Commentary: Program builds agricultural leaders for California

Issue Date: January 16, 2019
By Shannon Douglass
Shannon Douglass, front row center in blue dress, sits next to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, who met with the California Agricultural Leadership Program class in 2016 in Washington, D.C. Douglass now serves as CFBF first vice president, and says the Agricultural Leadership Program helped prepare her to be a more effective leader. The program is now recruiting members for its next class.
Photo/California Agricultural Leadership Foundation

As first vice president of the California Farm Bureau Federation, I have the responsibility, and the honor, to help represent California family farmers and ranchers who create and support 2.5 million jobs statewide and in excess of $50 billion in farmgate value. Farm Bureau members produce the best quality and highly affordable products in an environment that can only be described as extremely challenging, and one that requires ever-expanding leadership skills.

As part of my background and training, I was fortunate to be a member of Class 46 of the California Agricultural Leadership Program, where I learned firsthand about leadership development "from the inside out." I experienced a program that taught me how to be a more effective leader and influencer on behalf of California agriculture. Along with almost 1,300 other alumni who have graduated from the program since its inception in 1970, I understand that although the 17-month instruction period was not directed toward specific advocacy issues, it certainly made us better advocates.

Currently and until April 29, the California Agricultural Leadership Foundation is accepting phase one applications for its next class, Class 50, which will begin in October. Many of the program's alumni, as well as foundation staff, are actively involved at this time in holding recruiting events around the state to help identify the best possible candidates.

The question is often asked "What does an ideal candidate look like?" There is no perfect template, but in general, an individual needs to be a California resident who is committed long term to California agriculture. They should receive their livelihood directly from production agriculture or an associated agricultural support business. They should be "mid-career," which can be hard to define but can best be thought of as working for a number of years in agriculture with some demonstrated leadership involvement in their business, community and/or industry. Because the Ag Leadership Program involves international travel, candidates must have a passport. In addition, they should have an open mind as a person who looks beyond herself or himself and who intends to be a "servant leader" with a feeling that it is time to become more involved in an active leadership role.

The mission statement of the Ag Leadership Program is, "We grow leaders who make a difference." Its vision for its graduates is "to be a catalyst for a vibrant agricultural community." There is not any single definition of what that "difference" may be, as it could be made in many different forms. Graduates have described themselves as being improved family members, a more effective part of their business, more involved advocates for agriculture or even potential candidates for public office. The one common denominator is that the "difference" works for the benefit of California agriculture.

There are many fine leadership-development programs that have been created during the past decades, specifically to address issues that impact agriculture. I am particularly supportive of Farm Bureau leadership development, having graduated from the CFBF Leadership Farm Bureau program and participated in the American Farm Bureau Federation Partners in Advocacy program. The California Ag Leadership Program should be viewed as a different and complementary curriculum that can assist an individual in securing her or his full potential.

One of the most uttered comments coming from potential applicants is, "I would like to be part of Ag Leadership but I don't have time!" The response from the program's faculty, staff and alumni is usually, "If you are an individual who is not busy with your career and family, then you are probably not a good candidate for the program."

I encourage you to learn more about this truly life-changing opportunity by accessing You'll find information about applying under the Programs menu. I hope you will complete the application process, so you can possibly join all of the other Ag Leadership alumni who have become leaders who make a difference.

(Shannon Douglass, a beef and crop producer from Glenn County, serves as first vice president of the California Farm Bureau Federation.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.

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