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Day 1 – I-LEAD Class 6 Domestic Agriculture Mission

Posted on March 7, 2014 at 9:29 AM by Iowa Corn

Our first day started out early in Sacramento where we met our tour guides for the week; Mark Linder (an Iowa native and ISU grad who has been a leader in California Agriculture in various capacities for years) and Scott Harris (a graduate student at UC-Davis who interns with Mark's Ag consulting firm). We walked across the Capitol park to the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) where we met with Karen Ross, the Secretary of the CDFA.

Sec. Ross addressing the group
Originally from Nebraska, Sec. Ross helped to relate the challenges California's farmers face to we Mid-westerners.  In the midst of the worst drought in recent history, the growers who produce over 300 different crops in the north of the Golden State have to battle for every drop of water with the state's 38 million residents (over 12x that of Iowa).  Typically reliant on the snowpack in the high Sierras, the fertile valleys of the north would have to receive a quarter inch of rain per day through May, just to get back to baseline levels. This impacts a significant amount of the nuts, vegetables and fruits that we take for granted. Sec. Ross' role is unique among State Ag Secretaries in that she sets the price of milk  for the state rather than rely on the federal order.

We next learned about Pacific Ethanol from Paul Koehler, one of the brothers who helped to found it. They operate four plants in California, Washington and Idaho, producing 200M gal annually from corn imported from the Midwest by rail. Their "destination" model has served them well as they can truck the wet distillers to local dairies and the ethanol to nearby population centers.

Group visiting the California State Capitol
Next, Christopher Reardon of the Dept of Pesticide Regulation gave us an overview of their unique organization which operates autonomously of the CDFA. We learned of the challenges they face with fumigants and colony collapse in apiaries. Commercial pesticide applicators in the state must also compete 40 hours of continuing education every two years (compared to six in Iowa). Their department is funded solely through the taxation of wholesale pesticides, at a rate of $0.021 per dollar.

Following that we met with the California Farm Bureau President, Rich Matteis at their headquarters.  Rich explained how big the number one Ag state in the union is; $44.7B annually. The issues they face range from water availability to migrant labor to GMOs to over-regulation.  He also spoke to us about carbon credit trading and how it impacts the 80,000 farms in the state.

Stephanie Etcheverria with Ag in the Classroom was our next presenter, and she helped us to understand how they are working to educate teachers and encourage the discussion of agriculture in K-12 schools. There are seven million school children in the state, and the seven  Ag in the Classroom staffers contribute to 42% of the schools working on the five F's; Food, Fiber, Forests, Flowers and Fuel.

After lunch we visited the local Public television station KVIE which produces the show "America's Heartland." They showed us a few clips from some segments featuring Iowa and then gave us a tour of their studio, mixing rooms and sound stage.

Next we traveled to Blue Diamond Almonds, which is a marketing cooperative representing over 3,000 almond growers in the area. California grows 85% of the world's almonds, and over half are Blue Diamond Growers. We discussed the process of seeding trees, keeping groves in condition and harvesting the 2,500 lbs per acre. The highlight was the R&D department where we were able to sample all the different flavors and varieties to our hearts' content.

We followed this up with a brief tour of the city with Councilman Steve Cohn, before heading to dinner at the Old Sugar Mill to round out the day with some wine tasting.

Devin Mogler is senior vice president of operations for Farmers Cooperative Company. He has been with the company since 2008. Mogler is a graduate of Iowa State University and grew up on a diversified crop and livestock farm in Lyon County in northwest Iowa.

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