Earl Williams, new ag junkyard dog

Ever say something you wish you hadn't? Everyone has.

Earl Williams, president and CEO of California Cotton Growers and Ginners Association, spent about 15 minutes saying a lot of things he'd just as soon not see in print like they are on Page 28 of this edition of Western Farm Press. But, it's there and he's not backing down.

Williams is a pretty straight talking kind of fellow. Not many Buttonwillow, Calif., boys are the timid type. Something in Kern County seems to make people a bit testy if riled. In preparing his state of the association message for the annual cotton growers meeting, Earl struggled with what he wanted to say. He could have somehow sugarcoated the reality that his members are struggling like never before. Many, but certainly not all, are going broke despite record 2000 cotton yields and low input costs.

However, he chose to tell it like it is. And, he'll catch flak for it, not from within his organization but outside.

Steve Wright, University of California farm advisor in Tulare County said after Williams' talk, “You've got to print what Earl said.” I was already planning to, much to Earl's chagrin, I later learned when I asked him for a full text of his remarks.

Earl is a very effective spokesman for the California cotton industry. He gets things done for his members and associate members. He's persistent. He's honest. Will not pull punches. He gets the job done like few association executives. Well-known Sacramento lobbyist George Soares represents the cotton grower/ginner association along with other ag groups. He said Williams and association vice president for regulatory affairs Roger Isom are the best at what they do, advocating for the people they represent.

However, Earl and Roger are also very frustrated because no one in government, especially in Sacramento, seems to be listening, much less offering help for farmers going broke for a wide array of reasons.

Everyone knows that for agriculture to get much of anything politically, it must compromise. Farmers don't have enough votes or PAC money to open many doors.

Williams recognizes that, but the time for compromise is over. It is now “in your face” time.

The political art of compromise in many cases has become quick acquiescence for political expediency. This often comes from organizations representing everyone on everything. These groups often proclaim to be the voice of California agriculture, but are more like chameleons. They are good at selling insurance and giving discounts on trucks. Things like that are their primary motivation and they don't want to stir up any controversy by taking hard lines.

Others who have nothing to sell also represent many different groups and often look for the position that will get the least resistance. That often leads to cures worse than problems.

The last thing California agriculture needs today is representation from organizations that simply go with the flow. That avenue is bleeding red ink for most farmers.

Agriculture needs junkyard dogs today. Williams and the cotton growers and ginners he represents became one of those junkyard dogs with his No More Mr. Nice Guy speech.

And he has tossed a bone to other commodity groups to join him in the junkyard. He is not interested in clinging vines, afraid to ruffle feathers.

Agriculture needs more like Earl Williams to step up and bare some teeth. We don't need any more Casper Milquetoasts. We don't need timid, meek, unassertive leaders. It took guts for Earl to tell it like it is. It will not be popular in some circles, but as Wright pointed out, it needed to be said.

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