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Ventura Growers Look to Mexico for Joint Farming Ventures in Baja


Against a backdrop of Camarillo farmland that now sprouts homes instead of crops, a pair of Ventura County growers have planted the idea of expansion to Mexico with newly elected officials from Baja California.

Officials of Somis-based Ag Land Services and the Horton Co. said they hope to cultivate a friendly relationship with new leaders from Tijuana and Ensenada so that joint farming ventures can be established in Baja.

Besides allowing agriculture to do for Baja what it has done for Ventura County, such diversification could benefit county farmers if local development and environmental pressures mount, growers said.

Politicians from the two Mexican cities toured parts of the county last week to meet with local leaders and inspect farms and related industries.

Although the two-day visit was billed as a trade conference, the visiting 21-member delegation acknowledged that the first move must be made by Americans.

"Ventura groups can come and invest in our land and create jobs and then export goods to the U. S.," said Fernando Padilla-Fitch, a business development expert who was serving as a spokesman for the Mexican leaders.

"We think there can be joint ventures in a number of agricultural operations. We know that here in California is the capital of technology. We are basically catching up with that technology."

David White, co-owner of Ag Land Services, said his firm is interested in obtaining use of Mexican farmland because of increasing pressures on farmers here.

"In Ventura County and California in general, it is becoming more difficult to compete with some of these Third World countries due to worker cost, water cost and the issue of pesticides," White said.

White's company farms 2,500 acres in Ventura County. The Horton Co. has about 750 acres under cultivation in the county, according to its president, Juan Martin.

"If there's a place in Baja with similar weather conditions to Ventura County, we'll find it," said Martin, who showed the Mexicans his firm's lemon and avocado orchards during their visit.

Both Martin and White stressed that the conference did not signal any sort of pullout by Ventura County growers.

"I think farming will always have a place here," White said. "But people in this area are already realizing that competition is there. This used to be a prime area for tomatoes, for example. Now, it's down there."

County Supervisor Maggie Erickson, who spoke to 130 people at a luncheon Friday for the visitors at the Bill Esty Community Center in Camarillo, predicted that agriculture will remain a major industry in the county for years to come.

"There are still young men and women who own land and want to make agriculture their careers," Erickson said. "I don't see that changing."

During the luncheon, Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco) presented plaques to mayors-elect Jesus del Palacio Lafontaine of Ensenada and Carlos Montejo of Tijuana.

"We have to become as creative as we ever have been in any capacity" if trade between California and Mexico is to improve, Brown said.

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