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Tom Deardorff elected WGA chairman

by Tim Linden | November 17, 2010
MAUI, HI — Continuing a family tradition of service to the association that spans more than five decades, Tom Deardorff, president of Deardorff Family Farms in Oxnard, CA, was elected chairman of the board of the Western Growers Association Nov. 15 at its 85th annual convention, held Nov. 14-17 at the Grand Wailea, here.

Joining Mr. Deardorff on the team of officers are Senior Vice Chairman Michael Jarrard of Mann Packing Co. in Salinas, CA; Vice Chairman Stephen J. Barnard of Mission Produce Inc. in Oxnard; Treasurer John S. Manfre of Frank Capurro & Son in Moss Landing, CA; and Executive Secretary Ryan Talley of Talley Farms in Arroyo Grande, CA.

Mr. Deardorff continues a family tradition of serving on the board of directors and as an officer that was begun by his great-grandfather W.H. Deardorff, who started the family firm in 1937. He is a member of the fourth generation of Deardorffs to serve on the Western Growers Association board. A Deardorff family member has served continuously for the past 50 years. His father, Tom Deardorff, was chairman of the board in 1979.

The convention featured an array of business and social activities, and among the highlights were a comprehensive review of health care reform as well as a futuristic look at the agricultural needs of the world in 2050.

A panel of experts dissected the Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act, which was amended by the Health Care & Education Affordability Act, with both companion bills being signed into law by President Obama in March of this year. The panel discussed many different aspects of the law, but the bottom-line conclusion was that any employer with 50 or more full-time- equivalent employees will have to provide health insurance for their employees, or pay a fine, when the full force of the law takes effect in 2014.

WGA attorney Jon Alexander gave a broad overview of the law as it relates to both employers and employees. He said that every employer, especially those that do not currently offer health insurance to their workers, should have a thorough cost analysis prepared to weigh the risk-benefit relationship of insurance vs. the fine. He said that the Western Growers Association does not recommend that employers drop their coverage but admitted that this is an option.

Jasper Hempel, WGA's senior vice president of insurance services, discussed some specific agricultural issues involved in health-care reform. He spent a great deal of time discussing the penalties that will be imposed if an employer does not offer insurance and an employee goes to an exchange and qualifies for a subsidy. That will trigger an audit of the employer — and most likely some very costly fines.

He did reiterate, however, that farmers with a short-term, seasonal workforce — fewer than 120 days per year — are exempt from the provisions of the law. Though this is not that common in California and Arizona, where WGA members farm, it does fit the employment practices of many fresh produce farmers across the country.

A workshop titled Feeding the World in 2050 featured John Lamb, a longtime employee and current consultant for the World Bank on agricultural issues. Mr. Lamb briefly discussed the World Bank and its current mission of alleviating world poverty and hunger. He said that one of the better ways to accomplish that task is through agricultural investments and development in countries suffering from these conditions because agriculture is still one of the quicker ways to create economic growth in undeveloped countries. He said that commercial agriculturists in the United States and throughout the world do have an interest in the economic growth in these nations because undeveloped countries are where most of the world’s economic growth will come in the next four decades.

As these impoverished areas improve their economic plight, they become bigger consumers of agricultural goods, especially fruits, vegetables and nuts. Mr. Lamb stated that about 50 percent of the world’s population exists on a food budget of less than $2 per day. That level allows for the purchase of only basic necessities, which are typically in the grain field and include rice and wheat products. It is not until a person’s daily food budget is in the $2 to $10 range that he or she can afford raw specialty crops such as fruits, vegetables and nuts. When a consumer has a budget above $10 per day, as is the case throughout most of the United States and Europe, consumers look for value- added fruits and vegetables.

Mr. Lamb said that it was quite disconcerting that a 30-year trend of reduced daily hunger in the world has gone in the other direction in the past five years. Higher energy prices and food prices have created a situation in which food is less affordable and more people are going to bed hungry every night. In fact, he said that one in six people in the world goes to bed with less than the basic minimum every day.

The world ag expert said that it is also quite daunting to try to predict where the food supply will be in the next half century. Because of the growing population, there will need to be a 50 percent increase in food production over that period. Mr. Lamb said that 10 percent of what is needed can be realized through the cultivation of more land, 20 percent can come from increased farming intensity, and 70 percent must come through innovation. In the question-and-answer period that followed, he expressed skepticism that the goal is reachable. However, he did allow that those involved in bio- genetics believe the goal is reachable.