When it came time for the Petaluma Area Chamber of Commerce to nominate this year's recipient of its Excellence in Agriculture Award, Arnie Riebli's name was the obvious choice.

A fourth-generation Sonoma County rancher, he grew up on a dairy and chicken farm in Cotati and since has dedicated himself to the industry that was responsible for putting Petaluma on the map in the early 1900s.

Riebli has stepped up to fill the much-needed role of the representative and advocate for the egg industry of Northern California. He recently returned from a four-day trip to Washington, D.C., working to convince the powers that be that successful egg production, on any scale, can and should be achieved with animal welfare firmly in mind.

Here in Petaluma, he and his partners at Sunrise Farms produce a million eggs each and every day of the year, providing 90 percent of the eggs consumed in all of Northern California. Riebli credits the ability to adapt and fierce dedication to the Petaluma ranching lifestyle for his business surviving the many changes it has undergone since the egg industry's heyday of the late 1940s.

Laws recently passed concerning the poultry industry were "deeply frustrating" to Riebli because, as he explains it, they were motivated by heavy doses of political correctness but were severely light on practical application.

But as Riebli says, "Folks have to eat. Sooner or later, people will realize that food is not produced in the backroom of the local grocer." He saod 219,000 people get added to the world's dinner table every night. "That's 80 million a year. Currently the political mechanism is in the way, and if it stays that way, the world will face severe shortages in the near future."

Backing his conviction that "this country's greatest asset is our youth," Riebli has lent his considerable knowledge and boundless energy to the Chamber's Petaluma Youth Ag Day. Passing the ranching tradition and all that it entails on to future generations has been part of hiss lifelong agenda.

Arnie Riebli is living proof that business can take the high road and that an ethically responsible direction can translate to profit — economic profit and cultural profit for any community with its eye on a wholesome future.

(Contact Sheldon Bermont at argus@arguscourier.com)