SALINAS, Calif. — Karen Ross, secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, met produce industry leaders at D’Arrigo Bros. Co. in Salinas to discuss the state’s budget dilemmas.

Ross — former chief of staff at the U.S. Department of Agriculture — and state Sen. Anthony Cannella, R-Ceres, fielded questions on pest control, water, labor and other issues April 21.

As California grapples with a $26 billion state budget deficit, Ross acknowledged voter skepticism about taxes, but said the consequences of no new money coming into state coffers could be dire.

“Citizens do not feel connected to the programs they’ve been funding with their tax dollars,” Ross told a group of about 50 growers at a reception. “We do we need to get rid of or reduce the scope on? What matters so much to you that we can find that magic formula of cuts and revenue enhancements?

“How can I say I want to keep a pest control program when (legislators) are having a discussion about poor kids not having eyeglasses?” she said. “These are literally the kinds of tradeoffs we’re involved in.”

Food safety and pest control — both eradication and exclusion — are CDFA’s core functions, Ross said.

“We’re to a point where we start presenting the scenarios for an all-cuts budget,” she said. “We will present scenarios to you that show increased risk.”

The state has already cut $11.2 billion from its budget, said Ross, appointed by Democratic governor Jerry Brown. Cannella broke that amount into $7 billion in cuts and $4.2 billion in transfers. He said pension and regulatory reform, plus a spending cap, should be part of any deal.

The Republican agreed with Ross on the need for bipartisan solutions.

“If we have to have an all-cuts budget, it will be very painful,” Cannella said.

John D’Arrigo, president of D’Arrigo Bros. Co., said there should be no retreat sounded on the state’s pest control efforts.

“That’s the best marketing tool we can come up with,” he said, citing the freedom from worries about quarantines that eradication and exclusion can provide.

California ag secretary meets Salinas growers

Mike Hornick

Joe Pezzini, chief operating officer of Ocean Mist Farms, talks with Karen Ross, secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, during a reception at D'Arrigo Bros. Co. April 21 in Salinas, Calif.