(May 24) MONTEREY, Calif. — Among issues affecting agriculture in Central California, immigration is front and center.

Pending immigration reform was on everyone’s minds at the 76th annual meeting of the Grower-Shipper Association of Central California, Salinas.

At the May 11 event at the Pasadera Country Club, association president Jim Bogart said more than two-thirds of membership listed immigration reform as the No. 1 issue facing the industry and 94% listed it as a concern.

Bogart and the association’s chairman, John Baillie, owner of Baillie Family Farms/Tri-Counties Packing, Spreckels, have traveled to Washington, D.C., several times to communicate agriculture’s need for reform.

Bogart asked attendees at the meeting to write letters to representatives on behalf of agriculture, but added that time is running out.

MULTIPLE ISSUES

Guest speaker A.G. Kawamura, secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, Sacramento, discussed immigration, energy costs and other issues facing the area known as the world’s salad bowl.

Immigration, avian flu, food scares, water systems and the state’s infrastructure could potentially shut down operations overnight, Kawamura said.

He stressed the need to protect California’s infrastructure, which was built to support 25 million people. Today, it’s in need of repairs as the state’s population of 37 million is projected to grow to 46 million, he said.

Kawamura had come from a recent meeting with the California Air Resources Board, where renewable transportation fuels were discussed.

“We looked at ways to get rid of our addiction to oil,” he said. “It turns out that agriculture’s a part of the solution.”

Some agricultural by-products can be turned into fuel, he added.

He’s part of a group called 25x25 that promotes the concept of the nation becoming 25% reliable on renewable fuels from agriculture by 2025.

“If we were to arrive at that number, half a trillion dollars would stay in the economy,” Kawamura said.

From the agricultural sector, the nation’s fuel supply can be provided by solar and wind energy to corn and ethanol, he said.

INCOMING CHAIRMAN

Baillie spoke to the audience before introducing the association’s new chairman, Joe Pezzini, vice president of operations for Ocean Mist Farms, Castroville.

Pezzini, a third-generation farmer, spoke about his family’s beginnings in California’s farming industry.

LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT

Pezzini announced the annual E.E. “Gene” Harden award, which recognizes lifetime achievement in Central Coast agriculture.

This year’s award went to Herb Fleming, owner of Admiral Packing Co., Salinas, and a former chairman of the association.

Fleming was not at the event but will be honored with a presentation at the association’s annual dinner and dance June 22-24.