Members of the first Almond Industry Leadership Program are about to conclude a year-long program of study, observation, and participation in settings that range from a job shadow at the state Capitol to board rooms to almond growing and processing facilities. Along the way, they have received a comprehensive education in the almond industry from farm-to-fork, and have made valuable contacts within the industry while developing leadership skills that will be invaluable as they become tomorrow’s almond industry leaders.

“The Almond Industry Leadership Program has been designed to provide participants with a well-rounded education in all aspects of the almond industry, as well as providing opportunities for them to grow personally and professionally,” says Lori Gerhardt, who manages the program for the Almond Board of California. The 2009 Leadership Program is sponsored by the Almond Board of California and American AgCredit.

The program includes seminars on: leadership and communication; almond production, including environmental stewardship and food quality and safety; global trade and technical issues; Marketing strategies to create global demand; and almond nutrition research.

Also included: tours of almond orchards and processing facilities; job shadowing; food quality and safety symposium; environmental stewardship tour; and Almond Board of California meetings and committee meetings.

This year’s participants are in agreement that the program is meeting its goals of providing them with knowledge and skills to become more informed and more involved in the almond industry.

Learning about the Almond Board’s Food Quality and Safety Program was of particular interest to participant Chuck Dirkse, of La Mancha Orchards in Denair. After attending the Almond Board’s Food Quality & Safety Symposium, he commented that the symposium “drove home the point that a single microbial outbreak could have a serious negative impact on the industry. Consumers expect, and deserve, healthful food. As a consumer, I expect the same, but as a grower, I do everything I can to control and prevent contamination, but I’m also dealing with nature. Nevertheless, it is important to continue taking all available precautions — we cannot rely on processing alone.”

Ashley Gunlund graduated from Cal Poly SLO last December with a degree in ag business management and a concentration in marketing. She works with her family’s business south of Fresno, Four Bar C Farms, growing almonds and grapes. Entering the program, she was understandably interested in learning about the Almond Board’s marketing programs.

“I am very impressed with the structure and stability of the Almond Board’s export program,” she says. “Their international marketing program is very organized; this was new and exciting to me. My interest has grown in the almond industry by seeing different aspects of it and putting it all together. This leadership program has given me more job options in the almond industry; I have broader interests in gaining new markets for almonds, and I’m also interested in sales. Meeting people and seeing other operations has broadened my knowledge, and I look forward to the new opportunities this program will bring to my future with the industry.”

Gaining a broader view of the almond industry through the leadership program was the goal of Darren Rigg, an ag business management student who graduated last May from CSU Chico. Rigg, who works for almond handler Riverwest Processing in Glenn, says that he has gotten to know a lot of people, including farm advisors, PCAs, growers and other handlers. “Everyone shares information,” he says.

“This is a good industry to be in. I also see it as a secure industry. I had no idea of the depth of activities performed by the Almond Board — research funding, technical development, and marketing. The information exchange is pretty cool and it benefits both consumers and growers. Through the Environmental Tour for non-ag people, they were able to show the efforts of the Almond Board and growers to make a difference with air and water quality. The Almond Board is proactive in showing that growers are good stewards.”

“It has been a pleasure getting to know this year’s participants and I look forward to seeing what they contribute to the almond industry in the future,” commented the Almond Board’s Gerhardt, adding that applications for the Almond Industry Leadership Program class of 2010, which begins in February, are now being accepted. For more information and online application, go to almondboard.com/leadership, or contact Gerhardt at lgerhardt@almondboard.com. Applications are due Dec. 14.