Jim Kuhn Memorial Farmer of the Year Award
2009 - Larry Gilbert
Click here for images from the 2009 Farmer of the Year banquet.
Larry Gilbert: 2009 Farmer of the Year
As the Imperial Valley was being settled, and the Colorado River’s flooding was finally being contained, a young family arrived in the Valley and began clearing and farming 80 acres in the Jasper area near Calexico. Just over 100 years later, the descendants of that young family are still farming this Valley.
Our 2009 Farmer of the Year is among the descendants of that pioneer family, and has himself been involved in Imperial Valley agriculture for nearly 50 years.
Larry Gilbert was born in Heber in 1940, just one month before the second-largest earthquake to ever strike Imperial Valley hit. His parents had left him home with a babysitter for the first time when the 6.9 quake struck at 8:37pm on May 18. They rushed home to find him unscathed, but it was quite some time before they left him at home again.
In 1949, Larry and his parents moved from Heber to the Rose-Mesquite area east of Imperial, where Ralph Gilbert, Larry’s father, was farming land with his brother Arthur. Larry grew up working the farm with his family, learning about crops, soil and irrigation from his father, uncle and grandfather.
After graduating from Imperial High School, Larry left home to study agronomy, soil science and irrigation at Cal Poly, Pomona, where he served as student body president and was selected as the college’s outstanding agriculture student his senior year. He received his Bachelor’s degree in 1962, and then returned to the Imperial Valley where he began working with his dad on his family’s farm. He continued farming with his father until Ralph’s untimely death in 1976.
On October 22, 1965, Larry married Miss Cassie Northcutt, and they settled into a home on their farm, where they continue to live today. Their four children, Stanley, Laura, Colleen and Candace, were raised on the farm.
They say that raising children is a learning experience, and his kids taught Larry a very serious lesson one year about where to plant wheat. He had planted wheat in the field adjacent to their house, and the kids discovered that a wheat field could make a great playhouse. They spent a few glorious months making an intricate network of mazes and play areas by smashing the young, tender plants into the ground. By the time he discovered it, half the field was laying flat, which made harvesting quite a challenge that year. He never planted wheat next to the house again.
When the kids entered school, Larry took an active role in their education, serving two four-year terms on the Imperial Unified School District board, and participating in 4-H and FFA activities.
He has always been eager to learn new things and study new technologies. Larry was among the first to use pan evaporation data for irrigation scheduling and among the first to begin using evapo-transpiration data when it became available. In the late 1970s, years before Bill Gates had created Windows, Larry purchased one of the earliest personal computers and began using it to help manage his farm.
Larry has long been an innovator in water conservation. He developed a computer program that used weather data and other information to more accurately estimate the timing and quantity of water needed for each irrigation. He helped develop the Farm Bureau’s on-farm conservation plan, and testified extensively in the proceedings that surrounded the QSA and water transfers.
Over the years, Larry has served as a Farm Bureau board member for 40 years, including serving as the board President. He has been actively involved in agricultural activities on the state level, and even on the national level as well, serving as a delegate to the American Farm Bureau Federation and as the AFBF Wheat Committee Chairman. He has served on the California Wheat Commission, and numerous California Farm Bureau committees. He was recognized for his service on the state level with the California Farm Bureau’s Distinguished Service Award, that entity's highest honor, in 2001.
Locally, Larry has participated in the Whitefly Management Committee, the Cotton Pest Abatement District committee, and the Imperial Grain Growers board. He was among the initial members of the IID’s Water Conservation Advisory Board and has been a member of that board nearly all of its 30 years of existence. He has also served on the El Centro Kiwanis Club, and has been an active member of the Church of Christ for more than 50 years.
In recent years, Larry has cut back his own farming to concentrate again on learning new things and developing new paths. As Executive Vice President of Agricultural Operations at California Ethanol + Power, Larry helps manage the farm operations for about 500 acres of sugar cane in the Imperial Valley. This includes researching and testing new varieties of sugar cane, and optimizing irrigation and water management techniques to maximize efficiency and productivity. He continues to study and develop water conservation methods, and is still actively involved in agricultural and water matters.Therefore, on the day of his 44th wedding anniversary, we are pleased to present the 2009 Jim Kuhn Memorial Farmer of the Year award to Larry Gilbert.