Monday, September 19, 2005

Solano Country's New Agricultural Commissioner Jerry Howard

Article Last Updated: Saturday, Sep 17, 2005 - 12:28:05 am PDT

Solano's ag commissioner is happy in new job

By Jeff Mitchell

- It may be a bit of an agricultural metaphor, but Jerry Howard is definitely a man in the tall clover.

New Agricultural Commissioner Jerry Howard works at his desk. Howard has been on the job two months. (Jeff Mitchell)

Howard, 58, is Solano County's new agriculture commissioner and sealer of the county's weights and measures.

On the job now just shy of two months, Howard finds himself newly invigorated after spending some 25 years as Calaveras County's agriculture commissioner.

"I haven't been this happy in years. It's great to be focusing on agriculture again," Howard said.

Howard started his career as a agricultural biologist in Calaveras County in 1968 and became that county's agriculture commissioner in 1980. He appreciated his former job but over time, the post became too engrossed with other, non-agriculture-related responsibilities.

In Solano County, Howard happily keeps an eye on a growing $205 million agricultural economy that features more than 50 different kinds of crops and commodities. He also directs the county's regulatory oversight of some 6,000 commercial weight and measurement devices, such as gas pumps and produce scales in supermarkets, all with a budget of about $2.8 million.

In the few weeks he's been on the job, Howard has found his staff of 30 both professionally competent and eager to work. He succeeds Susan Cohen, who served as agricultural commissioner for almost 16 years.

One goal Howard has already laid down will be the eradication of non-native invasive species such as the glassy-wing sharpshooter, which poses a serious threat to the county's wine industry. The sharpshooter is a inch-long flying insect that transmits a virus that shuts down a grape plant's ability to take in water from the soil. Howard also worries about the spread of sudden oak death across the county.

The department will also help broker the often tense debate between development and the loss of farmland as well as the controversies that surround the development of large-scale confined animal facilities (poultry and dairy processing) that are located near human population centers.

Howard believes the county should do all it can to help promote agriculture, especially as a tourism device. He is specifically thinking about helping promote Solano County as a wine region not unlike Napa or Sonoma counties that produce premium quality wines.

In general, Howard thinks the farmer or rancher is an underappreciated creature and he hopes his department will be viewed by the industry as balanced regulators and strong advocates for those who grow or raise a good chunk of the state's food production.

"Our job is to enforce the rules and regulations equally so that no one gets an unfair business advantage," Howard said. "That said, I do we have a duty to advocate for and defend the industry when appropriate."

Another pleasant discovery for Howard is the county's focus on farmland preservation - a thing he believes isn't only critical for the agriculture industry but also for the quality of life and well-being of Solano County residents.

"I can say with certainty that we will never pave over our county farmlands like the way they have in other nearby places," Howard said.

Reach Jeff Mitchell at 427-6977 or

Jearl (Jerry) D. Howard biography:

Age: 58

Term: Four years

Took office: July 25

Salary: $111,437 a year

Previous post: Agriculture Commissioner, Calaveras County

Place of birth: Stockton

Raised: Mountain Ranch

City of residence: Vacaville

Married: 37 years to wife Betty; they have two adult children

Hobbies: Hunting, coin collecting

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