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CARMEL VALLEY, CA -- At its annual membership meeting held here March 22, the Fresno, CA-based California Grape & Tree Fruit League presented Dennis Parnagian, president of Fowler Packing Co. Inc. in Fresno, with its 2010 Mentor Award in recognition of his dedicated service and committment to the California fresh grape and deciduous tree fruit industry.

In presenting the award, Barry Bedwell, president of the league, noted that following Mr. Parnagian's graduation from the University of San Francisco with a bachelor's degree in business, he returned to his family's home in Fowler, CA, and "began working in his father's [fruit packing] business. From 1970 to 1980, the business continued to grow," and Mr. Parnagian and his brothers "became more involved and acquired more experience. They developed fruit orchards and vineyards and built two additional packing facilities, one in Coachella and the other in Fresno County. In 1980, his father passed away, and he became president of the company." Since then, the business has continued to grow.

Throughout his career, Mr. Parnagian has been deeply involved in the league as well as in the California Tree Fruit Agreement and the California Table Grape Commission, "always a leader and mentor at every step of the way," Mr. Bedwell said.

In addressing members of the league in attendance at the meeting, Mr. Bedwell said, "In my job representing you in public policy interests around the state" whenever an elected official or other "special person" comes to the Fresno area and wants to visit a packinghouse, Fowler Packing "comes to mind first" because Mr. Parnagian, along with his family, "knows how to present his case for his business and for agriculture better than anybody I know in California."

In his report to the membership, Mr. Bedwell reviewed the issues that the league's members have identified as their top concerns for the current year. "The number one issue this year, which knocked immigration reform out of the top spot, which had been there three years in a row, was labor laws and labor relations," Mr. Bedwell said. Among the labor-related concerns are proposed card-check legislation, which would deprive workers of the right to secret ballot in elections deciding whether they want to unionize, a regulatory proposal changing current law regarding the number of hours farmworkers can work and regulations pertaining to heat illness.

Those issues are important to the industry because "we deal with very labor- intensive products," he said.

The league's outgoing chairman, Marko S. Zaninovich, a partner in Sun View Marketing International in Delano, CA, said in his report to the membership, "We want to make sure that we have a voice when it comes to card check and labor issues" as well as other issues of concern to the league. "We really want the California Grape and Tree Fruit League to be the first place where legislators and regulators look for information on these topics."

Labor issues were the focus of a workshop held earlier in the day. The workshop dealt primarily with the history of the 35-year-old Labor Relations Act in California and the grape industry's confrontations in the 1970s with the United Farm Workers Union.

Among the panelists for the workshop were Bruce Obbink, who was president of the California Table Grape Commission from 1971 to 1998; and Joseph E. Herman, an attorney who represented the California agricultural industry in the 1970s and who negotiated the industry's first contracts with the UFW. Also on the panel was Miriam Pawel, author of the book The Union of their Dreams: Power, Hope and Struggle in Cesar Chavez's Farm Worker Movement.

George H. Soares, the league's lobbyist in Sacramento, moderated the panel. Immigration reform is number two on the league's list of priorities this year. Among the other issues are water supply, invasive pests, pending food-safety legislation, air-quality regulations, rising energy costs, market access, traceability (which was the subject of another workshop) and the impact of new health-care mandates.

The seventh annual Mila Caratan Memorial Golf Tournament was held Tuesday, March 23, at the Carmel Valley Ranch Golf Course.

Incoming league Chairman David Marguleas, chief marketing officer of Sun World International LLC in Bakersfield, CA, announced that the league's 75th annual meeting will be held March 13-15, 2011, in the Coachella Valley at the Rancho Las Palmas Resort in Rancho Mirage, CA.