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Sonoma County native Andrew Smith confirmed as new agriculture commissioner

Andrew Smith, confirmed Tuesday as Sonoma County’s new agriculture commissioner, said he will focus his office on core programs regulating a rapidly changing sector that produces $1 billion in crops annually.

Smith, who took over from Tony Linegar after eight years in the post, will manage local rules on vineyard development and hemp while also assuming more control over cannabis cultivation from the county’s Permit and Resource Management Department.

“We’re responsible for three programs that are very public-facing and tend to be contentious at times,” said Smith, a 39-year-old native of Sonoma County who previously served as deputy commissioner under Linegar. “But I’m excited.”

In an interview Tuesday after his confirmation by the Board of Supervisors, Smith would not predict when his office may offer permits for either hemp or cannabis. “It’s a pretty heavy lift,” he said.

The office also is tackling revised management practices to the county’s Vineyard Erosion and Sediment Control Ordinance, which covers rules over new and redeveloped vineyards. He plans to keep the process within a narrow focus and not open it up to other areas - such as tree removal and land use in watershed issues - that could be handled elsewhere in the county code.

“It is the erosion and sediment control ordinance. It’s not the water availability ordinance. It’s not the tree ordinance. I think it’s important to acknowledge the scope of the ordinance is specialized and for a very good reason,” Smith said.

His office also will likely play a greater role in educating residents - especially newcomers from more urban areas - on “what contemporary ag looks, sounds and smells like,” Smith said.

He got his start at the office performing pest detection and trapping duties. The office, along with the state Department of Pesticide Regulation, helps to foster reduced-risk pest management practices, an issue that is a concern among some local residents. On Saturday, members of the North Bay Organizing Project protested outside a Graton vineyard over the spraying of more than 9,000 pounds of pesticide annually in the surrounding area.

Pesticide use by the agriculture sector is heavily regulated and a lot “of very educated decisions” go into such spraying, Smith said.

“I think what’s important, if we’re concerned about pesticide use, is that we are not reactionary. That we seek first to understand why is this ag practitioner using this as a tool? Are there alternatives?” Smith said. “Ultimately, if you’re a business owner, you make decisions based on what is best for your business, while also taking into consideration the impact of those decisions on your employees and the environment.”

You can reach Staff Writer Bill Swindell at 707-521-5223 or bill.swindell@pressdemocrat.com.

Bill Swindell

Business, Beer and Wine, The Press Democrat  

In the North Coast, we are surrounded by hundreds of wineries along with some of the best breweries, cidermakers and distillers. These industries produce an abundance of drinks as well as good stories – and those are what I’m interested in writing. I also keep my eye on our growing cannabis industry and other agricultural crops, which have provided the backbone for our food-and-wine culture for generations.

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