Organic Grower Summit Wrap Up: Jeff Huckaby, Vic Smith, Sharlene Taylor Discuss

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Thu. December 14th, 2017 - by Jordan Okumura-Wright

MONTEREY, CA - If you’ve been looking for the must-attend event of the year, connecting organic growers and farmers with those in the supply and service chain, then this was the show not to be missed. Kicking off their first-ever Organic Grower Summit (OGS) at the Hyatt Regency Monterey earlier this week, The Organic Produce Network (OPN) in collaboration with California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF) brought members from the entire organic production chain to network and discuss the latest and most relevant hot topics: from precision ag and farm soil management, to environmentally sustainable packaging, and yep, you better believe it—the next frontier: cannabis. And no small feat, the inaugural OGS featured a sold-out trade show exhibition area of 74 service providers and supply chain companies with 800 total attendees.

Melody L. Meyer, VP CSR, Policy & Industry Relations, UNFI

“Organic sales in 2017 were $47+ billion, and according to OTA data, organic fresh produce was the largest organic category with sales of $14.4 billion, up 10.5 percent last year. Producers from across the continent supply the raw agricultural products that fuel this tremendous growth. The time has finally come for organic growers to congregate and cultivate relationships with each other, along with service experts and supply providers,” Melody L. Meyer, VP CSR, Policy & Industry Relations, UNFI, shared. “It’s about time we had an event like this exclusively for organic producers for networking and educational opportunities. This event brought together producers and handlers from all sectors alongside ag technology gurus, equipment providers, and packaging suppliers. I am optimistic about the role organic has in our economy and our quality of life. I recommend this event to anyone in the organic industry who wants to flourish with its growth.”

Packaging panel moderated by Lara Dickinson of OSC2 (far right). Speakers, from left to right: Mark Sambrailo, Owner & CEO, Sambrailo Packaging; Deanna Bratter, Director of Sustainable Development, DanoneWave; Greg Kurkjian, Vice President, Retail Sales NA, IFCO

An opening night networking reception kicked off the inaugural event Wednesday evening, followed by Thursday’s informative and educational sessions on core issues related to various facets of the organic production community, put on in an effort to strengthen the sector and promote strategic growth across the supply chain.

 Jeff Huckaby, President, Grimmway Farms

“The Organic Grower Summit exceeded my expectations by bringing together such a dynamic group of organic growers—large and small, and from regions all over the country—at a single conference,” said Jeff Huckaby, President, Grimmway Farms. “The diversity of crops and products represented was amazing. With the rapid growth of organic consumption, the summit was needed for our industry.”

Leveraging Precision Agriculture presentation, moderated by ANUK's Robert Lambert (left) and speakers from left to right included Bart Walker, President, Pacific Ag Rentals; Ian Justus, Global R&D Production System Development Manager, Driscoll’s; and Matt Denninger, Director of Customer Engagement, Trimble Ag Business Solutions

Among these sessions were topics such as Issues Facing Organic Farmers Today, as well as Tools for Plant and Soil Health. Our own CEO Robert Lambert also took to the stage to moderate the panel Leveraging Precision Agriculture. Speakers included Bart Walker, President, Pacific Ag Rentals; Ian Justus, Global R&D Production System Development Manager, Driscoll’s; and Matt Denninger, Director of Customer Engagement, Trimble Ag Business Solutions.

From Wall Street to Main Street, Organic Means Good Business; Left to right: Scott LaRue, Managing Partner, Piper Jaffray; Stan Pura, Founder, Farmer, Mission Ranches; Jeff Huckaby, President, Farmer, Grimmway Farms; Vic Smith, President and CEO of JV Smith Companies

With challenges and opportunities in the production of organic fresh food top-of-mind, the sessions were then followed by keynote talks from industry leaders that included a grower roundtable discussion dubbed, From Wall Street to Main Street, Organic Means Good Business, where industry experts opened a dialogue on thought-provoking discussions that included opportunities in organic mergers and acquisitions, organic challenges with land, labor and water, government regulation, and how to meet the growing demand for organic. Insights were shared from speakers Vic Smith, President and CEO of JV Smith Companies; Stan Pura, Founder, Farmer at Mission Ranches; and Jeff Huckaby, President, Farmer, of Grimmway Farms. Scott LaRue of Piper Jaffray hosted the panel as moderator.

Vic Smith, CEO, JV Smith Companies

"I'm excited about this summit, and its continued benefits moving forward as well as the diverse group that came together for this year’s show. Once again, Tonya Antle and Matt Seeley of OPN have created an amazing event to address the growing organic sector," Smith told me.

In addition, attendees had the chance to meet with Costco buyers as part of “Meet the Farmer,” where certified organic farmers and grower representatives had the opportunity to meet face-to-face with Costco organic produce, dairy, meat, grain, and wine buyers to discuss their companies and portfolios.

Sharlene Taylor, Leafy Green and Salad Kit Buyer, Costco

“This has been a great opportunity for Costco. We feel so fortunate to meet so many hard working growers with a common goal in mind,” the retailer’s Leafy Green and Salad Kit Buyer Sharlene Taylor told me. “Growing organically! We are proud to be a part of the industry and look forward to helping it grow further. OPN has been a great resource for myself and the other Costco buyers. We appreciate their efforts to bring together all of the important segments of the organic business."

OGS keynote presenter and Sun Basket COO Don Barnett

Sun Basket COO Don Barnett also brought his repertoire of e-commerce knowledge to the table as an OGS keynote presenter. As a leading nationwide delivery service that provides recipes and pre-portioned organic ingredients for home-cooked meals, Don connected with the audience on the growing direct-to-consumer marketplace and what the future may hold.

Another incredible high point of the show was the presentation of the inaugural Organic Grower of the Year award to Vernon Peterson of The Peterson Family Farm and Abundant Harvest Organics. The sweetest stonefruit (which this family grows) could not match the sweet smile on Vernon’s face while accepting the award.

Organic Grower of the Year award presented by (left to right) AGCO's Greg Milstead and CCOF's Cathy Calfo, to Vernon Peterson (right)

OGS also featured an innovative Tech Alley, sponsored by Western Growers to highlight some of ag’s industry leaders.

According to the Organic Trade Association who also took part in the summit, California is the nation’s number-one organic producer. Latest statistics from the U.S. Agriculture Department show 2,713 certified organic farms in the state, totaling 1.1 million acres, or 21 percent of total U.S. certified organic land.

With numbers like these just in California alone, organics are on the up-and-up and showing no signs of slowing.

A big thank you to the Organic Grower Summit for having us during your inaugural event, and we look forward to seeing the new heights you will reach in 2018!

Organic Grower Summit