Local grower to head bureau

A Modesto-area almond and walnut grower was elected president of the California Farm Bureau Federation on Wednesday during the group's annual meeting in Anaheim.

Paul Wenger, 54, a third-generation family farmer, will assume the role of spokesman for the organization on a wide range of issues of interest to farmers around the state, from access to water to economic pressures. The Farm Bureau represents 81,000 members statewide and is a part of a nationwide network of more than 5 million Farm Bureau members.

Wenger has been the federation's first vice president the past two years; his new term also is two years. He replaces Doug Mosebar as president.

Under his leadership, Wenger said the Farm Bureau would work to improve the state's water delivery system despite the passage of a series of water bills by the Legislature this year.

"I don't think this is the ultimate solution yet for California, and so we are going to be very engaged to make sure that any infrastructure that we get, which would be water storage as well as conveyance, will meet the needs of California well into the future because we have one shot to do it," he said.

"We are going to look to bring in other associated industries, municipalities, builders," Wenger said. "We need to work together for a long-term solution for all of California."

As important as water is to ranchers and farmers, Wenger said a strong agricultural sector is just as critical to the California economy and its recovery.

"California is the largest agricultural state in the nation and one of the largest producers of fresh fruits and vegetables in the world. If we are going to pull our economy out of the tank, it's going to be dependent on agriculture," he said.

"So we want to work to lessen some of the regulations that really don't do anything but stand in the way of farmers and ranchers doing what they do, and that's produce fresh fruits and vegetables, and a myriad of other commodities that not only feed our people, but also create a great deal of economic activity off the farm," Wenger said.

Tom Orvis, governmental affairs director for the Stanislaus County Farm Bureau, said Wenger will bring dynamic leadership to the state organization and a willingness to tackle the major issues facing farmers.

Wenger is the organization's first president from the Northern San Joaquin Valley area since the late Henry Voss, a Ceres grower who led the state Farm Bureau for eight years in the 1980s before becoming California's secretary of agriculture.

Orvis said Wenger brings a special perspective to the job because he comes from one of the most diverse agricultural regions in the state.

While that may bode well for getting the valley's message out, Orvis said Wenger's grasp of complex agricultural issues will benefit everyone.

"Paul understands what's going on with all farmers," Orvis said. "He understands all the different issues they face."

And having come up through the ranks of the Farm Bureau, Orvis said, Wenger has experience in fighting for farmers in Sacramento and Washington, D.C. "I expect it's going to be more political," he said of the Farm Bureau under Wenger.

After his election was announced, Wenger told delegates at the 91st annual meeting that he's ready to get to work. "As folks in Modesto know, I'm a hands-on farmer and I'll be a hands-on president," he said.

Delegates also elected Kenny Watkins of Linden as first vice president and Oroville farmer Jamie Johansson as second vice president.

Eight members were newly elected to the board of directors: Mich Etchebarne of Modesto, Dennis Atkinson of Lebec, Matt Conant of Rio Oso, Cathie Pierce of Catheys Valley, John Pierson of Vacaville, David Roberti of Loyalton, John Vevoda of Ferndale and Norm Yenni of Sonoma.

Maria Azevedo of Merced was elected chairwoman of the statewide Young Farmers and Ranchers Committee and will serve as an advisory member of the board.

Bee City Editor David W. Hill can be reached at or 578-2336.