Moving to Fresno in the summer of 1978 to help launch Western Farm Press was a life-changing experience for my wife Karen and me — in many ways.
Six months before I became a Californian, Farm Press Publications owner and publisher Bill McNamee, asked me to research ag markets outside the Southeast, Mississippi Delta and Southwest where Farm Press had existing publications.
It became readily apparent that the irrigated, highly diversified agricultural market in California and Arizona was an ideal region to launch a weekly, news-oriented production agriculture publication using the same formula that had been so successful for Farm Press and its three other publications.
Ed Thompson, Farm Press' national sales representative, and long time personal friend, weighed in with his endorsement of the proposal for the fourth publication, to be called California-Arizona Farm Press, (in recent years changed to Western Farm Press). Ed also convinced publisher McNamee that the best person to manage regional advertising for the new publication in California and Arizona would be a gangly boy from West Texas, me. I will be forever grateful for Ed's endorsement. Call it serendipity, luck or fate…it definitely proved to be a wonderful opportunity.
Those early days were magical for those in the new Fresno office, and filled with enormous challenges — a new publishing strategy to introduce, advertisers to identify, and timely, relevant editorial to generate every week. There was much camaraderie among the new staff including editors Harry Cline and Dan Bryant, office manager Bonita Murray, and me. With the support of our publisher, his right hand man, the late Tommy Keith and the support of one of the most professional staffs in agricultural publishing in Farm Press' home office in Clarksdale, Miss., we all dug in and started making history in the Western agricultural market.
Within a few weeks after we started publishing our new and different business paper, it became apparent that farmers, suppliers and the local marketing representatives for the major ag manufacturers were fascinated with our timely, in-depth concept of presenting agricultural production news. It was the beginning of a 25-year run that has had a major impact on the way Western farmers access crop production news and information.
One of the most frequent questions during that first six months was people saying, “You know I have been getting that Farm Press for a couple of years now. How do you guys do it? Keep it up. It's great to get your paper every week.” It was amazing how quickly the new publication became established with its readers.
Of course, a large part of the past 25 years of success has been the support of loyal advertisers in California and Arizona. There were many of whom chose to be different and support our new start-up with their already fragmented advertising budgets. They were risk takers and leaders.
Fine people like George Thomas who owned the advertising agency representing Bank of America's ag division; Gordon Fullmer with International Harvester, Glenn Pitts with Helena Chemical; John Mitchell with Rohm and Haas, Roger Pirie with Germain's Seeds and his agency head, Lew Leeser; John Salmonson with Monterey Chemical, Charles Looney owner of Charles Looney Advertising; John Cooper with Monsanto; Jerry Pierce, owner of Pierce and Strain Advertising who handled Farm Credit Services and Hydro Agri; John Seymour with Sandoz; Jack Nikkel of Nikkel Iron Works; Penn and young Andrew Cummings of TG Schmeiser; David Fountain with Solex; John Payne with John Deere; Jerry Welker with Kimco; Bill Fruehling, agency owner handling Uniroyal and others; Joe Prochaska and Bruce Yergler with Ciba-Geigy; Lonnie Sloan of DuPont; Jeanne Selvester with Ketchum Advertising…and many more wonderful folks who were not only customers, but friends.
Affiliations and companies may have changed, but many of those mentioned remain active leaders in Western agriculture. Many have had opportunities to go elsewhere, but have remained committed to careers in Western agriculture.
My many years with Farm Press, and specifically the time I spent as a Fresnan in the Western market, represent some of the best years of my life, and I thank everyone who played a role in the success of Western Farm Press, from all the employees at Farm Press, past and present, to the advertisers who stepped up to the plate and took a gamble on us, to Bill McNamee who had the vision and courage to try new ventures, and especially the original crew in Fresno — Harry, Dan and Bonita. It was a great time. Congratulations to everyone at Farm Press on a great 25-year run! And my wishes for many more to come.
John Montandon went on to become president and publisher of Farm Press Publications. In 1996, after 21 years with the company, he and business partner Scott Smith launched Multi Ag Media, a diversified company with interests in print, broadcast and database management. Montandon is president and Co-CEO. He never left California and currently lives in Hermosa Beach, Calif. His e-mail is [email protected])