Jim Montross, of Kingsburg, learned about agriculture through his dad, a career agricultural chemical salesman for Wilbur Ellis. Growing up with friends with agricultural backgrounds, he spent his summers working on his family farm or with friends’ on their farms.
“I was fairly young when I dialed in my interest,” Montross said. After graduating from Kingsburg High School, Montross attended California Polytechnic, San Luis Obispo, and graduated in 1986 with a bachelor’s degree in fruit science.
Montross credits a lot of his academic success to his involvement with Alpha Gamma Rho, an agricultural fraternity. “We were a group of students with the same interests and backgrounds.”
After graduating, Montross came back to Kingsburg to work for long-time farmer Wes Levin for nine years. Here, Montross was exposed to a very diverse set of crops and commodities, including: tree fruit, grapes, row crops, open field crops and beef cattle. “I still think about things he taught me every day,” Montross said.
Montross also worked for Bortolussi and Carlson Packing in their early stages packing tree fruit, and then worked unsuccessfully as a fruit broker for two years. While he faced many challenges as a fruit broker, he used it as a great learning experience on how the tree fruit industry operates from farm to retail.
Wawona Frozen Foods
As a result of Montross’ work experience, he was hired by Wawona Frozen Foods and the Smittcamp family to replace Eric Gaarde as field manager, where Montross has worked since 1993. The Clovis-based Wawaoa is a processor of fresh fruit, primarily of peaches and peach products.
As field manager, Montross oversees approximately 80 growers in five counties, while farming an additional 200 acres of peaches for Wawona. He oversees tonnage, fruit quality and coordinates the peach harvest that supplies the Wawona freezer plant.
“It’s been a good experience,” Montross said. “While we have seen ups and downs in the industry, the company has always provided a fair deal to its growers. The Smittcamp family has always been loyal to their employees, customers and business partners. They are driven, smart and very good at what they do.”
Montross also likes how decisions are made at Wawona. “If I have a question, the answer is down the hall of the main office. Smittcamp’s have an open-door policy. As an employee, it’s nice to have answers and direction because it allows you to do your job effectively.”
With Montross’ background in tree fruit, he has provided great insight to the FCFB Board. He has been on the board since 2003.
In addition to providing experience to the board as the Wawona field manager, Montross also farms his own 70 acres, with land in three counties: Fresno, Tulare and Kings. “It’s fun seeing how each of the counties operate, and to see how the business is handled a little differently in each county.”
Montross has been married to Laura Johnson since 1999. Johnson comes from a successful cattle ranch family in Dunlap, where her family ranched for many years. Johnson teaches fifth grade at Alta Scholl in Reedley. Together, they have a daughter, Patty.
The family also likes to travel to the coast, visiting on occasion both Morro Bay or Cayucos. They barbecue in the summer, and work cattle with friends on occasion.
When time allows, the family goes up the mountain to a cabin in Huntington Lake.
Meet Your Board Members Profile: Ag Today, Nov 08
By: John Migliazzo