For Immediate Release

Sixth EconAlliance Ag Forum Highlights Opportunities & Challenges

The sixth EconAlliance Ag Forum held Wednesday, February 7th at the Santa Maria Elks Lodge featured USDA Rural Development (RD) State Director Maria Gallegos-Herrera (photo, right) speaking on the Rural Development funding programs for on-farm and off-farm housing and programs for development of community facilities.

“A keynote presentation on housing funding is timely,” said George Adam, co-owner of Innovative Produce and EconAlliance Ag Initiative Lead. He stated that housing is not only a concern for county residents but has become a top concern for the ag sector, as it impacts availability and cost of ag labor and the sector’s ability to compete globally.

Maria Gallegos-Herrera

EconAlliance Ag Forum Updates Key Economic Indicators

200 Attendees, Significant Updates

EconAlliance Ag Forum Updates Key Economic Indicators

The event was co-sponsored by Grower-Shipper Association of Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo Counties, with AgWest and UnitedAg among others, with 200 people attending. According to Board president Sam Cohen, “The EconAlliance Ag Forums provide Northern Santa Barbara County ag and economic stakeholders and policymakers with updated information about the County’s key economic sector, a sector which provided county residents a production value of nearly $2 billion in 2022.”

(Photo, left) George Adam, co-owner of Innovative Produce and EconAlliance Ag Initiative Lead.

Presentations and Panels

Included in the program was Santa Barbara County Ag Commissioner Jose Chang, sharing an overview of county agriculture.

EconAlliance Ag Forum Updates Key Economic Indicators

He showed 2022 ag production value coming in at $1,930,445,000, with 30,000 jobs provided, for a total economic value of about $3 billion. While these were countywide figures, much of Santa Barbara County agriculture is in Northern Santa Barbara County. Presentations can be found in the Reports Library.

Latest (2017) figures show 1,467 farms countywide, with the average size of Santa Barbara County farms at 487 acres. 10% of farms were over 1,000 acres and 61% were under fifty acres.

Two panels were featured at the EconAlliance Ag Forum. Phil Adam, Innovative Produce COO, moderated a panel on Automation & Robotics, Outlook and Impact. Panelists included Matt Hart, Betteravia Farms Harvest Automation Director; Nelson Medina, Driscoll’s Santa Maria District Manager; Stephen Waldron, Plantel Field Automation Supervisor and Justin Lego, Field Technology for Innovative Produce.

The Today’s Ag: Challenges and Opportunities panel was moderated by Claire Wineman, CEO, Grower-Shipper Association, and featured as panelists Marshall Miller, VP/COO, The Thornhill Companies; Randy Sharer, Partner, Satellite Farms; Brycen Ikeda, Ranch Manager, Strawberry Production, Central West Produce/East Sweet Farms and Wils Johnson, General Manager, Pacific International Marketing.

EconAlliance Ag Forum Updates Key Economic Indicators
(Photo, right) Claire Wineman, CEO, Grower-Shipper Association of Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo Counties.

Inputs from both panels were in alignment regarding the importance of new ag automation and technology as being critical for growers to address profitability in light of rising labor and production costs. Workforce issues related to transitioning some of the ag workforce from fieldwork to ag technician duties was mentioned on both panels, with concern for new skills such as software development and management expertise, articulated. Housing came up as an issue related to attraction and retention of both the traditional workforce and the new more technology-oriented workers needed. Technology was described as both a challenge and an opportunity by both panels…challenging in terms of getting the right technology, with the right people to develop and/or run, manage, and repair it, and an opportunity in that the potential cost and efficiency benefits are still to be exploited.

Vishnu Somasundaram, Co-Founder of TRIC Robotics, and Phil Adam provided information about the EconAlliance interns they have hosted, sharing the benefits of engaging with the organization’s internship program both for enhancing opportunities for student real-world career experience, and to possibly increase opportunities to retain some of the interns in the local ag sector as future employees.

Special Recognition

The event’s recognition focus this year was on the value of suppliers and vendors to the ag sector. Five supplier companies were recognized at the EconAlliance Ag Forum. JB Dewar, fuel provider, was congratulated for 90 years of family-run service; Engel & Gray, a transportation and now also a waste remediation firm, was recognized for 78 years in business, Guadalupe Hardware, which has been serving the ag community for 70 years, M&W Pumps for 63 years of ag sector service, and Cal Coast Machinery was honored for 50 years as the premier John Deere supplier to the ag community.

EconAlliance Ag Forum Updates Key Economic Indicators
Click image to read about each honoree.

About EconAlliance
EconAlliance is a 501c3 nonprofit organization with a mission to “build awareness, advocacy, support and appreciation for Northern Santa Barbara County key industries and communities.”