John Harris, of Harris Ranch, named top ag person by Fresno chamber

John Harris, one of Fresno County's leading farmers and ranchers, was named the 2014 Agriculturist of the Year by the Fresno Chamber of Commerce on Friday.

Harris is the founder of Harris Ranch, a diversified farming company that produces beef, almonds, pistachios, citrus and several vegetable crops.

The Harris farming enterprise also includes Harris Ranch Restaurant and Inn on Interstate 5.

"It is always an honor to be recognized by your peers," Harris said.

The award was announced Friday in the Agriculture Building at the Big Fresno Fair.

Also honored was HMC Farms of Kingsburg, which received the 2014 Baker Peterson Franklin Ag Business Award.

Harris, whose beef products are sold throughout the West, said that despite the challenges the ongoing drought has created for farmers, the agriculture industry is continuing to produce.

"It is like a horse race," Harris said. "You can't pull up now; you have to keep striving."

As one of the largest and most diverse farmers in the region, Harris credits his success to several qualities: tenacity, inquisitiveness, strong work ethic and respect.

"One of the things I have learned in business is that you have to develop good relationships from the top to the bottom," Harris said. "And that means from the people who buy what you produce to the people who produce for you."

Along with farming, Harris has been active in breeding and racing thoroughbred horses.

His ranch has produced several California champions and raised California Chrome, winner of the 2014 Kentucky Derby and Preakness.

Harris is also active in several community and industry organizations, including Saint Agnes Medical Center, the California Cattlemen's Association and the Western Growers Association. He is an active donor to his alma mater, the University of California at Davis, and has supported Fresno State and California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo.

HMC Farms was founded in 1887 and current leader Harold McClarty represents the fourth generation of the family-run company.

The tree fruit and grape grower distributes fruit worldwide and has developed innovative packaging for many of its products.

McClarty has also helped HMC become known for its philanthropy. HMC Farms donates 1 million pounds of fruit to the Community Food Bank annually. And the McClarty family donated $1 million to Reedley College for a new Fine & Performing Arts building.

The family also donated $10,000 to the Western Growers Foundation, which awarded Oakland schools funds to plant gardens and teach nutrition to elementary school students.

McClarty said that when he first started in business he felt as though he had nothing to lose.

He also learned to be a risk taker.

"I knew that if we were going to make it, we had to stay ahead of the curve and not be tentative about making decisions," McClarty said.

"You have to accept that you will fail, and if you don't fail you are not making any progress."

HMC Farms and Harris will be formally honored at the Ag Awards Luncheon on Oct. 29 at TorNino's in Fresno.

Tickets are available through the Fresno Chamber of Commerce, or (559) 495-4800.