California’s County Agricultural Commissioners serve as the primary local enforcement agents for State agricultural laws and regulations. State Law requires the Boards of Supervisors to appoint County Agricultural Commissioners in each of the state’s 58 counties. The precursors of the current Agricultural Commissioners were established in 1881. Their primary duties were related to the control and eradication of pests harmful to agriculture. Today, Agricultural Commissioners have a unique and important role in the promotion of agriculture, farm worker health and safety, the protection environmental resources, and the assurance of a fair marketplace.
Plant quarantine and pest prevention remains one of the most important programs of the county Agricultural Commissioners. Agricultural Commissioners work to enforce federal, state and foreign plant pest quarantines, as well as county restrictions and ordinances. Pest exclusion is the cornerstone of pest prevention. More specifically, quarantine programs serve to facilitate safe trade, monitor the movement of high risk material, protect against the introduction of pests, regulate the import and export of plants, and help exporters meet the entry requirements of other countries. In this program, the Agricultural Commissioner and his staff monitor and inspect plant products entering the county and certify products leaving the country for export. Agricultural Commissioner staff are “federal cooperators,” meaning they are certified to issue federal certificates of quarantine compliance (Phytosanitary Certificates.) Pest detection is also an important element of pest exclusion. Agricultural commissioner staff place traps and survey for harmful pests not known to exist in the county. The objective is to detect incipient infestations while they are still small enough to be eradicated.
When a pest becomes widespread and cannot be eliminated, it must be managed. The Agricultural Commissioner manages pests within the county in several ways. Rodent pests are managed through the sale of rodenticide baits. Predatory animals and other vertebrate pests causing damage are managed through a cooperative program with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal Damage Management Division. Plant pests such as Lettuce Mosaic Virus (LMV) are managed through the establishment of host-free districts and periods to break the cycle of the disease or pest. The Agricultural Commissioner also disseminates bio-control agents (such as beneficial insects) within the county.
The Agricultural Commissioner is responsible for the enforcement of laws and regulations pertaining to the use of pesticides in any setting, whether agricultural, institutional or home use. In order to purchase and use many pesticides, farmers must first obtain site-specific permits from their Agricultural Commissioner. The Commissioner must evaluate the proposed application to determine whether it is near a sensitive area, such as riparian habitat, wetland, residential neighborhood, school, or organic field. A permit may specify the method of application, time of day, weather conditions, and use of buffer zones.
Among an Agricultural Commissioner’s most important responsibilities is the investigation of pesticide-related illnesses and injuries. All reported pesticide-related illnesses and injuries are investigated by the Commissioner and his staff in the county in which the illness occurred. If violations of pesticide law or regulations are found to have contributed to an illness, the Commissioner takes enforcement action. If a crop or structure is contaminated during an incident, a biologist takes residue samples for laboratory analysis.
Agricultural Commissioner’s staff inspects agricultural pesticide applications and field crews on a daily basis. Staff also works to ensure landscape maintenance gardeners are licensed to apply pesticides, and that their pesticides are labeled for professional landscaping. Staff biologists inspect home pesticide applications, such as structural fumigations for termites, and check all pest control business employees for proper training and equipment.
Agricultural Commissioners work closely with the California Department of Food and Agriculture, the Department of Pesticide Regulation, state and regional water boards, state Departments of Industrial Relations and Health Services, the State Department of Forestry, and the State Department of Fish and Game to protect the health of the public and the environment.
In addition, Agricultural Commissioners enforce the State’s organic food laws, oversee certified farmers’ markets, ensure that fruit and vegetable quality standards are met, inspect nurseries and seed operations, and prepare an annual county crop report.
In most counties the Agricultural Commissioner is also the Sealer of Weights and Measures and is responsible for the local weights and measures enforcement program. Weights and Measures inspectors will certify the accuracy of any commercial weighing or measuring device, such as a gasoline pump, a taxi meter, or a scale in the market. They will also perform quantity control inspections to verify that consumer products are accurately counted or weighed, and may also inspect point of sale scanner systems to see that consumers are correctly charged.
This is only a brief overview of the duties performed by Agricultural Commissioners in California counties and in Monterey County. It does not include all programs and responsibilities, and duties will vary from county to county. One reason the Agricultural Commissioner system works so well is because California is such a diverse state and local-level enforcement allows programs and services to be tailored to the local conditions and needs.