The new executive director of the Kern County Farm Bureau says her primary goal is to give a voice to farmers who would otherwise go unheard.
Beatris Espericueta Sanders assumed the top position April 14, replacing Ben McFarland, who quit.
She is the daughter of a Shafter farmer and grew up around the industry and the laborers who are a part of it.
"I know firsthand how they view this and the way they like to approach issues is very conservative. I think that's more of a contribution I have," Espericueta Sanders said. "...I came from the grassroots of what this bureau stands for."
This year marks the Kern County Farm Bureau's 100th anniversary, and Espericueta Sanders, 33, is the bureau's first female executive director and the first Hispanic to hold the seat. But she wasn't surprised by that, saying she thought she was chosen by the bureau's 33-member board because of her vision of the organization's future.
"I think we have an opportunity here (because) ag is a very dominant force, not just in the state, but in the nation," she said. "I just want to get to a point where our voice is as strong as what we produce."
For now, the biggest concern for Espericueta Sanders and the bureau is the ongoing drought. While acknowledging there is no quick fix, she wants to raise awareness about the importance of conserving water.
Kern County is the second-highest agricultural producer in the state and Espericueta Sanders said some farming families this year aren't planting on thousands of acres of land because they don't want to pay for the water.
The California Farm Bureau Federation, which represents the state's 53 county farm bureaus and nearly 90,000 people, anticipates a $5 billion loss in agricultural revenue this year. About 800,000 acres of land have been fallowed due to the drought.
"Hopefully we can start educating people (on saving water)," she said. "I feel like water for farmers in this county is like the bloodline."
Espericueta Sanders previously worked in finance, spending five years with McKinsey & Company, a global financial consulting firm in New York City.
In her new position she hopes to bring the Farm Bureau in contact with the political officials that impact agricultural decisions.
"I do feel like farmers can have an old-school mentality that they don't need to be a part of political discussion or that they don't need to be a part of one side of a bill," she said. "I need to get them to feel like they do (and) that they need to have a political presence."
Espericueta Sanders is confident about accomplishing that because she's been in the political arena before, working for former Democratic Assemblywomen Nicole Parra for two years on agriculture, oil and economic development policy.
Of the 28 members on Parra's staff, Espericueta Sanders was one of two Republicans.
Another focus during 2014 will be on minimum wage standards. Potential increases in minimum wage have always been a concern among farmers, she said, and with the drought it takes on greater urgency.
Farmers with more employees who suffer from a dry year will feel the burden more deeply.
"We have farmworkers that want to be paid what the guys in the oilfield are making," she said. "Farmers can't afford it, so they are losing a lot of their fleet."
Despite the ongoing challenges farmers face, Espericueta Sanders is looking forward to the future.
"They have a ways to go, but in (the last) 100 years, farmers have the same reputation they have today -- a humble, hardworking group," she said. "(They have) a very quiet pride about what they do. It's a pleasure to work with those professionals."