I had a chance to chat on April 28 with Hank Giclas, vice president of strategic planning, science and technology for Western Growers, Irvine, Calif.

Chat - Hank Giclas
Hank Giclas

11:07 a.m. Tom Karst: Thanks for taking time from your busy schedule for a Fresh Talk chat. I like to ask people how they first connected to the industry. How does your story go in that respect?

11:08 a.m. Hank Giclas: I have always been interested in a career in agriculture...my family owns a small farm in Buckeye AZ where I first got the bug in my teens...working there during the summer!

11:09 a.m. Tom: What kind of farm was it and is it still in the family?

11:11 a.m. Hank: It is currently in alfalfa and it has typically been a cotton and small grains rotation although we have grown many crops including fresh produce like lettuce and melons (which we never successfully sold...even though we produced great crops) My father brother and I are now partners in the farm.

11:13 a.m. Tom: So you grew up n Arizona. Did that mean ASU for college? How soon after schooling did you find Western Growers?

 Hank: That experience got me interested in arid lands agriculture which is what I studied in college at the University of Arizona. I graduated with a BS in Ag education and taught vocational agriculture prior to coming to Western Growers in 1990.

11:15 a.m. Tom: Right. You were ahead of me. And U of A is the Ag school - not to be confused. Do you miss teaching? What attracted you to Western Growers?

11:19 a.m. Hank: I don’t miss the bureaucracy of the education system... and I feel like my work with Western Growers affords me great opportunities to employ an educator’s skill set ... with a different audience than high school students. I was attracted to Western Growers by an opportunity to work as a "public affairs" director which meant taking agricultural messages germane to the association to policy makers and the public.

11:20 a.m. Tom: What's a typical week like for you? Do you find yourself in Washington and Sacramento a fair amount?

11:22 a.m. Hank: I do travel considerably. Some to Sacramento and Washington ...but most of my travel is to areas where our members are engaged in the difficult issues of the day ... for example this week will be in Bakersfield and Salinas...

11:24 a.m. My days are never boring ... in the Science and Tech unit we deal with a myriad of issues that change constantly ... who would have known when I walked in on Monday that we would be getting calls on swine flu for example... and I am working on food safety initiatives, sustainability work, water quality issues to name a few of this week’s focal points...

11:26 a.m. Tom: I know you have been active on the progression of the national leafy greens marketing agreement. Do you think it is possible the USDA will publish a proposal for a national leafy greens marketing agreement this year? Are you optimistic it will be well received by growers outside of California?

11:29 a.m. Hank: While I have been an active leader in the development of a proposal for a national leafy greens marketing agreement (modeled after California and Arizona's successful efforts) there are many allied organizations across the country that are also involved... I hope that this will help in the reception that it receives when an official publication/proposal comes from USDA. I certainly expect that this will occur this year and I am actually hopeful that it will happen in the next few months.

11:30 a.m. It is important for it to be formally noticed and published to get it out and about for people to talk about it and hopefully embrace.

11:33 a.m. Tom: A related question, perhaps - and one relevant to the recent Global Conference on Produce Food Safety Standards at United. Do you think the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement and the related Ariz. effort have cut down on redundant food safety audits? Do you see that as a possible outcome of a national effort?

11:37 a.m. Hank: I think that there has been some limited progress in reducing the number of audits for leafy greens companies/farms as a result of the California and Arizona agreements. There is much that still needs to be done in this area. The existing LGMA is speaking now with buyers as part of their efforts to encourage further reductions and the establishment of a national program will hopefully strengthen the rationale for one standard and audit program. That is one of the intended outcomes.

11:39 a.m. Tom: I have kept you a while. Thanks for your time. One last question: If the swine flu were to have some impact on the industry, where do you think we would see it - trade, labor, or something else?

11:44 a.m. Hank: I think, as with many issues, some folks (over?) react based on media hyperbole and not facts. We have heard that some buyers have been seeking assurance that produce is not a vehicle for transmission of influenza ..despite the fact that CDC has said food is not a vehicle. This forces a whole lot of people to expend resources to answer these questions in an effort to calm or quiet unfounded fears...another typical day at the office!

11:45 a.m. Tom: It's good you are there to cut the rumors off at the pass. Hopefully we won't see this swine flu have a profound efffect on our economy.

11:49 a.m. Hank: I too hope the swine flu does not expand and cause further illness and that in the short term clear messages about its causes and preventive measures are sent out ... to me it goes back to what mom said..."wash your hands" "cover your mouth" etc...

 11:50 a.m. Tom: Never go wrong listening to mom. Thanks again for your time, Hank

 Hank:  You are quite welcome!