Challenges, Highlights and Successes in Kern County

Ruben Arroyo is Kern County’s Agricultural Commissioner and Sealer of Weights and Measures. He has served in this position for nine years, but has over twenty-seven years of experience within the County Commissioner system, including eight years as Deputy Commissioner/Sealer in Kings County. He received his B.S in Agricultural Business from California State University, Fresno and started o as a Seasonal Agricultural Biologist with Fresno County in 1989 before working his way up to his current position.

Describing the role of the Ag Commissioner,
Mr. Arroyo explained that his role is to provide local administration of programs necessary to promote and protect the agricultural industry, the environment, businesses, and the public. This is done under general policy direction and oversight from United States Department of Agriculture, California Department of Pesticide Regulation, and the Division of Measurement Standards. The laws and regulations pertaining to agriculture are found in provisions of the California Food and Agriculture Code, Code of Regulations, Business and Professions Code, and County Ordinances. With so many levels of government, it can be a complicated job.

In Kern County, Ruben and his staff attempt to provide assistance and guidance to help the regulated community obtain or maintain compliance but also investigate violations and take enforcement action when necessary. “The [ag commissioner] is charged with providing predictability and fairness in the enforcement of these laws and regulations while maintaining an environment of trust and transparency.” One of the most important actions he has taken during his tenure is to foster open communication and partnerships with the regulated industry, community groups, and related government agencies on issues of mutual interest. This has included a relationship with CAPCA, local PCAs and industry within the county. “The relationship has been nothing short of stellar.” He credits the industry with understanding the issues the County has had to overcome and working together as a community to develop solutions. “I have just been lucky enough to have been part of that process. The openness of the PCAs and the support of CAPCA to listen and express their concerns has been both beneficial and crucial to me making important decisions.”

Better communication and collaboration have been cornerstones to his success. “I am convinced that a successful commissioner is de ned by strong relationships and open, honest communication. All work is done through relationships and communication is the heart and soul of relations. So we need to shed this need to protect ourselves. We must extend ourselves to all a affected parties. As commissioner, I feel it is my job to be always mindful of this and look for areas [of concern] and bring everyone up to a fair playing eld.”

Along with state-wide challenges for agriculture like water and water regulations, the cost of doing business in the state, issues around medical marijuana, environmental regulation and over regulation, and the loss of products/ pesticides without alternatives, Mr. Arroyo sees as specific challenges for agriculture in Kern County. Particularly, the introduction of invasive pests and associated costs, like Asian Citrus Psyllid (ACP)/ Huanglongbing (HLB) which threatens citrus trees, and the Glassy Winged Sharpshooter (GWSS) / Pierce’s Disease (PD) – a bacterium that kills grape vines. The 2015 gross value of all agricultural commodities produced in Kern County was $6,878,823,690 and the top ve commodities for 2015 were Grapes, Almonds, Citrus, Milk, and Cattle (making up more than $4.6 Billion). Economically, eliminating or eradicating both these invasive species is a high priority. “Currently HLB does not exist in Kern County. In an effort to exclude it from ever being introduced, we have partnered with CDFA and industry to aggressively prevent and eradicate the pest

“The openness of the PCAs and the support of CAPCA to listen and express and crucial to me making important decisions. ”

that could potentially introduce the disease and transmit HLB.” Similar reports are underway to target GWSS. Efforts to eradicate or limit the spread of invasive species involve continual cooperation with Federal, State and local agencies, and industry partners. “We participate in cooperative pest prevention and exclusion programs with the USDA, CDFA, industry and other counties.”

Challenges specific to the Agricultural Commissioner include understanding the delicate balance between encouraging commerce and enforcing regulations in an ever-changing food and agriculture industry. In Kern County, one of those delicate balances Mr. Arroyo works to maintain is the urban expansion into rural countryside. This creates development pressure at the urban fringe, increasing the importance of agricultural preservation but demanding special attention for the protection of people and the environment. “There is also a constant and relentless pressure to maintain adequate funding for my department. How do we utilize limited resources with increasing service demands?

How can the department continue to minimize net cost to the County while avoiding overburdening industry/ stakeholders with fees that they may see as unreasonable?”

There are many challenges, but significant rewards as well. When asked, Mr. Arroyo responded, “A highlight for me has been my privilege to be able to reach out to staff and all stakeholders and communicate with them: being involved, available, and responsive. Affecting successful outcomes through collaboration, strategic orientation and awareness. If I have achieved any level of success, then I believe it has been through my collaborative efforts with Federal, State and County governments to develop a positive working relationship with the agricultural industry, elected officials, environmental groups, and state partners. It has allowed me to achieve a solid history of ‘Protecting and Promoting Agriculture’ locally and internationally but with a rm and fair regulatory enforcement philosophy.” These also include successful programs at the local level like Spray Safe, Kern Red, and the Kern Schools Notification Pilot Program (for more information or to get involved visit http://www.kernag.com/).

As a reminder, Mr. Arroyo concluded with “I encourage all CAPCA members to visit your local Ag Commissioner and introduce yourself and get to know them. I have been blessed with so many great PCAs in Kern County and rely on their expertise to help understand the local history or chemistry. I would not be able to do my job without them!”

Editor’s Note: Ruben is moving to assume the duties of Agricultural Commissioner in Riverside County. He wishes to extend his gratitude to the Kern County PCAs and industry members for their support.

Download the complete profile on Mr. Arroyo