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George “Mickey” Kenneson

George “Mickey” Kenneson has been part of the Fresno County farming community his entire life. Kenneson was born in Fresno in 1934, and raised in Kerman, where he still lives today. He has spent his whole life on the farm in Kerman, where he took over the partnership from his father in 1953, as a third-generation farmer.

Today, Kenneson farms in Kerman with his nephew, Steve Dee. He farms nearly 1,300 acres of raisins, 160 acres of alfalfa, and 80 acres of cotton. In the past, he also has farmed peaches, grain and apricots. In addition, he and his nephew process and package their own raisins through the family company, Sunset Raisin and Nut. Kenneson also is part-owner of the cooperative Sun Empire Foods of Kerman, a confection plant specializing in fruit and nut candies and specialty foods.

It is not uncommon for someone to run into Kenneson while he is wearing his blue-jean overalls and well-worn baseball cap, which may remind you of clothing that you would see on a farmer depicted in a Fresno County history book. However, beneath this stereotypical exterior, you find an innovative farmer and sharp business entrepreneur. Not only is Kenneson a good businessman, he is funny and charismatic too, whose sense of humor has been shared throughout his tenure with FCFB.

The long-time farmer has spent almost as much time on the Fresno County Farm Bureau Board of Directors as he has on the farm. To put things in perspective, Kenneson’s first year on the board was when Leslie W. Thonesen was president from 1970-1972.

Kenneson believes FCFB has an important role in education. “Our purpose is to educate people about agriculture and what it is that we’re doing,” Kenneson said. He has done his part to help educate the public, having hosted school teachers, reporters and others on his farm throughout his long-time involvement with FCFB. He also believes that Farm Bureau has a political role and feels that politics is an area where we need to provide even greater education about agriculture.

During his years of involvement with FCFB, Kenneson has served on several committees. He highlights his experience and the education he has received from the organization as being very rewarding. He also values the relationships that were formed throughout his FCFB tenure. Kenneson was recognized for his extensive involvement with the FCFB and his dedication to Fresno County agriculture by receiving the Distinguished Service Award in 2003.

I have met and done business with a lot of nice people,” Kenneson said. “The organization has always done well because of a very good volunteer staff. As long as we all work together, we will have a strong organization.”

He feels that the agriculture industry is unique in how different agencies and organizations work together. “The FFA, 4-H and the Farm Bureau are all intermeddled in one way or the other,” Kenneson said. “Between these groups, bank co-ops, farm advisors, production credit, farmers, agriculture research and the University of California, we must all work together to keep the agriculture industry successful.”

Kenneson believes there are three major challenges facing California agriculture that are pressing. “At the present time, we need to address government intervention, water and labor,” Kenneson said. Even though the issues continue to change, Kenneson believes that the role of the Farm Bureau remains the same -- to educate.

The Early Days         

Ever since he was a little boy, Kenneson has loved the outdoors. When he wasn’t working, he loved to hunt and fish in his spare time. He also enjoyed working in the shop when he had the opportunity. Even though he doesn’t engage in all of the outdoor recreation he once did, his work ethic remains one of his strongest attributes.

Outside of farming and FCFB, Kenneson served on the Kerman State Bank Board of Directors for five years. Kenneson had a brief absence from farming in the 1950s, when he was drafted and served for the U.S. Army for two years between the Korean War and Vietnam War. He feels that his time in the military was a good experience and frequently reminisces about his days in the Army.

Kenneson has never lacked confidence. When he talks about his business, his life, or his involvement with FCFB, he talks with great confidence. In a short tour of the facilities, you can’t help but notice how much he loves his business, his land, his product, and most importantly, people.

Long-Time Farmer Has Seen Changes

Since Kenneson took over the farm in 1953, one can imagine the amount of changes he has seen over the last 53 years.
Kenneson believes that improved water conditions have made farming much easier. “There use to be a great deal of pumping from underground water sources, because a lot of years, you may not have any water after April or May,” he said. “Control of the King’s River has made a big difference for us. Instead of having to pump water from underground throughout the dry months, we can now pull from the river to irrigate.”

Kenneson has seen improvements in technology and in the chemicals applied to the land. Not only have improved harvesters and tractors help to reduce labor input and allow for quicker harvest, he credits improved pest management practices as doing wonders for agriculture. Farmers can produce more with less land. He also has noticed a trend in switching from row crops to permanent crops due to increased input costs and labor shortages.

Kenneson says a big adjustment in the industry has been government intervention. “As farmers, we have to keep more records,” Kenneson said. “To do things now, you have to keep good records.” He feels that a lot of the records that farmers have to keep today are due to different approach to fill the needs of consumers through cleanliness and stewardship towards the environment.

When Kenneson looks into a crystal ball to determine what agriculture will look like in 25 years, he feels the industry will be more efficient. According to Kenneson, there eventually will be a need for everyone to have some sort of drip or sprinkler irrigation; plants will need to grow faster and more productive; and plants will need to be more drought-tolerant. He also projects that agriculture will be more technical, and there will be more and more bookkeeping.

Whether talking about the past, present or future of agriculture, Kenneson never fails to display his sense of humor. When asked what he loves most about agriculture, Kenneson said, “It keeps me eating; it keeps me busy; it builds up my high blood pressure.”

While Kenneson is known for his overalls and well-worn baseball cap, he may be most famous for his chocolate-covered strawberries. You could always count on his delicious chocolate-covered fruit during the FCFB Annual Banquet in the spring.

 

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