Journal North Bay GIVES award: Napa County Farm Bureau CEO Ryan Klobas

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Ryan Klobas cares about farmers.

He is descended from Joseph Klobas who immigrated from Brgudac, Croatia in 1929 and spent seven years growing wine grapes in Napa County—by himself—until he saved enough money to bring the rest of his family to California.

“If it weren’t for ag, you wouldn’t be looking at me right now,” Klobas says. “Agriculture was the pathway to the United States for my family, so my interest in farming and farmers is very personal.”

“If it weren’t for ag, you wouldn’t be looking at me right now. Agriculture was the pathway to the United States for my family, so my interest in farming and farmers is very personal.” Ryan Klobas, CEO Napa County Farm Bureau

The North Bay Business Journal GIVES individual award winner he believes that every day he is serving individuals like his great grandfather “who are absolutely worthy of representation.”

As the CEO of the Napa County Farm Bureau, Klobas has not only seen the membership in the organization double to 1,000 in the past several years but has also transformed the oldest agriculture association in Napa Valley into a proactive and formidable public policy and political powerhouse.

Since the beginning of his tenure in 2017, Klobas has been heavily involved in land use issues.

He created a PAC, the Fund to Protect Napa Valley Agriculture, which opposed Measure C, a measure that backers said would protect oak trees and watersheds. The bureau said would have limited hillside vineyard development. It was voted down by a slim margin in 2018.

Klobas says that the Farm Bureau is very involved in upcoming elections for supervisors and sheriff.

“We plan to endorse candidates we feel are most ag friendly. Whenever we do something, I feel it is highly important to engage the community as a whole. Everyone is touched by agriculture, if you don’t live with somebody or work with somebody, you know somebody who is involved in the industry; it is Napa’s dominant economic driving force.”

The Farm Bureau helped craft Senate Bill 11, working with the California Farm Bureau in Sacramento. It insurance opportunities for local farmers, growers and ranchers by expanding the authority of the California FAIR Plan Association to cover farm buildings (or any infrastructure used in production of an agricultural commodity) which were previously excluded. It was later signed into law as an emergency measure by Governor Newsom.

“We now have members who are covered by wildfire insurance where they were completely unable to be covered before. If you got hit twice by fire you were probably going to be out of business. And for those lucky enough to keep their insurance policy, our members were seeing their rates triple and quadruple for about 15-20% of the coverage they used to have. When asked why they were keeping the insurance, I explained that it was because of debt obligations. If they were financing anything, a winery or vineyard, their contract said that they had to keep insurance to maintain financing. There was no way around the situation, and it was forcing our members into a very, very tough place.

“This was a great example of why the Farm Bureau exists, why the Farm Bureau is considered a public policy expert in these issues. Here is something tangible that people can see today, and I’m very proud of that.”

Klobas says he chose to get his degree from the Golden Gate University School of Law in San Francisco because he grew up surrounded by people in the legal profession, including his father, a lawyer for over 43 years.

He sought out public policy “because it was the best way to serve people and affect positive change on a mass scale, as opposed to working as a lawyer and taking on individual clients. My experience over the years has taught me the truth of that. I absolutely love what I do.”

What does a day in the life of Ryan Klobas look like? He jokes that it’s surely not a 9 to 5, with his phone ringing more often after five o’clock than before.

“Yesterday I was in Glenn County for a meeting of all the northern county farm bureaus. I was negotiating policy: ag policy, wildfire policy, immigration policy, rural broadband, the many issues for California farm bureaus for the next year,” he says. “Sometimes I have a full day of public speaking or media interviews. As the chairman of the Fund to Protect Napa Valley Agriculture, the PAC, I have a highly political role, and if I’m not in Napa you’ll find me in Sacramento or at the farm bureau headquarters talking to legislators. 2022 is a year of elections so we will have candidates to study and make endorsements. Of course, wildfire prevention and mitigation is a big multi-pronged issue. And there is still COVID.”

The Farm Bureau is a 501(c)(5) agricultural nonprofit which is allowed to do lobbying and be political, and the Napa County Farm Bureau Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, a separate charitable entity, through which the organization supports youth and ag education components. The charity also partnered with St. Helena Hospital Foundation to get thousands of agricultural workers vaccinated at the height of the pandemic and recently hosted Napa Valley Vaccine Day so more people could get a first, second or booster shot, or a flu shot.

Along with supporting the vaccination effort, the Farm Bureau worked closely with the University of California at Davis’ Western Center for Agricultural Health and Safety, gathering what it felt was the most up-to-date, best practices for pandemic safety in the workplace and at home. Klobas explains, “We balance the (c)(5) public policy political arm and the (c)(3) charitable arm. Their missions go hand in hand.”

He wrangled suppliers and distributed masks early in the pandemic and secured less expensive at-home test kits making them available to farm workers through their employers. He was involved in numerous food drives for those economically impaired by the pandemic.

During the 2020 Glass Fire, Klobas helped displaced farmers and ranchers get back onto their properties to care for animals. He even found feed for them donated by farmers from other areas.

Tom Gamble, of Gamble Family Vineyards in Napa, says Klobas was delivering care packages and food to families during those first nights of fire evacuations.

“He has more than filled the shoes of his predecessors by growing Farm Bureau membership, reaching across political divides to find consensus, and garnering admiration for his professionalism, respect for others and generosity. The guy is so darn sincere in everything he does, particularity his devotion to community. He has more energy and intensity than the Energizer Bunny, and that intensity is always focused on the task at hand, delivering and executing plans, while bringing along those less decisive, in the face of a fast-changing unknown..”

Klobas, who is 43, is not married, nor does he have any pets. He says, “I throw myself totally into what I’m doing.” When asked what keeps him sane, he says going back to Croatia, where he has traveled more than 10 times, is the best mental break he gets.

“ It’s slower in positive ways that resonate with me and is something I absolutely love. Honestly, the fact that I’ve not been there the past two years has been bothering me. Next time there’s an opportunity, I’m on the first plane out.”

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