Growing Together Winter 2022
An Ag Commissioner on a Mission to Help Growers
As Yolo County’s largest industry, agriculture uses 85% of the county’s land – a number that is both challenging and rewarding for Yolo County Ag Commissioner Humberto Izquierdo. He’s worked in the office of the Napa County Agriculture Commissioner and as the Ag Commissioner of Alameda County during his 30-plus-year career as a public servant. But Yolo County is home.
“I live in Yolo County and began my career in Yolo County as an inspector, so I feel most at home in my current position,” said Izquierdo. “I really appreciate the diversity of commodities we grow here. Since joining Yolo County in January of 2021, it’s been both personally and professionally rewarding.”
Proactively managing challenges in Yolo County
Izquierdo keeps grower challenges a priority so he can proactively address issues and help the local agriculture community remain successful. The current drought is one such challenge, forcing many growers to prioritize their water needs beyond simply providing crops adequate water. While his office has no authority on water issues, Izquierdo tries to provide information to growers and provides feedback to county entities on their concerns related to water and the drought. Regular communications are provided to growers in the county so they can better plan and prepare for their own water use.
Izquierdo is also passionate about keeping pests and disease from crippling farms in his county. Given the county’s agricultural diversity, his team stays attentive to a range of pests and diseases. For instance, parts of the county, primarily Clarksburg and Zamora, focus on grape production. Coordination with nearby counties like Napa County is crucial to prevent pests that could harm wine grape production. Izquierdo’s staff trap for pests of concern – not just for Yolo County but for the state as whole – and help prevent widespread infestations.
“Some pests can cause significant loss of production,” said Izquierdo. “Broomrape in tomatoes, for instance, is a parasitic pest that has been somewhat hard to control. The key to staying ahead of a pest like this is to work closely with farmers and others in the industry to properly identify fields that may be affected. This particular pest can also affect crops like sunflowers, peppers, and carrots, so it’s important to solve it quickly.”
Pests can be costly for growers, with infestations resulting in either destroyed or must-be-destroyed crops. However, pest eradication can also be costly to growers. It may feel like a lose-lose scenario for growers, but Izquierdo is committed to working with each farm to determine the very best plan for them and their neighbors. The key is open and honest communications.
“I want Yolo County growers to know that we will work with them to quickly and accurately identify the problem and give them realistic and fair alternatives to remove it,” says Izquierdo.
Staying ahead of pesticide regulations
California regulations restrict application of several pesticide products that have been allowed for use in the past. Izquierdo’s staff are building a program that will help growers dispose of legacy pesticides in a way that helps protect people and the environment of Yolo County.
“Growers may have products that haven’t been used in a while,” explained Izquierdo. “They need to be disposed of properly, so they don’t negatively affect the groundwater or wildlife in the county. We are working with other neighboring counties to propose a Legacy Chemical Disposal program. This free program will allow growers to dispose of their older chemicals in a safe manner. We hope to have more information about this program available soon and expect to host it in late spring or early summer.”
For now, if growers are needing to dispose of restricted pesticides, Izquierdo offers these two options:
- For unopened containers, many companies or retailers will take it back. Contact the original seller to see if this is an option.
- For opened containers, use the remaining product according to label directions if you need to, or send it to a hazardous waste facility. Many times, the same vendor that disposes of farm oils and lubricants can also remove pesticides.
One of the biggest responsibilities on Izquierdo’s shoulders is looking ahead for growers in Yolo County and making sure they are positioned to be as successful as possible. A statewide pesticide application notification system proposition is getting his attention today.
“A statewide system may not be realistically feasible,” said Izquierdo. “There are such different issues in each county in the state, making a statewide program useful in some counties but not helpful in others. In Yolo County, we take pesticide application violations very seriously, issuing fines if needed. The state is hearing our perspectives and have agreed to hold community and grower meetings to gather comments on their proposal. I’d encourage Yolo County growers to voice their opinions when these meetings are held. We want to get to a system that isn’t so burdensome that no one will comply, or it will be dismissed outright.”
Helping build trust between farm and consumer
In the Yolo County Ag Commissioner’s office, Izquierdo and his staff are also responsible for implementing programs that help farmers export their commodities and build trust in the marketplace. These are functions of the as-is export certification program, and weights and measurement inspections.
“We focus on things like pesticide regulations, because we know more and more consumers are worried about the health and safety of their food,” said Izquierdo. “Our office also issues certificates for export to make sure agricultural products meet the entry requirements of each country. We want consumers, both domestic and foreign, to be confident that the produce and nuts grown in California are of the very highest quality and safety.”
Izquierdo’s staff is also responsible for weights and measurements across the county, certifications that may often be taken for granted. But certifying weights and measurements is another way to build consumer trust.
“With weights and measurements, we focus on consumer protection. We certify all the weights and measurements in any facility that may sell by weight, ensuring their scales are accurate. If you’re buying apples at a grocery store, you want to make sure that you’re paying for a full pound of apples. Certifying those scales is part of that trust,” explained Izquierdo. “We’ve expanded certifications to gas pumps, propane and other commodities that are sold by weight, volume or measure to make sure the consumers are getting what they are paying for.”
Working for the unsung heroes
Despite the many roles and responsibilities held by the Yolo County Ag Commissioner, Izquierdo is enjoying the pride that comes with working on behalf of California growers and farm workers.
“In California, growers are the unsung heroes,” said Izquierdo. “It’s amazing how bountiful our county is, not only in the diversity of crops we grow, but in the quality of the crops. Our growers create so much open space in the state, too. How lucky are we to see almonds in bloom or fields of sunflowers or the mountains in the backdrop of our view? It’s an intrinsic value that enhances our lives, thanks to California growers.”
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