LSMV Agriculture Topic Day highlights Industry’s deep rooted history and innovative future

Leadership Santa Maria Valley Class of 2021 hosted its Agricultural Topic day on July 9, 2021, bringing together the area’s top leaders to discuss Agriculture and the new and exciting ways their organizations are leading the way in innovation and labor.
 
The day began with Angelica Gutierrez with guests Lorena Chavez and Jason Sharrett. Angelica is a project manager with L & G Farms inc. With L & G Farms employing a large number of people providing famous Santa Maria Valley Strawberries, a current pulse of the labor market in the area was given. Mrs. Gutierrez educated the class on recruiting and retaining employees. Given the current job market, the class was able to learn ways to improve employment retention.
 
Next, Kraig Kukendall of Tozer seeds shared with the class new technologies and techniques that are driving the seed production industry. Mr. Kuykendall is the general manager at Tozer seeds and has been in the ‘seed business’ for over 25 years while living in the Santa Maria Valley. Tozer seeds is the largest UK based seed breeder/producer. Tozer has been in business for 79 years and has been in the Santa Maria Valley for the past 13 years. A large variety of seeds such as Brussels Sprouts, Cabbage, lettuce, tomatoes, Kale and more are bred and produced locally.
 
Innovations in breeding techniques are able to produce plants that can be grown in drier areas, making them more hardy to grow in different environments. To make things more interesting, new varieties of vegetables with more vibrant colors and new species are bred at Tozer. They are leading the industry with innovations that bring new species such as the kallette, which is a Brussels sprout and British kale combination. Tozer also is integrating techniques such as vertical farming and aquaponics in order to utilize unused space. The class learned the many ways innovations is changing the agricultural environment in the Santa Maria Valley.
 
Next, Claire Wineman, President of the Grower-Shipper Association of Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo Counties educated the class with labor issues in the agricultural field. The main issues being labor, water and land use. This has been a topic of interest lately with the growing non-traditional crops versus traditional agricultural beginning to spring up through the the valley. The class was educated that with innovations, people are still needed to provide that extra care to provide tasty and eye catching fruits and vegetables at the grocery store. With the current drought situation, water use has been changing to be able to maximize its use. Land use issues have been emerging due to the different chemicals used in non-traditional agriculture that might cross contaminate nearby traditional crops. It is an ever-changing area due to changing laws, regulations and court cases.
 
Following Claire Wineman, the class was given a tour of Plantel Nurseries by Chris Waldron. Plantel is a local company that grows quality vegetable transplants with their innovative state of the art computer controlled systems  in their greenhouses and warehouses. Their plants are able to survive and perform vigorously for their customers. Growing time in the field is shortened by using transplants. Plantel is able to produce an average of 20,000 plants a day that is shipped to a large variety of growers. They employ a large number of local employees who are being trained in operation and maintenance of the state of the art equipment and machinery that is being used. The class was able to walk through and see the beginning seed process all the way through to seedlings. Seeing the way innovations with computer controlled equipment help maximize the efficiency and value of the local employees here in the Santa Maria Valley was inspiring.

Lunch was catered by the A St. Café operated by the VTC. The class was able to try their new updated menu that included different types of chicken sandwiches and burgers along with vegan options such as salads.
 
After, the group moved onto the Riverbench winery. The winery was established in 1973 when its first Chardonnay and Pinot noir grapes were planted. The class met with Chad Foster and received a tour of one of the premier wineries in the area. Chad is a native of the central coast and is the operations manager for their vineyard properties in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties. Riverbench Vineyard produces Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Sparkling Wines and more. The class learned how different species of grapes are introduced and grafted onto older grape stalks to maximize yield and obtain a variety of flavors during the wine making process. The class also received lessons in winemaking and tasting from Clarissa Nagy, winemaker with Riverbench since 2012. Seeing the care in the steps taken by the winery to produce quality wine was a great example of the hard working spirit of the people of the Santa Maria Valley.
 
“Without access to modern farming techniques or machinery, let alone science-based climate and weather data, farmer’s livelihoods hinge precariously on a changing environment that they’re struggling to understand.”according to the US Agency for International Development. The 2021 Leadership class would like to thank Angelica Gutierrez, Lorena Chavez, Jason Sharrett and L & G Farms Inc, Kraig Kuykendall and Tozer Seeds, Chris Waldron and Plantel, Chad Foster and Clarissa Nagy and Riverbench Winery.