A.J. Yates has been appointed undersecretary of the California Department of Agriculture following the resignation of Chuck Ahlem. Ahlem had come under attack by environmental groups and the Bee newspaper chain because of his ties to Hilmar Cheese.
In a letter to Gov. Schwarzenegger, the Sierra Club California and the Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment said Ahlem should leave his post because, as part owner of Hilmar Cheese, "he is at odds with the values of the governor and most Californians." The petition asserted that the Merced County cheese company had a long history of violating state water-quality rules with impunity. In fact, the company has a long history of trying to comply with state water regulations.
Hilmar's new state-of-the-art water treatment facility is within a few months of being fully operational which will solve the environmental compliance problems the company has experienced in the past with a previously installed water treatment unit. "I intend to share the technology Hilmar has pioneered with other companies that are not as far along as Hilmar in order to help them deal with the environmental compliance problems facing California agriculture," says Ahlem.
Western Growers officials applauded the appointment of A.J. Yates as the new undersecretary of agriculture noting his long service to agriculture and his wide range of experience in government. Yates served in both the California Department of Food and Agriculture and until recently the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He is also a past president of the Fresno County Farm Bureau.
"A.J. Yates is a talented and dedicated professional who will bring a vast treasure of experience to the state Department of Food and Agriculture," says Tom Nassif, president of Western Growers. "His wisdom and instincts are invaluable. His credentials and demonstrated expertise are a tremendous benefit for agriculture at this critical time in the history of California.
"Chuck Ahlem was a tremendous asset for agriculture interests in California," adds Nassif. "He is a man of great integrity, talent and insight and he will be sorely missed. His contributions to agriculture will be his true legacy and will continue to serve the people of this state long after his departure."