Read letters penned by our two leaders who have instilled a legacy mindset in all we do at Pacific Ag Management.
BEHIND THE LEGACY
from Keith Gardiner, Chairman of the Board
When I was about five years old, I went on a local kids television show called the "Un-Lock-a-Lock Show." There were a bunch of kids in the studio, and the host was going around the room asking everyone what they wanted to do when they grew up. There were lots of hopeful firemen, doctors, nurses and lawyers, but when the host held the microphone out to me and asked what I wanted to be, I shouted, "I want to be a farmer." Like many kids my age, I wanted to follow in my father's footsteps and shadow in his line of work. He loved raising livestock and growing things. Much as I do today. I guess farming was becoming ingrained in me even at that young age. Little did I know that I was at the beginning of a farming career that would span my lifetime, providing opportunities that have enriched my life and the lives of the many families that have joined us in this journey.
I was very young when I started driving a tractor and picking up sprinkler pipe in our potato fields on a 320 acre leased farm we called "Rosedale Ranch." It was the early 1960's. I spent most of the day helping my dad, shooting my BB gun or throwing rocks at frogs in the water ponds. I always enjoyed when my dad took me to lunch at the local drive-in where we ordered burgers and fries that were made from the potatoes in our field.
It was on this ranch where he and I would sit on one of the cool irrigation pipes in the middle of the July heat and eat the hearts out of the watermelons that we grew in a huge garden. This garden supplied our farm help with plenty of fresh corn, squash, beans and those delicious melons.
In the summer of 1969, when I was fifteen, my Dad lost his thumb in an accident while greasing the bull gears on the hay baler. He was in the hospital for quite a while and unable to work his normal workload, so he asked me to take over the raking and baling the alfalfa hay. This was the main source of our income and a big responsibility for me to undertake. I took over these jobs until school started in the fall and Dad was able to get back on his feet. He was very proud of me, and I was very proud of myself for taking on the task.
Dad lost the lease on the Rosedale Ranch at the end of the summer of ‘69. His land was reduced to only 100 acres. This farm was called the "Home Ranch." We lived on that farm, and I have many fond memories of being raised out in the countryside. I used to hunt in the nearby fields and fish and swim in the irrigation canals.
In June 1978, I had graduated from Cal Poly and was engaged to my high school sweetheart — Jennifer Townsend. Dad was farming the home place, and I was looking for a job. Tenneco West was an oil company that had large farming acreage in Kern County. I applied in their farming division and was offered a job for $1200 per month. I came home and told my Dad. I could tell his feelings were hurt that I was going to take the job, but I think he understood. There was no room for me on the farm. The next week, my Dad came to tell me of an opportunity he had to develop some new lease ground on the south side of Stockdale Highway. This ground had never been farmed, and it needed to be cleared of manzanita and sage brush. He asked me if I would help him. He didn't want me to go to work for Tenneco West — they were the ones who had pulled the lease out from under him on the Rosedale Ranch. I told him I would, but I had a few conditions. I did not want to lease land if we could find a way to buy it instead. If we were going to work hard and take the farming risk, I wanted to own it. I didn't want some "Big Oil" company jerking us around and pulling the lease out from under us for a measly few bucks. He agreed. This was the beginning of my farming partnership with my Dad. We formed the entity Gardiner Farms, and our partnership has spanned the course of over 40 years. At the time of this writing, my Dad is still my partner. He is 97 years old.
We planted our first 55 acres of almonds the year my first son was born — 1982. I studied the almond business in California while I was away to college at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. It was a fledgling industry with only about 100,000 acres grown in-state. The Almond Board of California had not been formed, markets were not established and a limited amount of institutional knowledge was available for how to grow the tree nut. The thread that linked us together was that almond trees liked sandy, well-drained soils. Our area ran deep with sandy soils. In fact, some of our soils were like Avila Beach.
In 1987, our family had grown to include three sons — Jim, John, and Joe. I told Jennifer that, if we didn’t do something, the boys may not have an opportunity to farm someday if they wanted to. We just didn't have enough ground to farm. This need gave purpose to the expansion of our farm acreage and our permanent plantings of almonds.
We were one of the first to plant almonds in our area. Because of this, I sort of became the resident expert on almond growing. All of our neighbors were looking for alternative crops to grow. Cotton was tough to grow in our sandy soils, alfalfa hay took a lot of water and beans and grain were just rotational crops for cotton. I had contacts in the almond nursery business from my earlier research, and, from this, I helped many farmers plant and develop thousands of acres of almonds in and around Kern County.
