Written by Ramuel Reyes
California Citrus Mutual
What we do:
California Citrus Mutual is a non-profit agricultural advocacy organization located in Exeter. We represent 75% of the roughly 270,000 citrus acres spread out across California. The major growing regions are the eastside of the San Joaquin Valley, the Ventura coastal region, and in Southern California. We employ eight people who work in areas related to legislation, pest and disease, trade, marketing, labor, regulatory and industry affairs.
California State University, Fresno – B.S. business administration, marketing option; California Agricultural Leadership Program – Class
Family: Married to Megan for 13 years. Three daughters; McKayla, age 9; Adalynn, age 6; and Emery, age 5
How did you reach your current position?
I started my career in agriculture working for the California Cotton Ginners and Growers Associations based in Fresno. I was hired as the assistant vice president of administration and technical services and was promoted to vice-president. After nine years, I left the organization to get more involved in water issues for the Kings River Conservation District. There I managed a Joint Powers Agency (JPA), worked with a grower membership and board of directors, and advocated on behalf of our membership in front of the state and regional water quality control boards. Those two positions led me to my current role at California Citrus Mutual.
How does your organization affect change in Sacramento and Washington, D.C. that affects citrus growers?
California Citrus Mutual has been at the forefront of many issues on behalf of agriculture over the years. We’ve had big successes and multiple defeats. Quantifying our ability to affect change is mostly subjective. It’s hard to quantify what didn’t happen. We have large governments in California and at the federal level. For the most part, government looks to solve problems or address issues. If you are not at the table, those decisions are made without your input or consideration of how it can affect an entire industry. We affect change by being at the table, educating, advocating, and providing solutions to problems while keeping our industry viable. We don’t always win, but we are always better off when we have provided a voice into the process.
How important is citrus to the Valley’s economy and California’s economy?
California citrus is a $3.3 billion industry in direct sales. The industry contributes over $7 billion dollars when you consider downstream economic activity. The economic output is of greater value when you consider the activity is largely in our rural communities. These communities depend on agriculture and agriculture depends on them. Many of these communities are reliant on the economic output of the citrus industry to be able to have good schools, working infrastructure and other vital services.
Why is the citrus industry worried about huanglongbing (HLB)?
HLB is a deadly disease for citrus trees. It is spread by an insect called the Asian Citrus Psyllid (ACP). The insect, much like a mosquito, bites into an infected tree and can then re-infect another tree with the disease. The disease has no known cure and it has devastated the citrus industries in other parts of the world and has almost completely wiped out the Florida citrus industry. The disease has popped up in Southern California residential trees and we are spending over $40 million dollars a year to contain the disease and keep it from spreading to commercial citrus operations.
Why is CCM challenging plans by the California Department of Pesticide Regulation to ban chlorpyrifos from farm use?
Chlorpyrifos is not widely used anymore by the citrus industry due to heavy restrictions placed on its use over the years. It is however an important part of an integrated pest management program and it has been demonstrated that it can be used safely. We are very concerned with the process that led to the decision to ban chlorpyrifos. The prior administration decided because of political pressure that they were going to get rid of chlorpyrifos. They used unrealistic pesticide application scenarios to achieve a certain scientific objective. As farmers we use science every day as part of our operations and can live with results of good scientific processes. The decision to ban chlorpyrifos was not based upon good scientific procedures, or facts about actual harm, but on emotion. We all should be worried when regulatory agencies that we rely on for good science can no longer be respected for their scientific objectivity.
What is the best business advice you ever received?
The best business advice I ever received was from Joseph Perry, executive director of the Boys2Men Foundation during a short internship in college. At the time, the career path for most in the marketing department was sales jobs. He advised me to never sell a product, but to sell yourself. People do business with people because they trust you first and foremost, the products you sell will come and go. I never desired to be a salesman, but the advice is so fitting for what I do today, albeit in a slightly different context. Our ability to “sell” a desired outcome in many instances depends on the relationships and credibility that we have with those who set policy. Some issues come and go, but the people that we must work with to affect change remain in most instances. The advocacy business is a people business and maintaining credibility on all issues gives our membership the greatest opportunity to have lasting success.
What was your very first job and what did you learn from it?
My very first real job was working as a bus boy cleaning tables at Farnesi’s restaurant in Madera during high school. It was sort of a family tradition with my father and his brothers also working there when they were younger. I made $4.25 per hour plus small tips. I learned the value of working hard and the value of money. I also learned a lot about people, both good and bad. We had great long-term customers and the occasional difficult ones. It was our job to treat every customer with respect regardless of how they treated you.