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The agriculture office: heart of the valley

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Last month I ended my career working for the Napa County Agricultural Commissioner’s Office, and I would like to share some very important information with every citizen of Napa County.

In California, almost every county has an agricultural commissioner and sealer of weights and measures. Each of these commissioners is appointed by county elected officials to oversee agricultural, environmental and consumer assurance programs within the county. This is the way it is in Napa County.

Napa County Agricultural Commissioner and Sealer of Weights and Measures Dave Whitmer is our department head. With the help of his assistant commissioner, Greg Clark, and his deputies, biologists, inspectors and trappers, Whitmer addresses the regulatory business of agriculture, environmental protection and consumer protection. With the help of his clerical support staff, the business of doing business is also done well.

Prior to the commencement of the 100 Percent Pesticide Use Reporting Program in 1990, I began my employment with this office, first as an agricultural biologist and then later as a deputy agricultural commissioner. I began working with growers in the pesticide reporting program and gathering statistics on Napa County crops. Gradually, I began to work in insect detection trapping and pesticide use enforcement. Over the years, I was very fortunate to work in and supervise almost every program except for weights and measures.

Believe it or not, the work that is done through the agricultural commissioner’s office touches every single citizen within our county and in many cases, other parts of the state, the country and the world. How could that be, you may ask? Here’s my answer.

Everyone has purchased items that were either weighed, measured or metered by volume. The sealer of weights and measures is responsible for checking and approving every weighing device that is used to charge money by weight. For example, when you purchase fruit, vegetables or cuts of meat, you have directly benefited from our assurance that the seller’s scale is correct. When you purchase gasoline, that pump has been tested for accuracy and sealed by us; the quality of the gas is also tested to assure that you are getting the correct grade. Even when you purchase items at the store and go through the checkout using bar codes, we also make sure that you are being charged the correct price.

Our main industry in Napa County is agriculture. More than 98 percent of our crop income is due to the production of the wine grape. Naturally, the production of wine grapes has led to a robust wine production industry. From that industry, we get the supporting industries such as bottle, barrel and label production, and machinery and infrastructure equipment sales. We also get the associated industries of tourism, shipping and construction. Each person employed in each of these direct, indirect and associated industries, needs housing, transportation, food and recreation. Each of these needs generates more jobs and supporting resources.

Agriculture is more than growing a crop. Each parcel of land must be prepared for planting and the crop must be planted, cared for and harvested. This involves the purchase of agricultural products from other areas, the use of farm labor and the use of nutrients, pesticides and equipment. The agricultural commissioner’s office is there to regulate many of the aspects of growing crops.

For example, we are there to inspect incoming plant shipments to assure that non-native diseases and insects are not introduced into the county. By placing insect traps, we are there to monitor for any insects that may have been illegally or unknowingly introduced into Napa County. We are also there to cooperate with state, federal and international agricultural agencies when these pests are found on our turf.

Primarily we want to prevent their introduction. But if they are found here, we want to eradicate the population or control it if the infestation has gotten too large.

Many people work many hours to produce our agricultural commodities. Their health and safety with respect to the use of pesticides is another of our regulatory responsibilities. Our biologists are out in the field year-round interviewing field workers, inspecting grower training and business records, monitoring pesticide applications and investigating illnesses and complaints that may be linked to the use of pesticides. In the office, they provide regulatory information, issue pesticide use permits and operator identification numbers.

By law, the agricultural commissioner is required to provide an annual report to the secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture. This report includes an annual listing of the type, quantity and value of agricultural products produced within a calendar year. To gather this data, we use several resources including personal interviews with growers. This demographic and financial information is used by real estate professionals, financial institutions, new businesses and political organizations. Many important financial decisions that affect our county’s financial viability are made on the basis of this report.

Our employees have become more involved proactively in issues such as the ag-urban interface, public education to prevent the introduction of invasive pests and diseases, and preservation of our environment. We have always been there to provide information to the public about plants, insects, diseases, laws about bees and the right to farm, and shipping requirements for agricultural products. If we don’t have the answer, we use our resources to get it.

The agricultural community here in Napa County is also very special. I have met many intelligent, talented and motivated people who work with us to get the message out about weed abatement, fish-friendly farming, Pierce’s disease and the glassy-winged sharpshooter, the vine mealybug, the European grapevine moth and more.

This leads me to the best part of our agricultural commissioner’s office — the people who work there. The department is fortunate because we have employed such intelligent, motivated and positive people to do this work. Communication among the staff is pretty darned good for such a diversely oriented group of people. The environment within the office is open, so each employee has been able to shine and work where they are most comfortable. Specialties include exportation of agricultural products, organic farming registration, farmers’ markets and certified producers, flea markets, produce standardization, pesticide safety, worker safety, computer work, our website, testing meters and scales, public outreach and making public presentations, weed identification, global positioning equipment, mapping, applying for grants, creating work plans and contracts and gathering statistics.

Last but not least, I must mention our front office staff, the people with whom the public interacts first. These women are more than just staff; they are the people who keep our office running by making sure you get to talk to the right person, taking care of the financial tasks, and greeting you so that you will be happy to work with our office. They are the people who make sure the county gets paid through our contracts with various agencies and they also process our paychecks. They keep us going. These women are very special and are very near and dear to my heart.

Working together to make a positive influence in the agricultural community and the community at large is what all of us do. I am very proud to have been a part of that.

I sincerely thank everyone who has contributed to the joy I have had in working for the Napa County Agricultural Commissioner’s Office.

(Kemmerer is a recently retired Napa County deputy agricultural commissioner.)

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