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Wishnatzki Farms official has agriculture and finance in his blood

J.C. Clinard knew early in life that his career would follow a path similar to that of his father, mother and grandfather. Today, at age 29, that's exactly the path he's on.

"My grandfather, Thomas P. (Buck) Clinard, managed a fresh citrus packinghouse in Lake Placid [FL] until he retired," said Mr. Clinard, who is chief financial officer of Wishnatzki Farms in Plant City, FL. "While my dad, Jim Clinard, is in banking, he also owns and operates 100-plus acres of citrus groves. My mother, Terry Lynn Youngblood, owns and operates two acres of blueberries. I was exposed to and have worked in these operations since I was a child."

Following high school, Mr. Clinard enrolled in the University of Florida and earned a bachelor's degree in food and resource economics in 2001. "I wasn't able to find a suitable career, so I went on to earn a master's degree in business management, also from UF," he said. "I then completed a master's degree in business administration in December 2007."

Mr. Clinard was working during his extensive education period. He began with Farm Credit of Central Florida in Lakeland in 2002. During his tenure, he worked his way up from a credit analyst to a corporate lender.

"As a lender, I was exposed to many leaders in our industry, and I took every opportunity to learn about the challenges facing their businesses," he said. "I also gained knowledge of various industries within agriculture, including nurseries, timber, strawberries, vegetables, citrus, poultry and even a little about ethanol."

With his career progressing nicely at Farm Credit, Mr. Clinard suddenly was afforded the opportunity to work for Wishnatzki Farms, a lending account he had handled since 2003. Mr. Clinard impressed its president, Gary Wishnatzki, and discussions about joining the firm began between the two in 2006.

"The decision was difficult," said Mr. Clinard. "Gary and I had many talks, and I spent a great deal of time deciding if I should continue down my current path working with several agribusinesses, or jump into one.

"The rest is history," he continued. "Gary convinced me it was time for an exciting change in my life. In April 2007, I agreed to join his team and manage Wishnatzki Farms' finances. The company is in a rapid growth mode, so every day brings a new set of challenges, opportunities and experiences."

Making that leap of faith has resulted in an outstanding relationship among Mr. Wishnatzki, Mr. Clinard and other staff members at Wishnatzki Farms. "Gary is the most fair and the best employer imaginable," said Mr. Clinard. "He is dedicated and loyal to his entire staff. We have about 55 people in the managerial staff, and at the peak of our season we'll employ from 800 to 1,000 people."

Mr. Clinard's introduction to Wishnatzki Farms came while he was working on his master's degree. His best friend, Jeremy Burris, had already graduated and was in the workforce.

"My agriculture career counselor approached me and said there was a job opportunity at a company in Plant City," said Mr. Clinard. "Jeremy was interested in the ag industry, so I passed the information on to him. That company turned out to be Wishnatzki Farms, and Jeremy was hired. He is still with the company today as a salesman. When I was with Farm Credit, the Wishnatzki account came to me through Jeremy."

Today, Messrs. Burris and Clinard continue their close friendship, and spend a lot of personal time together.

"I got him a job and he got me a job - both with Wishnatzki," said Mr. Clinard. "We enjoy telling this story of how fate brought us together at the same company."

Since starting with Wishnatzki, Mr. Clinard has acquired many of the qualities needed to succeed in the produce industry, such as flexibility, responsiveness, constant planning and split-second decision-making.

Mr. Clinard spent his first year at Wishnatzki learning about the firm's finance trends of recent years and studying the industry. Today his job is to assess real estate holdings to determine if the company is in the right places for efficiency purposes. He and his staff of five people oversee all the financials aspects of the company. They manage cash flow and provide indicator reports to sales, operations and farm staff. His task is to determine the economic and financial success of any function or decision that affects the company's finances.

His job description and level of responsibility may suggest he has no time for a personal life, but that's far from true. He and his wife of five years, Niki Clinard, a nurse practitioner, spend their free time on the ocean fishing and boating.

"We both grew up in families that loved to fish, so we brought that pastime into our marriage together," said Mr. Clinard. "We also enjoy horseback riding, which Niki always loved and I have now embraced."

Mr. Clinard is also dedicated to his father, and feels spending time with him is imperative.

"Dad and I go elk hunting every year in Colorado or New Mexico," he said. "It's a father-son tradition we started about five years ago. It's our special week together."

Regarding the future of the produce industry, Mr. Clinard has some interesting insights.

"There is no such thing as long-term plans in this industry because the world changes constantly," he said. "I think many trends of today will continue, especially consolidations. Small companies are having a harder time making it so are often forced or willing to sell to larger firms.

"Traceability will continue to be of key importance," he continued. "Buyers and consumers alike are demanding to know the source of their food. This also drives overhead higher because traceability programs are costly undertakings. Imports have, for the most part, become cheaper sources of produce. But food-safety issues with our international competitors are serious. Congress must make the necessary changes regarding our international competitors in regard to unfair and unsafe trading."

Mr. Clinard said that labor would continue to have a significant impact on the industry because of the increasing challenges of securing seasonal workers. He feels that the government will be forced to recognize the labor needs that will help ensure that U.S. companies can survive.

"The industry will also continue to increase its dependency on technology," he said. "We will become a lot more technically savvy because we are learning how to use information to our advantage. The days of 'dad taught me how to grow vegetables' is coming to an end, and technological practices that ensure more efficiency will prevail in the future."