Third generation Oceanside strawberry grower Neil Nagata of Nagata Brothers Farms is the 2021 San Diego County Farm Bureau Farmer of the Year. Photo: California Strawberry Commission

Neil Nagata is 2021 San Diego County Farmer of the Year

The San Diego County Farm Bureau named third-generation Oceanside farmer Neil Nagata its 2021 Farmer of the Year. The Farmer of the Year award is presented to an active or retired farmer who has had a positive impact on the agriculture industry, is active in the community beyond agriculture, and has represented the agricultural industry publicly on behalf of farming interests.

Nagata is the President of Nagata Brothers Farms. In 1902, Nagata’s grandfather immigrated to California from Japan and began farming strawberries in 1920. Nagata’s father George and his brothers formed Nagata Brothers Farms, and his son Neil took on the business 34 years ago. “From that point on, I’ve been farming strawberries ­– so three generations of California strawberry growers.”

Nagata joined the California Strawberry Commission in 1991 and served as a board member and past chairman of their organization. In a video produced by the California Strawberry Commission, Nagata talked about his life as a farmer alongside his 98-year-old father George, who retired just a few years ago and who still lives on the farm in Oceanside.

Facing the challenges of farming in a drought

Throughout his three decades in farming, Nagata says water management has always been a significant challenge.

“We’ve had to become very efficient and very conservative with our water. When I first started, (irrigation) technology was more rudimentary,” said Nagata.

Now, advances are helping California’s family farms survive.

“Electronic controls and electronic monitoring offer efficiency,” he said. “There is greater ease of application for field use. Costs have come down. The quality of materials has improved with advances in technology and materials. Things have become more efficient. We’re still here.”

In addition to his growing experience, Nagata is an expert in many aspects of agriculture and biological science, including field and commercial research and production. He says it takes a scientific mind and a lot of passion to be a good strawberry grower. Nagata says his father made a strong impression with his care of the land.

Neil Nagata says he still loves strawberries, especially when they are fresh from the fields. Photo: California Strawberry Commission

Neil Nagata says he still loves strawberries, especially when they are fresh from the fields. Photo: California Strawberry Commission

“All the strawberry farmers that I know including myself, really care about the land, the fruit that we produce, and the people that work for us,” said Nagata. “It’s really all-encompassing. We try to do what’s right for everybody.

“At the end of the day, we want to present something that is beneficial to our consumers and healthy and good for you, and tastes good. I still eat strawberries, and my favorite way is right out of the field,” he said. “My favorite thing about strawberry growing is being able to have people enjoy what I produce. It’s really rewarding when people just say, “You have the best strawberries.”’

Advocate, mentor, and philanthropist supporting farming

Neil Nagata served as San Diego County Farm Bureau President from 2017 – 2019, and has been a board member since 2008. He works with regulators and legislators to support fruit and vegetable production in the U.S. and Internationally. Nagata has also been involved with many other agricultural associations.

Nagata is the founding president of the non-profit California Strawberry Growers Scholarship Fund, providing scholarships for children of California strawberry farmworkers. During the past 26 years, over $2 million has been raised and gifted to farmworkers’ children.

Nagata will be the guest of honor at the County Farm Bureau’s annual Farmer of the Year event in October and celebrate his recognition among the agriculture community with family and friends.

(Editor’s note: The San Diego County Farm Bureau is a non-profit organization supporting the more than 5,700 farms within the county. The mission of the Farm Bureau is to foster San Diego agriculture through education, public relations, and public policy advocacy in order to promote the economic viability, sustainability, and community building of agriculture. For more information:

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Special Agriculture Water Rates-Farmers-Water Rates

New Agricultural Water Rate Program Benefits San Diego County Growers

The San Diego County Water Authority’s Board of Directors has approved a new and Permanent Special Agricultural Water Rate structure that offers lower water rates to farmers in exchange for lower water supply reliability.

Unlike the current transitional program, the new program will allow new participants to join as a way to strengthen the region’s multibillion-dollar agriculture industry. The program will take effect January 1, 2021, replacing the current program that ends December 31.

Ranking 19th in the nation, San Diego County boasts top crops in nursery, avocados, tomatoes, citrus, poultry, and strawberries, according to the San Diego County Farm Bureau.

Unique program benefits all water users

The Water Authority will be working closely with its 24 member agencies to implement the program for 2021 by providing program details, such as qualifying criteria and the signup process. Participants in the existing transitional program will be allowed to take part in the permanent program on a temporary basis while being screened for eligibility under the new program. Member agencies have six months, through June 30, 2021, to verify eligibility for existing customers for the new program.

“This unique program will benefit all regional water users and the county’s robust agricultural economy,” said Water Authority Board Chair Jim Madaffer. “It helps farmers sustain their operations – and thousands of jobs – while favoring residential and commercial water customers in the event of future water supply reductions.”

Special rates designed to support regional farm economy

Farmers and growers who participate in the Water Authority program will receive a lower level of water service during water shortages or emergencies. That allows the Water Authority to reallocate those supplies to commercial and industrial customers who pay for full reliability benefits. In exchange, participating farmers are exempt from fixed water storage and supply reliability charges.

Under the permanent program in 2021, participants will pay $1,295 per acre-foot for treated water, while municipal and industrial users will pay $1,769 per acre-foot.

San Diego County is unusual among major metropolitan areas in the United States because it includes one of the country’s most valuable and productive farm sectors adjacent to one of the nation’s largest cities.

The region sustains 3.3 million people and a $245 billion economy, thanks to decades of regional investments in water supply reliability projects, including the nation’s largest seawater desalination plant and the biggest conservation-and-transfer agreement in U.S. history.

Permanent special agricultural water rate

The Water Authority has provided lower-cost water to growers in exchange for lower reliability since October 2008, when the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California began phasing out a similar program. Since that time, the transitional Water Authority program continued with a series of extensions that expire at the end of 2020.

In June 2020, the Water Authority Board set calendar year 2021 rates and charges, including a rate category for the new ag program. Future rates will continue to reflect cost-of-service standards and be defined annually as part of the rate-setting process.

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