(Jim Klinker, right, interviews an FFA member on the FFA Star Tours with Arizona FFA Foundation state board member Cash Veo, center)
Klinker is 2016 Agriculturist of the YearThe Arizona FFA Agriculturist of the Year award is given annually to a member of the agriculture community who has a strong spirit of leadership and who has made significant contributions to Arizona agriculture and the community.
This year’s recipient is especially fitting. It goes to Jim Klinker, executive secretary and chief administrative officer of the Arizona Farm Bureau Federation, who has devoted his long career to Arizona agriculture, and by extension, to the future of the industry in his support for FFA. He is to be presented the prestigious award during the Arizona Agricultural Education/FFA Foundation’s inaugural Blue & Gold Gala to be held the evening of Jan. 28 in Phoenix at the Marriott Airport Hotel.
The recognition comes as Klinker prepares to retire after 43 years with the Farm Bureau. Klinker said he is humbled by the recognition. “The room will be full of people who have done more than me.”
He also appreciates that he joins a long list of leaders in the agriculture industry who have been similarly honored over the years. “The list I have goes back to 1952 … most of these names I worked with over the years. Now my name will be amongst them. It’s very humbling.”
It is a very special award, said Kevin Rogers, board president of the Arizona Farm Bureau. “We all support a lot of organizations, but one of the most important things is our work with FFA … support the students in blue jackets and the future of the industry, to help train the next generation.”
The support of the Arizona FFA and its programs and activities has exploded under Klinker’s leadership, said Neil Schneider, director of development for the Arizona Agricultural Education/FFA Foundation. “I feel like he's been one of the most under-recognized leaders in the Arizona agriculture industry. Jim has given an extraordinary amount of time to the state FFA association over the years.”
Schneider said one of the most memorable things he recalls is when Klinker and Rogers were lead chefs for a barbecue for more than 100 FFA advisors during the state teachers conference last July. “They cooked and served, next to a hot barbecue trailer on a July afternoon, all to provide a special opportunity for those teachers to enjoy themselves and eat a delicious - and famous - Farm Bureau BBQ dinner.”
Schneider also noted that Klinker has been a fixture on the Stars Over Arizona selection tour, which annually selects the FFA Star State Farmer, Star State Greenhand (freshman member) and Star in Agribusiness. “He loves to get out in the country and meet the future leaders of the agriculture industry and has travelled thousands of miles for FFA interviewing the finalists.”
Klinker considers it a privilege that he got to judge the Star awards all those years since becoming the Farm Bureau administrator in 2001. “I was seeing the best of the best. We put a lot of miles on the vans going around the state on long back roads to get to some of these young people and their projects. It always recharged my batteries every year.”
He’s optimistic about the future of the agriculture industry with the interest in applied science fostered by FFA. “I know FFA is our future. We’re seeing a rebirth of our industry. More young people are going into it for the science. The classes are filling up.”
Recently, the Arizona Farm Bureau provided a substantial investment to help teachers improve their local agricultural education programs, Schneider noted. “Support like this comes from the top, and Jim is a big part of the financial support given to the Arizona FFA Foundation.”
The Arizona Farm Bureau also is also the presenting sponsor of the Blue & Gold Gala. “It’s not about recognizing people,” Klinker said. “It’s about drawing attention to the FFA program. The large urban population needs to understand the agriculture industry and appreciation for the youth program.”
The Arizona Farm Bureau is a volunteer organization of over 24,000 members with organized Farm Bureaus in 13 Arizona counties.
Klinker comes from a family farming operation in Nebraska. He and his brothers continue as farming partners in south-central Nebraska.
He is a graduate of the University of Nebraska with a bachelor's degree in agronomy. While at the university and prior to his four years serving as a medic in the United States Air Force, Klinker managed a chemical research farm for Stauffer Chemical Company.
In 1974, he moved to Arizona and joined the staff of the Arizona Farm Bureau. Over the years, he has served in a variety of positions, including Director of Organization, Director of Public Affairs during which he was the chief lobbyist for the farming organization, and been the administrator since 2001.
He has served on advisory committees for the state’s governors, beginning with Gov. Bruce Babbitt. His advisory service also included the Departments of Health Services, Water Resources, Agriculture, Environmental Quality and Revenue. Issues included hazardous waste, water and air quality, implementation of the 1980 groundwater code, pesticide regulations, small water systems regulations and the fair taxing of farmland.
In addition, he chaired the Arizona Chamber of Commerce Natural Resources Committee and was a board member of Arizona Tax Research.
The Arizona Cotton Growers Association, Arizona Nursery Association and the University of Arizona have recognized him for his service to the state’s agriculture sector.
The Arizona Farm Bureau board currently is undergoing the selection process for Klinker’s replacement, Rogers said. “He leaves very big shoes to fill."
After 43 years, Klinker said it was time to do something different, like keep his promise to his grandchildren to ride bikes to school with them. He intends to spend more time on the farm in Nebraska and he and his wife, Peggy, want to do some traveling. But they plan to continue to make their home in Mesa.
Win a John Deere Gator valued at $10,000. Raffle proceeds go to benefit Agricultural Education and FFA in Arizona. Tickets are $20 each and you can get them online NOW. Raffle conducted by the Arizona Agricultural Education/FFA Foundation. A 501(c)(3). Must be an Arizona resident over 18 years of age. Gator provided by Stotz Equipment, Arizona stores. More info and tickets HERE.