RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. — New California Department of Food and Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross admitted the state’s budget is a problem, but ag should be part of the solution.

Ross addressed members of the California Grape and Tree Fruit League at its annual meeting March 14.

She said the core functions of CDFA are food safety and protecting the state from invasive pests and both of those are too important to suffer from significant budget cutbacks. But she said there was some risk in reductions in funding and increased fees.

Ross said Gov. Jerry Brown’s goal is to create a new and green economy in California, and he’s acknowledged that agriculture is an important part of that.

She said one of the ways for agriculture to prove its importance to the state’s economy is for growers, like the grape and tree fruit industry representatives at the meeting, to do more consumer outreach.

Recently, she said CDFA didn’t do a good enough job explaining to the state’s residents why fighting the light brown apple moth was so important, and it led to unfair criticism of agriculture and government.

“We can do a better job of outreach to local communities,” she said.

She said the state government needs to work on the regulatory burden on growers so they remain an important part of the economy.

“Sustainability is giving your grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren the ability to keep farming,” she said.

Ross was confirmed as the new secretary about a month ago. She was chief of staff for Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack since November 2009 and was president of the California Association of Winegrape Growers from 1996 until leaving for the federal post.

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California Department of Food and Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross chats with longtime member Howard Marguleas at the California Grape and Tree Fruit League’s annual meeting March 14.