less about.
MacIlvaine shared this story during the morning session of the 40th Annual CAPCA meeting, held this year in Anaheim, Calif. The session featured a host of speakers with various backgrounds but one basic message for agriculture: agriculture must work together and smarter on the issues it cares about.
“If we’re not standing up for ourselves on issues such as water, regulations and all these things that are threatening our very lifestyle and existence here in the Central Valley, the outlook is not good,” MacIlvaine told the audience.
Large farming operations
MacIlvaine’s message was interspersed with the story of his large farming operation and how large operations differ in practicalities from smaller operations. In short, the advantage of scale in farming is not in the cost of production; the most significant difference is that the larger operations can afford to employ PCAs and other professionals full time that are dedicated solely to that enterprise.
MacIlvaine encouraged younger Ag professionals to consider at least part of their career with a large farming operation such as Paramount Farms.
“If you know young people willing to learn quickly a large company is the place to do it,” he said.
Those seeking to maximize their personal value in a career require the identification, procurement and implementation of knowledge and skills essential to the success of the enterprise, he said.
“That’s what will make you valuable to any enterprise you may be involved in,” MacIlvaine said.
Much of MacIlvaine’s career has been studying the improvement of agricultural yields. Over the years he discovered that yields have a disproportionate impact on profitability: it’s not a one-for-one equation.
“You can improve yield by 20 percent and improve your profitability by 40 or 50 percent,” he said. “This model works as well for 40 acres of almonds as it does for 40,000 acres of almonds; there’s no difference.
The key ingredient to Paramount’s ability to produce large crop yields and employ people in various capacities is water, and that was mentioned throughout the morning sessions at the CAPCA conference.
Water availability and quality issues are just one of many topics Jay Vroom is working to address on a national level.
Articulating need for chemicals
Vroom is President and CEO of CropLife America, which works in behalf of agriculture on issue management and advocacy in hopes of convincing consumers about the safe and effective use of crop protection products.
Vroom said his organization is continuing to work with Congress on federal clean water legislation that was first lined up in the House version of what became the 2014 Farm Bill, but was eventually thwarted in the U.S. Senate by the majority party who refused to bring the issue to a vote.
CropLife’s principle issues include articulating the benefits of crop technology in enhancing food, fiber and renewable fuel protection, and advocating for clear, science-based regulations which ensure the safe and effective use of crop protection tools.
Vroom said consumers can be helped to understand the connection between the careful use of agricultural chemicals, fertilizers and biotechnology and the abundance of safe, inexpensive food products and other consumable goods. That will come at a cost that agriculture must be willing to bear he and others during the morning session argued.
Vroom held up a poster that CropLife produced as part of a campaign to run in conjunction with Halloween. The poster featured a child in a Halloween costume with a frightened look on her face under the caption “Halloween without candy or Jack-o’Lanterns? Now that’s Scary!”
The idea was to communicate the link between the use of Ag chemicals with the production of pumpkins in the United States and cocoa in foreign countries. In both cases, the careful use of Ag chemicals has reduced fungal and other diseases, thereby improving yields that allowed such items to enter the marketplace.
For cocoa farmers in Ghana, Vroom said it was the difference in them having a crop and not having one.
Vroom is also a believer in helping people visually connect with agriculture as a means to win over their hearts, not just their minds with statistics that can become tired or boring.
In one slide he showed a picture of him with a pillow attached to his chest while visiting the Bayer Bee Care Center. The small pillow about the size of a loaf of bread illustrated the relative size of a Varroa mite on a honey bee. The picture is a quick way to illustrate, along with a quick story issues related to honey bee health and why various pesticides are important in actually helping bees survive.
Helena CEO speaks
Helena Chemical Company President and CEO Mike McCarty echoed much of Vroom’s sentiments on the careful use of agrochemicals and fertilizers. Both agreed that there seems to be a public disconnect when it comes to their use.
McCarty quotes a Syngenta study that suggests general public acceptance for additional technology to grow more food coupled with a belief that farming practices are not conducted responsibly.
“So there’s a disconnect that we need to work on,” McCarty said.
“When asked about technology, people generally say we need to use it to grow more food,” McCarty continued.
At the same time, McCarty says the very tools used in those production increases – namely agrochemicals, fertilizers and genetically modified organisms – are targets for elimination, or at the very least, reduction.
According to McCarty, without agrochemicals 40 percent of the world’s food supply would disappear.
McCarty believes agriculture must first take steps to learn more about the public’s concerns and become more comfortable in talking with the public about the connections between a safe and abundant supply of food and the careful use of agrochemicals and fertilizers.
Second, McCarty and others believe that a message change needs to take place. No longer can agriculture simply repeat tired phrases that “agriculture feeds the world” and cite statistical figures and hope to win over converts.
Based on this and the statements MacIlvaine attributes to Hanson, helping the high-tech audience in California’s Silicon Valley connect the dots between them and their Central Valley neighbors will be an important part in this effort.
“Sound science is only going to take us so far,” McCarty said. “We need sound science, but we need to do a better job of feeling more confident in addressing it at a local level.”