The opening of the transcontinental railroad in 1869 marked an important turning point in California’s agricultural history — large quantities of fresh citrus, berries, tree-fruits, and tree-nuts could now be transported from the center of production on the west coast to the bustling cities on the east coast. As growers struggled to negotiate economical prices for packaging and shipping their produce, several important alliances arose (including the California Fresh Fruit Association), that strengthened the blossoming agricultural community and helped to make it what it is today.
Working Together Towards a Common Goal
The California Fresh Fruit Association — established as the California Grape & Tree Fruit League in 1948 — was created as a merger between the California Growers and Shippers Protective League (founded 1921) and the California Grape Growers and Shippers Association (founded 1936). In 2014, the league formally rebranded as the California Fresh Fruit Association (CFFA) and now represents approximately 85% of fresh grapes and 95% of deciduous tree fruits produced and shipped from California.
As a key public policy organization, the CFFA describes its mission in terms of political advocacy: “advocating […for the needs and interests of its members…] on legislative and regulatory issues, at state, federal and international levels.” While growers focus on planting, harvesting, and selling their produce, the CFFA takes care of the issues that affect the industry through their political action committee — known as FruitPAC.
What is the CFFA FruitPAC?
Representing part of the California Fresh Fruit Association, the CFFA FruitPAC has its own board of directors and is funded through three primary avenues, as described on the association’s website:
- The Harvest Event in the fall
- The Annual Meeting Raffle in the spring
- The positive check-off program, through which members can authorize up to 8% of their membership fees for political expenditure
The money raised through these three sources of funding are used in contributions to political candidates and incumbents for both the state and federal governments. By maintaining an ongoing relationship with politicians at both of these levels, the FruitPAC is able to make the voices of growers heard among those who have the power to act. It’s a win-win for California’s grape, berry, and tree-fruit growers as well as the political candidates who act on our behalf.
A History of Helping Growers
The effectiveness of FruitPAC’s behind-the-scenes work can be seen clearly throughout the history of the California Fresh Fruit Association, with the following achievements being especially notable:
- Negotiating Shipping Rates
When the transcontinental railroad was initially built, individual growers were being charged shipping fees that plunged their growing enterprises into the red. Through the CFFA and other similar associations, fruit growers in California were able to negotiate shipping prices that didn’t eclipse the retail value of their fruit.
- Bringing about Standardized Packaging
At the time when shipping produce became common, the size, shape, and sturdiness of produce packaging was extremely variable — putting the safety of the produce and shippers at risk with falls and other potential damage. The California Fresh Fruit Association helped to influence the development of standards to ensure the safe and efficient transportation of produce.
- Establishing a Group Property Insurance Program
Property insurance can be an expensive proposition for growers and landowners. To make this protection more accessible, the CFFA negotiated a group property insurance program with shared deductibles that simplifies the process for growers and reduces the administrative burden.
- Establishing a Shared Crop Insurance Program
Droughts, floods, wildfires, and other unforeseeable disasters can wreak havoc on crops and lead to large financial losses. The California Fresh Fruit Association’s shared crop insurance program ensures that all of its members are covered in the event of a loss for an affordable premium and with minimal paperwork.
- Establishing a Worker’s Compensation Group Plan
When farm or orchard workers are injured in the course of their work, worker’s compensation provides funds for the time off work, medical expenses, vocational rehabilitation, and other benefits. Through the CFFA’s worker’s compensation group plan, funds are available to members through a process of lodging a claim. This in turn helps growers to avoid the more expensive path of legal action.
- Combatting the Medfly
Issues such as pests, air quality, and water quality don’t only affect one grower, they affect us all. When the medfly attacked in 1981, the California Fresh Fruit Association worked together with the government and congress to make field trips around the state and develop effective measures to control the spread of this pest. At a time when the fruit industry was experiencing an important growth period, protecting growers’ crops through this massive joint effort demonstrated just how important it is for growers and the government to work together.
- Helping to Create a Legal Avenue for Sponsoring Workers
Finally, the economy of scale in California agriculture and a shortage of local workers made it necessary to employ foreign workers to help with the harvest. At a time when growers were facing sanctions from the government for hiring undocumented workers, the creation of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 provided a simplified, legal avenue for granting amnesty to these workers.
The California Fresh Fruit Association (then called the California Grape and Tree Fruit League) participated in a follow-up survey that aimed to track how this reform was affecting many of the largest producers in the state, and it was found that the reform increased the amount of paperwork for growers but didn’t lead to widespread labor shortages as expected.
Taking California Growers Further
As a grower in California, you have the ability to influence the direction of agriculture in the Golden State and work with others towards common goals. Associating with other growers in a league such as the California Fresh Fruit Association can also be beneficial for giving smaller farms access to industry protections and bulk-buy products like corrugated and pallets. Founded in 1907, Fruit Growers Supply Company is proud to have been part of the history of California’s development as the largest agricultural producer in the United States. Give us a call or visit us in-store to find out how we can help you succeed!