Not many are known by only one name. There is Prince, Brando, Curly, Sinbad and Sting.
Then there is ‘Coburn,’ more specifically recently retired Jim Coburn of Western Farm Service.
Say ‘Coburn’ and everyone in the Western agchem/fertilizer business knows who you are talking about.
Coburn logged 44 years in the business. He rode off to his eastside Fresno, Calif., ranchera this month.
In almost 35 years as an ag journalist, I have seen a lot of nice folks retire and have been asked many times by their friends to do retirement articles. I always politely decline. Otherwise, Western Farm Press would be nothing but retirement articles.
I am making an exception to my policy here in this adios commentary to my good friend and mentor, Coburn. No, Coburn is not terminally ill. Maybe terminally a hustler, but he is physically fine.
Coburn grew up in Pomona and went to Cal Poly with the aspiration of becoming an ag inspector at the Truckee state inspection station. Cool in the summer; a great place to hike and ski. It did not happen. He spent a year after college working for a farmer in Los Banos and later went to work for a company that eventually became part of Western Farm Service.
I met Coburn more than 30 years ago when he managed Western’s branch in Lompoc as I began my career as a magazine editor. I don’t recall why I went to see him or who told me about him. However, I do remember he was already becoming legendary. It was either in search of a wine grape article or bean production article. However, I do remember what we did for lunch the first time we met. He introduced me to Santa Maria tri-tip at a once-a-month farmer lunch in a Lompoc park. Little did I know that it would make me a permanent Californian. Only Californians know what tri-tip is and eat it.
We have been friends ever since, chucking and jiving each other often as we pursued the ‘great stories’ Coburn offered up. They usually were under the category of the best thing since sliced bread that was going to revolutionize California agriculture. Some were. Some were not.
Coburn has a passion for agriculture and doing it right. He cringes when agriculture grabs unwanted headlines. I never heard him take delight in others’ problems. A black-eye incident hurts everyone in the agchem/fertilizer industry, he says. If he knew someone was breaking the rules, he spoke up. He also spoke up often and loud in support of college students pursuing ag careers.
Always searching for unique products and equipment, Coburn never professed to knowing it all. He proudly tells of a time in Lompoc when a local rancher wanted to start a pasture improvement program. Coburn met with him and the rancher asked Jim if he knew anything about rangeland management. Coburn responded no, but he was willing to learn if the rancher would teach him. He kept that rancher’s business for years. That defines Coburn.
As long as I’ve known Coburn, he has been a listener and teacher. He has always been proud of his profession for being part of the most productive agricultural industry in the world. He has been one of the many, many good guys in this business. I lift my glass of California Barbera to you, Coburn, my friend. Thanks for the mentoring.