Casey Creamer, the new president and CEO of California Citrus Mutual, makes his first speech to a large audience since taking the job during the organization’s 2019 Citrus Showcase March 7 in Visalia. Photo by David Castellon.
A little over a month after being appointed president and CEO of California Citrus Mutual, Casey Creamer said he plans to continue doing the things the Exeter-based organization has been doing right.
“We’ve got to continue a legacy that’s been here a long time. But beyond that, the biggest thing I want to do is change the image of the agricultural industry [among] the decision makers who are up in Sacramento” setting policies and laws that could help or hurt the citrus industry, said Creamer, 39, a Madera native.
It’s an issue leadership of CCM has been hitting on for years, telling the public and lawmakers the stories of citrus growers and others in the industry so they’ll keep the needs of the industry and other agricultural sectors in mind when they make decisions in Sacramento and Washington, D.C.
Unfortunately, CCM officials have said, many of the movers and shakers in those places —as well as the general public — are from urban areas and don’t appreciate the needs of rural communities.
Many have wrong beliefs about farmers, as “People don’t understand agriculture. They see agriculture as maybe some greedy corporate farmer who’s out to pollute the world or doesn’t care about their people. You name it, there are people in government who don’t truly understand what I’ve seen in agriculture — just good, hardworking people who care about their people, care about their communities and want to have a better California,” Creamer said.
“I think if we bridge that gap, a lot of our problems and issues will subside.”
He made the comments in an interview that followed his keynote speech March 7 during CCM’s 2019 Citrus Showcase, a meeting for citrus growers and others in the citrus industry held at the Visalia Convention Center.
It was Creamer’s his first speech in his new position to the membership of CCM, a nonprofit trade group representing the majority of California citrus growers on economic, regulatory, and political issues, as well as being an advocate on issues affecting the ag industry.
Creamer’s new job comes with some big shoes to fill, those of Joel Nelsen, who ran CCMA for 37 years before deciding to scale back his duties, at least through the end of this year.
Nelsen, one of the people who hired Creamer in February of last year to become CCM’s executive vice president, was in the audience during Creamer’s speech.
Creamer said the plan for now is for him to handle legislative matters and lawmakers in Sacramento while Nelsen handles such matters on the federal level, with a plan to show his replacement the ropes and introduce him to Washington, D.C. movers and shakers, so by year’s end Creamer can take over those duties completely.
After that, Creamer said, it will be decided if Nelson continues with CCM in another capacity or if he decides to retire.
There’s a lot to learn, as over the nearly four decades Nelsen ran CCM he became one of the best-known and well regarded advocates for the ag industry in both Sacramento and D.C.
When asked if living up to that reputation intimidates him, Creamer simply said, “No.
“It’s a bigger challenge, and I like challenges. If a job is routine, it gets boring. What excites me are the big challenges in walking away with a solution.”
For example, he said, while it would be easy to invite legislators from more urban areas to the Valley to show them what farmers go through every day, “It’s far more effective, in my opinion, to find out what their challenges are and to be able to connect the things we are trying to do though a lens they understand.”
For example, the burdens urban manufacturers endure from overregulation aren’t all that different from what farmers endure, and that could lead to agreements on how to challenge them, he explained.
Similar common ground can be found amid employment, immigration and economic issues, Creamer said, adding that it’s important to also relate these issues to their effects on people.
“I think the message is the same,” as what Nelsen and others in citrus have touted in the past, said Creamer, adding that in “selling” legislators to support what citrus needs, “I think you have to just sell the positive aspects more than the negative. … and we have to do it in a way that connects with the audience.”
Also important is to make the issues simple and relatable, which can be challenging, as the issues affecting citrus can be complex, particularly to people who aren’t from citrus-growing areas and “don’t walk the fields,” Creamer said.
Though he didn’t outline his future plans during his speech, Creamer did speak of his days playing baseball for Reedley College and later Fresno State — where he earned his degree in business administration — and the value of working as a team.
He went on to note the value of teamwork in helping and promoting the citrus industry, from CCM staff to growers advocating to lawmakers and other ag industry sectors.
“Everybody’s got to do their part.”