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Column: Agriculture loses an innovator, visionary and true friend

It didn’t take long for Danny Walker’s phone to begin ringing and keep ringing once the news of Jim Kuhn’s fatal vehicle accident spread across the Imperial Valley on the afternoon of Aug. 29.

Walker of JCDS Farms in Westmorland echoed the sentiments of others in the alfalfa and forage industry who knew Jim as a loyal friend and an innovator who always took time to lend a helping hand whenever the occasion arose. The 41 year old Kuhn, says Walker, “touched so many people and made an impression on everyone he met.”

Over the next several days we received several calls, primarily from the San Joaquin Valley, from stunned members of the alfalfa and forage industry who had heard the news. We first met Jim in 2000 at the Alfalfa Symposium in Las Vegas and it seemed as though half of the people there stopped by the CAFA table asked “is Jim Kuhn here.”

The longer we got to know Jim the more we were amazed at what he accomplished since returning to the family farm in El Centro in 1985. His friend Danny Walker, who replaced Jim on CAFA’s board of directors, once quipped that the reason he got things done is that “he never sleeps.”

Jim was a major force in the export market, making many trips to Japan and introduced kleingrass to the Imperial Valley. With some 300 employees in various enterprises, including Kuhn Farms, Kuhn Hay, KF Dairy and Imperial Valley Cheese, it might seem that little time was left for anything else, especially since Jim took a keen interest in all facets of the business. But those who knew him remarked about his dedication to his family, and his many interests, including his desire to promote the Imperial Valley. His passion for photographing birds, for example, led to establishment of the Salton Sea International Bird Festival.

Knowing his busy schedule, we were reluctant to call Jim unless it was absolutely necessary. Whenever we tracked him down on his cell phone or at home, there was never a hint of impatience or irritation at being asked for help or advice. He always took the time to listen and then offer his opinion. A founding member of CAFA, Jim’s passion for defending agriculture was evident in a comment he made when the association was being formed. “Farmers over and over try to explain that we have the safest food in the world, truly use water in a beneficial way, and are the most sincere stewards of the land and its surrounding habitat. In the case of forages, the question is: Do we have a voice to be heard?

As a CAFA board member, Jim helped ensure that a voice would be heard with the publishing of the 24-page booklet, Alfalfa, Wildlife and the Environment, which addresses stewardship, water efficiency and habitat for birds and other animals. He worked tirelessly to keep his promise of raising the funds needed to bring the booklet to fruition. His passing has left a huge void and CAFA is making plans to honor his memory.

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