A common theme that has persisted in the growth of our family companies has been the need and willingness to create opportunities for those doing business with the Gardiner Family. Because of this business philosophy, Gardiner Farms grew so fast during the late 1990s and early 2000's that we needed a lot more high-quality people to manage this growth. The office help was making too many mistakes because of the workload. Yet, in order to attract well-trained people, we needed healthcare and retirement plans, safety programs and human resource capabilities. Pac Ag was formed to take on these functions and manage all the farming responsibilities as a new partnership and management opportunities became available.
I believe we have grown successfully because we have surrounded ourselves and given an opportunity to those who share in our philosophy of enriching each other's lives. This business model works because it is real and comes from our heart.
From humble beginnings in 1978, the Gardiner family companies have expanded to become one of the most respected farming companies in California. From my college thesis on "Almond Growing in California" and my first almond planting of 55 acres in 1982, the company has expanded to grow and manage close to 20,000 acres of almonds and pistachios and various row crops.
Gardiner Farms’ umbrella company, Pacific Ag Management, is responsible for managing the farming acreage and the vertical integration of other family businesses. These businesses include Heritage Equipment, United Honey Bees, Pacific Resources, Rancheria Land and Livestock and Redhouse Beef.
The bread and butter of the operations, Almonds, are processed and distributed worldwide through the families’ ownership in Treehouse California Almonds.
The dynamics of farming in California are seriously changing. Farms of the future will be larger, more corporately structured, well-managed and heavily capitalized. They will need to balance the ever-increasing cost of labor and shrinking water resources with a limited number of commodities that can successfully be grown in California for a profit. A million acres of farm ground currently in production will have to go out due to the lack of water. Competing interests from environmental concerns and population growth are causing these water shortages — California has water infrastructure (dams, water banking, delivery systems) to support a population of around 20 million people, but today we are closer to 40 million people. Some thriving Ag communities of the past will no longer be because of the lack of water. As an optimist, I believe there are many opportunities for companies that are willing to adapt and position themselves for what lies ahead.
Pacific Ag Management is positioned perfectly to take on the challenges facing the future of farming. The talented and hard-working field supervisors and progressive-thinking upper management and accounting staff are thoroughly capable of guiding our investments through the many challenges that we face.
A Charge Towards The Future
from Pac-Ag President, Mitch Millwee
Almonds have a history that runs deep within my family. My grandfather began managing a 400-acre dryland almond ranch near Creston, CA in1939. At that time, almonds were just a specialty crop used mostly by candy makers. The property he managed included a small huller, sheller and almond packing plant along with a nursery for young trees.
My mother was raised on this ranch and met my father while attending Templeton High School. They were married in 1956 and settled in Paso Robles where I was born. We moved to Bakersfield in 1970, but we often visited my grandfather’s almond ranch. I have fond memories of spending time with my grandfather on the ranch and being amazed at his incredible work ethic. It was from this experience that I developed a great admiration for farmers and the industry of agriculture.
Inspired by my grandfather, I decided to pursue a career in agriculture. Upon graduating from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in 1986, I began a 30-year career in agriculture finance with Farm Credit West in Bakersfield. The farm crisis of the mid-80’s was a very challenging time for everyone involved in agriculture. Through this adversity, I learned the value of perseverance, trust and building strong relationships based on integrity. These early lessons were the foundation that helped me forge a successful career in agriculture finance.
In June 2017, I retired from Farm Credit West and joined Pacific Ag Management as president. The opportunity to be part of Keith’s success and vision is truly a blessing. I often think of my grandfather and how proud he would be to see his legacy continued in my stewardship of this great family operation. It is with his work ethic, values and dedication that I approach my role of leading the Gardiner family operations into the future.
As President, my vision is to continue Keith’s history of success despite the many challenges facing our industry today through 1) maximizing the unique synergy that exists between our businesses, 2) continuing strategic growth with our valued partners and 3) using key technology to give our dedicated and talented employees the tools they need to deliver superior results for our customers.
At Pacific Ag Management, our size allows us to enjoy the efficiencies of being big while maintaining the values, culture and personal touch of a family operation. Working side-by-side with Keith and his sons allows all of us at Pacific Ag Management to share in the passion of ensuring this great family legacy continues operating successfully into the 4th generation. I’m excited about our future and look forward to creating opportunities for others to join us so that we can accomplish together more than we ever could by ourselves.
To what’s ahead,