Marin County Agricultural Commissioner’s Office
Marin County’s Department of Agriculture was founded in 1916. The CAC currently has 14 employees, including a deputy agricultural commissioner/director of weights and measures, a supervising inspector, nine inspectors, and two administrative staff. The office is located at 1682 Novato Blvd., Suite 150-A, Novato.
Marin County’s top three commodities are milk (organic and conventional), poultry, and livestock. These commodities make up more than $67 million, or 70 percent, of the total gross value of agriculture in the county.
Stefan Parnay was named Marin County’s acting Agricultural Commissioner/Director of Weights and Measures on Sept. 7, 2020.
He began his public service career in 1994 as a senior agricultural program assistant at the Sonoma County Department of Agriculture, Weights and Measures. He was promoted to deputy agricultural commissioner in 1999 and, in 2004, to chief deputy agricultural commissioner. In 2010, he joined Marin County as deputy agricultural commissioner/director of weights and measures. He currently sits on the California Agricultural Commissioners and Sealers Association (CACSA) Laws and Regulations and Specifications and Tolerances committees.
Born and raised outside Sebastopol, he attended Cardinal Newman High School in Santa Rosa and graduated from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, with a degree in ornamental horticulture, with an emphasis in arboriculture.
Parnay and his wife, Kathy, have two grown daughters, Angela and Emily.
Rodenticides: The use of second-generation anticoagulant rodenticides (SGARs) by pest control operators is a big concern, Parnay said. The CAC has worked closely with the pest control industry to use alternatives to help reduce incidents of secondary poisoning to wildlife. "Multi-year education, outreach and collaboration with our growers effectively ended the use of SGARs in production agricultural settings," he said. "There are no growers currently using SGARs in the county."
Homeowners and pesticides: Improper use of pesticides by homeowners continues to be a significant concern to the department. "Oftentimes, pesticide labels are ignored and are not carefully read to understand environmental precautions and personal protection equipment (PPE) requirements," Parnay said. Investigating reported incidents provides a teaching opportunity for community members. For that reason, Parnay encourages people to report household pesticide incidents.
"There are a large number of incidents that don’t get reported. Which is unfortunate, to me, when there is an opportunity to educate."
The CAC’s residential outreach also extends to its ongoing campaign to get maintenance gardeners to obtain proper licensing for pesticide use.
Noxious weeds and invasive species: Managing and eradicating invasive and noxious weeds – including woolly distaff thistle and purple star thistle, which have rendered thousands of acres of land unusable by livestock, and increased wildfire risks -- are a critical issue in Marin County. "If nothing is done to slow and stop the spread of these invaders and many others, it will become unfeasible to control and manage them."
In 2018, the CAC along with local, state and federal agencies and nonprofit organizations established the Marin Knotweed Action Team (MKAT), which is focused on eradicating Japanese knotweed from the Lagunitas and San Geronimo creek watershed.
The CAC is also focused on preventing invasive pests from entering the county. Within the past few years several pests have been intercepted such as the glassy-winged sharpshooter, a pest that attacks over 200 different types of plants, including landscape plants and grape vines; white peach scale, a pest to a range of crops, from peaches to potatoes; and green shield scale, which can attack hundreds of types of plants, from ornamentals to vegetables like broccoli.
"When invasive pests are found in a county, it is all hands on deck. Our response is like an emergency response that must be timely, coordinated, and effective and can have a significant impact on the department’s workload."
Restricted Materials: Marin County has seen a 98 percent decline in the number of restricted material permits issued over the past decade – the result of a concerted effort by the CAC to educate and guide ranchers, pest control businesses, municipalities, and golf courses toward using less-toxic options.
Organic Certification: Marin CAC is one of three agricultural departments in California accredited by the United States Department of Agriculture as an official organic-certification agency. The CAC currently certifies 49 livestock, crop, and processing operations. The Marin Organic Certified Agriculture program serves the community by assisting growers and ranchers in understanding and complying with the National Organic Program standards.
"Leading the CAC’s COVID-19 response has been challenging but also rewarding, and to witness so many of our team volunteer to serve as a Disaster Service Worker was impressive and heartening, showing the true nature of this dedicated and collaborative team," Parnay said.
The CAC’s efforts have involved decreasing the number of employees in the office at any given time – 40 to 50 percent – while also maintaining essential services.
The department has also worked with growers and agricultural organizations like the Farm Bureau to get masks to farmworkers.
Parnay also says effective communication has been important to his success. "Effective and deliberate communication and expectations of accountability and follow-through are key to solving most issues, such as pesticide related concerns or complaints, ag/urban interface issues, and situations involving the management/eradication of invasive weeds. This proactive communication process has helped me and my team to find creative and collaborative solutions to solving many problems."
The CAC is developing an education and outreach effort (part of the YardSmartMarin campaign) to ensure maintenance gardeners understand state pesticide licensing and safety requirements and are properly licensed when required.
In addition to the webpage, the CAC has worked with the county office that handles business licensing. Now, when a maintenance gardening business is applying for a county business license, the CAC’s number is provided if they will be handling pesticides.