It seems like it was just a short time ago on an August afternoon that we learned that Jim Kuhn had died. Jim was bigger than life and his sudden death was a shock to the many people who knew and admired him.

In 2005 CAFA initiated the annual Jim Kuhn Leadership Award in recognition of the many contributions that he made to the alfalfa and forage industry. He died in a car accident near his ranch in El Centro and left a void that is hard to fill. He was only 41 years old when he lost control of his vehicle on Aug. 29, 2005.

He was a founding member of CAFA and took time from his incredibly busy schedule to help establish the association and lend a helping hand whenever needed. Kuhn was charismatic, innovative and seemed to always be on the go. He was known as a hands-on operator and despite running a 14,000-acre ranch and a dairy, he somehow found time for other activities. A friend of his once said that Jim was able to do so many different things because “he never slept.”

Jim had a passion for whatever he decided to tackle and while he accomplished so much in a relatively short amount of time he was very modest. At the age of 25 Jim and his brother, John became the first in the Imperial Valley to compress and export hay directly to Japan and other countries.

He worked diligently to open the export market in the Far East and worked hard to expand the Imperial Valley’s agricultural base. When he decided to get into dairying he was told it wouldn’t work in the Valley.  Kuhn wasn’t fazed and he built a modern, large-scale dairy. The KT Dairy began milking Holsteins and then switched to Jerseys followed by a cheese plant that Kuhn established at his ranch in partnership with Utah-based Gossner Foods.

His success as a dairyman didn’t go unnoticed. In 2006, a year after his death, he received the Innovative Dairy Farmer of the Year award. Kuhn’s nomination letter for the Dairy Farmer award was an accurate description of his character. He was described as a “leader” who “dared greatly.” He received the ultimate compliment when he was said to have accomplished goals “that might take dairymen a lifetime to achieve, if they achieve them at all.”

Somehow he found time to establish the annual Salton Sea International Bird Festival and continued his passion for photographing wildlife and protecting wildlife habitat. He was quoted at saying, “We have a responsibility to maintain and preserve the natural habitat of our land and the wildlife that utilizes it.”

The Jim Kuhn Leadership Award is presented annually at the California Alfalfa & Forage Symposium. This year’s award was presented to Seth Hoyt, who is widely respected as a hay market analyst and has supported the alfalfa and forage industry during a long career with the California Department of Agriculture and the USDA.

After retiring from his government position he launched the weekly Hoyt Report that keeps subscribers up to date on market conditions and trends.