I had the chance on July 15 to chat with Joel Nelsen,  president of California Citrus Mutual, Exeter, Calif.

11:05 a.m. Tom Karst: Thanks Joel for taking time for a Fresh Talk chat. I like to ask people how they got their start in the industry. I know that goes back a few years for you (like me) but what is your story - how did you first get connected to the produce industry and California citrus?

11:06 a.m. Joel Nelsen: I have done nothing but been in the produce industry. I started working in the produce departments for Lucky Stores in Southern California then after four years in the Navy and finally graduating went to work for what was then the Fresh Produce Council in Los Angeles. Finally the citrus producers starting recruiting me in October, 1981 and I joined CCM February, 1982.

11:07 a.m. Tom: So you were born and raised in Southern California?

11:08 a.m. Joel: Yes, I am a native Californian. Born in San Diego, then we moved to Orange County where eventually I attended the college baseball Mecca of Cal State Fullerton and then I moved with my wife and two daughters to Visalia, California.

11:09 a.m. Tom: When you came on the citrus scene, prorate was still part of the marketing reality for navels. You have seen many changes to the industry over the years - rise of the seedless mandarins, for example - what types of changes do you anticipate for the industry looking five or ten years down the road?

11:14 a.m. Joel: You're right I have witnessed or been a part of many changes within our industry and survived our industry's civil war with the marketing order. I think our industry is on solid economic footing although challenges abound. By the end of this decade we'll be and industry focusing on navel oranges, seedless mandarins and lemons as top tiered commodities. We'll still have summer Valencias and other varieties but they will definitely be much less volume. We'll witness some shipper/marketer consolidation and we'll witness a reduction in the number of producers but we will still be dominated by the family farmer. Our so-called corporates or very large growers will grow slightly but the biggest change will be in our packing and marketing area. We'll continue to challenge ourselves on placing the best possible piece of fruit on the market and we'll continue to be a cohesive industry, not withstanding some internal debates, but a cohesive industry as we face challenges from other sources.

11:16 a.m. Tom: California finds itself at a pivotal time in relation to fighting pests like HLB (citrus greening), citrus canker and more. How confident are you that growers will be able to keep out crippling pests/diseases?

11:20 a.m.  Joel: I'm a guy that sees the glass always half full. We learn from the mistakes of others and we have good leadership within our grower community. They see a challenge whether it be pest, disease, government, or marketing and they work together to address it. No doubt, at this time the invasive pest and disease issue is our major priority because of the catastrophe befalling our colleagues in Florida. With the help of CDFA and USDA we are out front of the problems now and we are initiating some action steps that allow us to maintain some aggressive steps as needed. So I am confident that we can maintain our position as one of the most pristine citrus producing regions in the world. It will be a challenge but it is one we are facing with success now.

11:23 a.m.  Tom: I know you are friendly with your colleagues/counterparts in Florida. Do you think it will be a strain on your relationships as the USDA considers the science behind reopening California to Florida fruit from canker infested regions?

11:28 a.m.  Joel: No I don't. After our battles earlier this decade and after witnessing the devastation occurring in Florida relative to Haunglongbing a strong camaraderie has developed which led to a partnership this year in Washington that has been very successful. It will lead to a strong research partnership and it could very well lead to a strong partnership in Washington on other common issues. We're going to disagree somewhere and not all of our initiatives will be met with open arms by the other but I think we trust one another and can work through the difficulties. As for the canker rule they did some additional scientific work at our urging in partnership with USDA. The results are compelling. We'll get through this and emerge with a strong partnership that can only spell trouble for those that seek to do damage to our respective industries.

11:29 a.m. Tom: Very good thoughts. What do you find yourself working on right now? What's your schedule for the next couple of months?

11:33 a.m. Joel: government, Government, GOVERNMENT! Whether it be at the state level or federal level the intrusion into the private sector with rules, regs, costs and policy changes is driving all of us nuts. Certainly we're not immune from potential food safety problems but we're certainly not a high risk commodity yet we're being grouped with others which creates higher costs. Water, the importation of product from pest or disease infested areas, fiscal meltdowns and the passing of costs to us. It’s all there, all complex, all expensive and all time consuming.

11:35 a.m. Tom: You are right - lots of push on food safety, climate change, health care - all angles. I appreciate your time today. One more question; what do you like to do when you have some vacation or "down" time?

11:37 a.m.  Joel: We travel to the California coast, wine taste and play golf. I have a wonderful wife of 37 years who is into all of that.

11:38 a.m.  Tom: Thanks again, Joel. I appreciate your insight.

11:39 a.m. Joel: Thanks for the opportunity. Talk with you soon.