Monday, October 03, 2005

Season of transition for Solano County ag commissioner Jerry Howard

Article Launched: 09/29/2005 06:41:11 AM

Season of transition for ag commissioner

By Jason Massad/Staff Writer

Jerry Howard is the new Agricultureal Commissioner/Sealer of Weights and Measures for Solano County. Howard, who recently moved to Vacaville from Calaveras County, has been getting familiar with the employees he manages and expects to soon get out and meet some of the area's farmers and growers. (Joel Rosenbaum/The Reporter)

The county's new agricultural commissioner, Jerry Howard, recently made one major move and is now preparing for another.

The good news is that the big move is behind him.

Howard, who came to the county in late July to replace outgoing agricultural commissioner Susan Cohen, left his commissioner post in Calaveras County, his longtime home, to resettle in Vacaville. He and his wife are now looking for a permanent home in Solano County.

While that dust settles, Howard is watching the boxes pile up in his office for a move upstairs to the agricultural department's new home on the second floor of the 501 Texas St. building in Fairfield.

Howard, however, seems well-prepared for the multitasking. He's the state's senior agricultural commissioner with 27 years experience, for one, and as a commissioner in Calaveras he managed agriculture, animal control, air pollution and had other duties.

In fact, a more simplified position was something that attracted Howard to the Solano County opening. Howard will make somewhere around $155,000 in total annual compensation, according to The Reporter's 2004 salary survey.

"In Calaveras, it seemed I was spending far less time on agriculture than a lot of other things," he said. "Solano County offered me the opportunity to concentrate on my priorities, what I have spent 35 years preparing to do."

So far, he's been getting familiar with employees he manages and expects soon to get out and meet some of the farmers and growers in the county, he said.

Howard's position is an interesting hybrid: his main roles are to promote and protect the county's $205 million dollar agricultural economy, perform the weights and measure duties and regulate the pesticides used by the same growers and farmers he's promoting.

A news article posted on the wall in the agriculture office may be an indication that Howard will is interested in pesticide enforcement.

A recent investigation by The Record in Stockton revealed that Solano County ranks as one of the lowest in the state in terms of fines issued to farmers and growers for pesticide violations.

While more than 1,000 violations were found in Solano County during a six-year period ending when Cohen was commissioner, only two fines were issued, according to information gathered by The Record from the California Department of Pesticide Regulation.

Howard said the article was posted in the ag commissioner's office by staff as a reminder for how the public might view the agency.

"My staff posted it on the wall, and I've tended to leave it there," he said. "Staff needs to know that the public perception is what they read and what they see. Perception can become reality."

For his part, Howard said that there is much more to pesticide enforcement than issuing fines.

Farmers need to know the rules, know what's expected of them and regulations need to be consistently enforced. Calaveras had a much higher rate of fines issued than Solano County, as reported in The Record's investigation.

"Our job as regulators is to keep a level playing field," he said. "It's important that everyone be on a level playing field. If the rules aren't consistently enforced, it can be an unfair business advantage."

If the pesticide enforcement is a source of concern, Howard said that one of the county's hot-button issues, fighting the infestation of the glassy-winged sharpshooter in Vacaville, is a well-organized effort.

County inspectors haven't found the wine grape pest since May, a very good sign indeed.

"We have a very aggressive posture on the sharpshooter," Howard said. "We need to continue with the program that's been established."

Jason Massad can be reached at

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