Oct 28, 2021Leadership program offers insight into almond industry, builds relationships
Ensuring the almond industry continues to grow and thrive into the future involves more than expanding acreage, adopting new farming and processing techniques, and integrating new technology. It also means investing in the next generation of industry leaders – men and women who will build on today’s successes for tomorrow.
That’s the idea behind the Almond Leadership Program, sponsored by the Almond Board of California. Since 2009, the program has brought together a diverse group of people representing different areas of the industry to give them a better perspective about key economic, environmental and social issues affecting the industry.
They also learn how all sectors in the almond supply chain work together to provide a safe, sustainable product to consumers worldwide.
“I’ve developed a very deep appreciation for everything that goes on behind the scenes that, as a grower, I may not have fully realized,” said Kyle McClintock, general manager of San Joaquin Fertilizer and manager for I.B. Farming, both located in Bakersfield. He is one of 17 participants who began monthly meetings in January 2020 and then, because of pandemic-related interruptions, had their one-year term extended through 2021.
“Obviously, my realm of the industry revolves mostly around the growing side,” McClintock said. “It’s been very eye-opening to see what goes on from a marketing standpoint as well as a regulatory perspective from a global viewpoint. … I’d say the biggest thing I’ve learned is what goes on in the industry besides just growing almonds.”
Haley Seeger is another member of the Leadership class. She is the production planner for Sacramento-based Blue Diamond Growers. She also has been impressed with the scope of the program.
“I learned just how vast our industry truly is and that collaboration and communication within all facets will be the best way to contribute to the betterment of the California almond industry,” Seeger said. “It has been heavily emphasized to our class throughout the program that we need effective leaders who are going to advocate for the success of our industry so that we can continue to build on its strong foundation.”
Alumni of previous Leadership classes, as well as this year’s participants, consistently stress that one of their biggest takeaways from the program is the relationships that are created.
“There are so many incredible partners involved with the program; the mentors and their companies, the program sponsor, the seminar hosts/presenters, the Almond Board staff and fellow classmates,” Seeger said. “It is important to embrace the opportunity to network with these passionate professionals who are excited and eager to share their industry knowledge.”
Added McClintock, “These relationships have gone from just a business relationship to lifelong friendships. The people who I’ve been lucky enough to participate with are the absolute best and the brightest in the almond industry, and I can say that I feel great about the hands we’re in and, although things may feel bleak right now, the future is still bright for us.”
Each participant also is required to pursue an area of interest as part of a yearlong self-directed project that they will present to fellow classmates, mentors and the ABC Board of Directors at the end of the program. The purpose of the project is to challenge participants to take a deep dive into a topic that interests them, try a new technology or innovative practice on their operation or explore a new or novel idea that advances the industry in some capacity.
For instance, McClintock is experimenting with different ways to stimulate new growth of fruit wood on trees with bud failure. Seeger is working with the Clorox Company to see if it can potentially use almond hulls and/or shells as part of its cat litter applications.
One participant from this year’s class will be selected to present his or her project at The Almond Conference 2021 in Sacramento. Previous projects have led to important breakthroughs for the industry.
Seeger said that despite the interruptions over the past two years, the pandemic also created new experiences for her and her classmates.
“Our group went from meeting in the standard format to virtual webinar-based learning, and then back to a new version of in-person meetings when safely able to do so,” she said. “This gave our class a unique opportunity to embrace different styles of education and networking. We were still able to engage with and learn from each other. We took advantage of the time we did get in person, but I am also pleased to say that I was able to enhance the new relationships during monthly virtual meetings as well.”
McClintock encouraged anyone with a long-term interest in the industry to consider applying for a spot in a future Leadership class.
“Get out of your comfort zone and build your skills and your network,” he said. “You won’t regret it.”
ABC is accepting applications for their 2022 Almond Leadership Program class. Interested parties can find more information on the program and requirements at Almonds.com/AlmondLeadershipProgram and fill out the online application that is open until Dec. 10, 2021.
2020 Almond Leadership Program attendees. Photo: Almond Board of California