(Nov. 25, EDITOR'S COLUMN)

LA QUINTA, Calif. — There was no pessimism or defeatism in outgoing chairman Bob Gray’s address to Western Growers members at the group’s annual meeting Nov. 9-12.

“Bad times are good times to be in this business,” said the Salinas-based chief executive officer of Duda Farm Fresh Foods Inc., Oviedo, Fla., Nov. 10.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t challenges, of course, he said.

Gray said there are several short-term trends for the produce industry to embrace.

For instance, he said produce items are on the healthy side in the obesity debate, are offered in increasingly convenient packages, can feed the self-indulgent impulses of consumers and can pacify environmental concerns by being largely biodegradable and lowering their carbon footprint with the local trend.

However, Gray said some long-term trends will force fruit and vegetable producers to change the way they do business.

  • Energy: Costs are only going up, which means local sourcing is not merely a trend but a new market reality.


  • Globalization: Supply chains are consolidating in most countries, and there’s tremendous pressure to eliminate the middleman.


  • Carbon footprint: Carbon consciousness is most active in the United Kingdom, but it could easily catch on in the U.S.


  • Water: “Water footprint” will be the new carbon footprint, especially in California.


  • Changing diet: As the Eastern diet becomes more Westernized, more worldwide agriculture energy will be devoted to producing meat for cultures that traditionally didn’t eat much of it, and that could squeeze out produce.


  • Information: The new economy is information, whether it’s crop forecasting, product tracking or eliminating waste along the supply chain.


  • Economy: As the world adjusts to the financial crisis, we’re moving toward an old-style system of credit where people need to show assets, liabilities and ability to pay back loans. “The memory of the Wall Street collapse will last about a generation,” he said, or about 20 years.


  • Population: For the first time, more people in the world now live in urban areas as opposed to rural.

At the meeting, Gray turned over the Western Growers chairmanship to Kevin Andrew, chief operations officer for Sun World International LLC, Bakersfield, and he’ll have big shoes to fill.

Gray may seem very humble and quiet, but in addition to his understated sense of humor, he has a strong grasp of business principles, and he’s had a leadership position at an industry leader such as Duda for a long time.

He has served on a number of boards and associations. He is a past chairman of the Grower-Shipper Association of Central California, a director of the California Institute for the Study of Specialty Crops, past chairman of the California Celery Research Advisory Board, director of the Monterey County Farm Bureau and chairman of the Hartnell College Foundation in Salinas.

He served as chairman of Western Growers for 2007-08 and has been on the board since 1997.

One meeting attendee described Gray as “pure class,” which is hard to disagree with.

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After attending the Western Growers meeting in greater Palm Springs in mid-November, I flew to southern Arizona for the annual meeting of the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas, Nov. 13-15.

A number of people did the double-duty of warm-weather meetings, where networking and golf were as much on the agenda as immigration issues and sustainability.

The FPAA meeting used to be in early December, but a few years of golfing in cold/wet/windy weather prompted the leaders to make the meeting earlier by about a month, said chairman Chris Ciruli, partner and chief operations officer of Ciruli Bros. LLC, Rio Rico, Ariz.

Mission accomplished, because it was in the high 70s and sunny.

Credit for a well-organized meeting and golf tournament goes to Chuck Thomas, FPAA board member and owner and president of Thomas Produce, Nogales, and FPAA president Jesse Driskill.

Look for several months worth of coverage on west Mexican produce in The Packer’s pages and online this winter.

WGA chairman offers optimism at annual meeting
Greg Johnson
Editor