Ian LeMay credits the California Agricultural Leadership Program with a “reaffirmation” of why he chose a career in agriculture, and how that decision years ago led him to the professional opportunity presented him today.
LeMay’s recent promotion to lead the Fresno-based California Fresh Fruit Association (CFFA) comes a little more than four years after being hired to shepherd the organization’s membership and communications efforts. When previous CFFA President George Radanovich left the organization earlier this year after three years at the helm to assume a role addressing agricultural policy in Washington, D.C., the move by CFFA board members to name LeMay the new president was quick.
“Ian’s appointment is a reflection of our board’s commitment to establishing long-term leadership for our industry,” said CFFA Board Chairman Randy Giumarra in a prepared statement. Giumarra grows table grapes in the Bakersfield area.
LeMay is a graduate of Class 48 of the California Agricultural Leadership Program, an organization that grooms professionals to assume leadership roles in California agriculture. LeMay says his participation in the program gave him the platform and confidence to take on this role.
Aside from teaching leadership traits, LeMay says the 17-month program helps agricultural professionals discover their own leadership style.
“You have to understand how to lead yourself before you can lead others,” he said.
LeMay came to CFFA in 2015 when the organization was called the California Grape and Tree Fruit League. Prior to that he served as a district director for Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, where he advised the congressman on issues related to agriculture, water and transportation.
LeMay is no stranger to issues facing the 300-plus members of CFFA, an organization that represents about 85 percent of the state’s fresh fruit industry. Today those issues remain tied to water, immigration and trade – issues that are common throughout the whole of California agriculture.
On water LeMay says that perhaps at no other time in history do circumstances suggest that federal water policy is “broken” and in dire need of major changes. Among these include policy changes necessary to make water storage and the creation of new water sources possible as the state’s population has more than doubled since the last major water conveyance systems were built in the state.
“You can’t have a year like this one with record rain and snow and precipitation late into the season and still have a 70 percent federal allocation of water on the Westside,” he said. “We have to be able to manage our water resources in an efficient and timely manner, and when we have major flood flows like we have now and had this winter these are the opportune times to capture vital amounts of water for us to use.”
Despite the federal failures on water, LeMay is optimistic that the Friant Water Authority (FWA), an agency that delivers federal water to some of LeMay’s growers on the east side of the San Joaquin Valley between Chowchilla and Bakersfield, might see a shot of state money to repair a portion of the Friant-Kern Canal impacted by subsidence. A bill drafted by State Sen. Melissa Hurtado, D-Sanger, seeks to provide $400 million to FWA for canal repairs that would restore design capacity lost from subsidence.
“We hope that the bill garners the governor’s support if it gets to his desk,” LeMay said.
Immigration issues remain important to an organization whose members rely heavily on hand labor to harvest and process crops. “Immigration reform and the conversations with our federal representatives continue to be paramount,” he continued.
For instance, the federal “no-match” letters packers started receiving last year as federal immigration officials cracked down on those who could not show legal proof to work in the United States, illustrate LeMay’s point that federal policy changes are necessary to address the employment needs of farmers and food processors.
CFFA’s advocacy efforts cover 13 fresh fruit commodities that stretch from Lake County in northern California to the Coachella Valley. Those are: peaches, plums, nectarines, apricots, table grapes, apples, pears, persimmons, pomegranates, blueberries, cherries, figs and kiwi.
Former CFFA President Barry Bedwell, the CFFA executive who hired LeMay and later watched him go through the ag leadership program as president of the California Agricultural Leadership Foundation, said he was pleased to hear that LeMay was named president by the CFFA board.
“In spite of his young age, few individuals display the type of experience that Ian has been exposed to over the past decade,” Bedwell said. “From his time spent as a key congressional staff member to the outstanding job he performed as Director of Membership for CFFA, Ian has consistently demonstrated the knowledge, as well as the ability, to be an effective advocate for his members. The association and its members truly have a bright future ahead with Ian at the helm.”
LeMay says he is “humbled” by the opportunity CFFA’s board gave him to lead the group as its members face challenges related to water, immigration and trade.
“I came to the association four years ago because I believe in its mission, deeply respect its history and see infinite potential in advocating for the permanent fresh fruit growers and shippers in California,” LeMay said in a prepared statement. “I consider myself fortunate to have had the opportunity to observe two great association leaders in Barry Bedwell and George Radanovich and thank them for their commitment to bettering our industry.”
LeMay is a Fresno native. He is a graduate of Bullard High School in Fresno and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, where he majored in agricultural business.