(July 17) FRESNO, Calif. — California maintains a strong standing in providing fruits and vegetables for the nation. But its cities — even in top agricultural production areas like Fresno County — have evolved from rural farm towns to urban centers.

Barry Bedwell, new president of the California Grape & Tree Fruit League, is concerned that the shift to urban life has influenced priorities of state and federal legislators and has made many of them less sensitive to agriculture needs.

Bedwell, settling in after starting work at the league July 14, said agriculture often takes a back seat on issues like air quality and water availability. Farmers are forced to reduce dust, use cleaner diesel engines and make do with less water.

He points out that farmers want clean air, too, but the industry needs to be profitable if California is to remain a major tree fruit and grape producer. Issues threatening California agriculture include rising costs of workers’ compensation programs, importation of Spanish clementines and the possible loss of a state tax exemption on purchase of farm equipment.

Bedwell succeeds Richard Matoian as president of the league. Matoian resigned Jan. 31, and Fred Berry has served as interim manager, assuming presidential duties, since that time.

In selecting Bedwell from more than 200 applicants, the league considered his strong background in working with state and federal leaders. Bedwell has served on the California Wine Grape Growers board since 1991 and took many trips to Sacramento to discuss issues with legislators.

The league plans to become more politically active and vocal in Sacramento and Washington, D.C., with Bedwell at the helm.

Earlier in the year, the league selected Sacramento-based Kahn, Soares & Conway LLP to represent the league in Washington, D.C., and Sacramento. The firm provides legal, government advocacy and lobbying services.

Bedwell’s background is primarily in wine grape production and marketing, but many of the problems facing the wine industry also affect the table grape and tree fruit industries.

“There is a lot of common ground,” said Tony Fazio, chairman of the league’s executive committee. “Specifics can be different, but the challenges are the same.”

Fazio said Bedwell will help in an effort by the league to better educate legislators and consumers about the importance of agriculture.

Bedwell, a 1974 graduate of California State University, grew up in Madera and now lives in Fresno.

He has been involved with production agriculture since that time. Bedwell served for 13 years as president of Allied Grape Growers, a wine grape organization in Fresno, until 2000 when he became general manager of Ciatti Grape Brokerage, San Rafael.

Bedwell also formed Bedwell Winegrower Services LLC, a growers’ agency to help market wine grapes from California. He is a graduate of the California Agricultural Leadership Program and sits on the Industry Advisory board for the Department of Viticulture and Enology at Fresno State University.