CCM President Joel Nelsen and California Sen Andy Vidak

As part of a stepped-up communications effort CCM President Joel Nelsen, left, takes to the media last summer with California Sen. Andy Vidak, R-Hanford, over irrigation curtailments to California agriculture. Those curtailments forced the removal of citrus groves up and down the state.

CCM branding campaign goes 'Citrus Strong'

New CCM website www.citrusstrong.com Citrus was California's first permanent crop, dating back to late 19th Century Message to target key influencers

Following the lead of the California Rice Commission’s communications efforts a second commodity group is hoping to squeeze similar success from comparable efforts.

California Citrus Mutual (CCM) recently launched Citrus Strong California, a website and communications effort aimed at helping government, policy makers and customers understand the state’s progressive citrus industry.

While a more formal launch won’t take place until after the first of the year, CCM Public Affairs Director Alyssa Houtby said a website is now up and running with information about California’s citrus industry and some of the benefits the industry brings to the state’s environment and economy.

Citrus Strong has been more than a year in the works, according to Houtby. It was borne in part through watching the California Rice Commission build a significant brand that has sewn seeds throughout the State Capitol and beyond.

Much of the communications efforts are still being built, Houtby said. Video was recently shot in the Ventura area for a video series on sustainability. Those will likely grow into a handful of two-to-three-minute segments that could address food safety, irrigation, pest management and a bit of personal history of those involved in the citrus industry.

“We’ll likely push that out via social media fairly soon,” Houtby said.

The ultimate goal of the program, which is being built by Ad Farm, an agency with offices in Canada and the United States, including Sacramento, Calif., is to build a long-lasting brand around California citrus.

“Traditional lobbying in Sacramento and Washington D.C. is just not effective anymore,” Houtby said. “We’re trying to be more creative about our approach.”

Board frustrations

Frustrations over that and a drumbeat of hyperbole and lies by agriculture’s antagonists are what animated the CCM Board of Directors two years ago during a board retreat. Impromptu discussions by the board eventually birthed the more aggressive communications approach, said CCM President Joel Nelsen.

“Activists are constantly challenging our suppliers and the legislature on a host of issues affecting our industry,” said Nelsen. “Our goal is to give our customers and the legislature the tools to address those challenges by the activists.”

According to Nelsen one of the basic efforts is to arm legislators and the buyers of California’s fresh citrus with truths about the citrus industry’s impacts to the environment and economy. No longer is it sufficient to simply recite economic figures, the industry must first start with helping lawmakers and policy drivers understand what citrus industry officials consider basic knowledge, including sustainability efforts, which really are nothing more than long-standing farming practices employed by growers.

It’s not just the $2.5 billion in sales the industry generates each year in California, or the tens of thousands of people employed by the citrus industry, but the very iconic nature of California citrus that will be on display via the communications effort.

“We’re an iconic industry in California,” Nelsen said. “We were the first permanent crop in California. We built a research station that sits on the current UC Riverside campus.”

Yet another example of the industry’s leadership, Nelsen says, is in the pioneering attitude growers had decades ago to employ water-thrifty technology to irrigate crops. Now technologies such as drip and micro irrigation systems are common throughout California agriculture.

“We also have a study from UC Berkeley that suggests citrus provides a net benefit to the environment when it comes to cleaning up the ozone,” Nelsen said. “UC Berkeley was even surprised by the study.”

As with any new communications effort Nelsen is aware time will reveal the success of the program. Still, he is confident that there is a positive story for the citrus industry to tell that will help political and media influencers understand the benefits a vibrant citrus industry plays in California.

“We have food security in this country and we do it in part through things like we’ve been doing for years in the citrus industry,” Nelsen said. “We should be proud of that.”

California Citrus Mutual was formed in 1977. Its mission is “to sustain the profitability of the California citrus grower and foster industry cooperation to accomplish the same.”

Nelsen added: “We do this through information, education and advocacy.”

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