[ACE 292 Experiential Study Tour to California | Spring 2017]
We started our day by visiting CoBank, a cooperative that is owned by over 24,000 farmers in the U.S., which works to provide credit and other financial services to farmers around the country. There Leili Ghazi, the president of the western region of CoBank, and Brett Lauppe, the western regions relations manager, explained to us how CoBank functions as well as some of the big issues that impact their company and agriculture in California. Since the agriculture industry usually does not have many women within it, Leila gave the women of the group advice on how to succeed in the agricultural industry. She told us to not put up extra barriers for ourselves by believing we cannot succeed because there are already many people out there doing that for us. Leila told us if there is something we want to accomplish in life, the best way to do it is to just get out there and do it. She also advised us to not be afraid to be the only woman in the room; if anything, we should use that to our advantage because we will be more memorable.
From there, we headed to the state capitol where we had the opportunity to participate in the Agriculture Day Celebration. At the state capitol, there were booths set up by various organizations and business that support agriculture. These booths were sharing information, gifts, and experiences to connect with visitors and remind them of the importance of agriculture and its impact on our everyday lives. After this celebration, we enjoyed lunch with the California Department of Food and Agriculture undersecretary, Jim Houston. His job is to assist the secretary in her everyday work, which includes listening to the requests of the farmers, processors, and consumers regarding agriculture and help address the issues that may be present. During our talk with him, Jim shared his background but then went into detail regarding some of the issues that he deals with on a daily basis. One fun thing about this visit was that we had the opportunity to be a voice for all of the farmers and business owners that we’ve met with in California over the past couple of days, sharing both their concerns but also our opinions on how to address the various issues. After lunch, we decided to walk around the capitol building to see first-hand where regulations regarding agriculture are created and voted on.
The last stop of the day was with Montna Farm, where Nicole Montna Van Vleck, the President and Chief Executive Officer, and Jon Munger, the Vice President of Operations, taught us how rice farming takes place and the role of Montna Farm in the process. Montna Farm is a vertically integrated, family-owned, rice farm. They grow and store short and medium grain rice that is then shipped and further processed at other facilities around the world. Along with sharing the role of Montna Farm in rice production, we also learned about Nicole and Jon’s impact on the water industry in California and their impact on wildlife and fisheries. As midwesterners the rice production process was very new, but it was interesting to know that the storage process is almost the same as it is for soybeans and corn. It was also exciting to hear that Montna Farm contributes to sustainability efforts by using small amounts of water, returning that water to the river during harvest, and providing space for migratory birds to spend the winter.
Overall, this was a great day where we were able to apply many of the things that we have learned all semester and begin to determine what our roles might be in the future of agriculture.