July 8, 2019

Ag Career by Choice Not Birth

Franz De Klotz

Richard Bagdasarian Inc.

Mecca, CA

Director Since 2019 | Member Since 2003

Unlike so many others in this industry, Franz De Klotz was not born into agriculture. His father was a physician and his mother a nurse. However, he did grow up in Fresno, CA, and always had an affinity for agriculture.

“I grew up in the Fig Garden development in Fresno where many of the houses were on one-acre plots,” he said, noting the family always had a vegetable garden and fruit trees in their backyard.

De Klotz was drawn to that work, and even though his folks were in the medical field, when he was a teenager he looked for jobs on the farms in the surrounding communities. Coincidentally, he remembers working for several different fig farms in nearby Madera when he was a teenager.

After high school, he went to the University of California at Davis and then transferred to Fresno State to study viticulture. It was an apropos major as he and his father had just established a vineyard in Madera. “We planted it ourselves. I remember putting in lots of end posts,” he recalls.

The 200-acre vineyard consisted of French Colombard and Chenin Blanc grapes, and it is still in the family today.

After graduating from college in 1983, De Klotz was advised to join California’s Agricultural Inspection Service as a way to improve his ag knowledge and meet prospective employers. In fact, he spent a year inspecting grapes vines in the Coachella and San Joaquin valleys.

In 1985, he was hired by Sun World and worked for them for three years in various capacities, including in the company’s foodservice division at the Irvine Ranch in Orange County. That led to a position with Sysco in their Los Angeles office.

After several years there, he went back to Sun World to work with the firm on managing some of its proprietary crops including the Superior Seedless grape and the Le Rouge Royale pepper. Those were life-changing times for DeKlotz as he met his future wife, who just happened to be the granddaughter of the Los Angeles citrus industry icon, Sam Perricone. After he was married, he went to work in the family business until the Perricone operation was sold in 1999.

That led back to where his career started in California’s Coachella Valley and a position with his current firm, Richard Bagdasarian Inc. “My task, and the reason I came back, was to start Pasha Marketing, which is the company’s vegetable division,” he said. “I have been here ever since as vice president of marketing for both Pasha and Bagdasarian.”

Bagdasarian is a longtime Coachella Valley produce company founded by Richard Bagdasarian in the 1950s. His bookkeeper, Lucille Tidwell, became a partner in the operation and the eventual owner after Mr. Bagdasarian passed in 1966. She was a true pioneering woman in California’s table grape industry. Her son-in-law, Mike Bozick, helped her run the company and grandson Nick Bozick is the current president.

De Klotz said the farming operation controls about 5,000 acres in the Coachella Valley, with 2,500 devoted to citrus (mostly lemons), 1,500 to grapes and 1,000 to vegetables. The vegetable operation grows a variety of crops including green, yellow and red bell peppers, eggplant, green beans, Brussels sprouts and seedless watermelon. The division was an early adopter of organic vegetables and is currently transitioning an entire ranch to organics to be compliant with rules and regulations dealing with organic production.

De Klotz remembers first becoming aware of Western Growers when his mentor at Sun World, Carl Sam Maggio, was heavily involved in the association. In fact, he recently found an old memo that he had sent to Mr. Maggio when he was a young man expressing an interest in the organization and asking if he could become more involved. De Klotz remembers that former WGA presidents Dave Moore and Daryl Arnold shared a condo in the Palm Springs area, which is where he first became acquainted with the association’s leadership. He counted both men friends in those early years of his career.

“I was honored when I was asked if I would consider serving on the board. The history of Western Growers is a long one and I have always thought very highly of the organization. Mr. (Tom) Nassif is one of the great leaders in our industry.”

De Klotz has been active in agricultural organizations in the Coachella Valley including serving on the boards of both the local water district and mosquito abatement program. “I think of it as a way to give back to the community and in that same way I am happy to serve at Western Growers and try to help enhance the profitability of agriculture.”

Franz and his wife, Judy, have four kids, two in college (Emerson at Santa Clara University and Parker at USC) and two still in high school (Lloyd and Olivia).

Looking back at his career in agriculture, he quotes the great Willie Mays talking about his life in baseball: “I can’t believe they pay me to do this,” he quipped.