College of Agriculture


Charlie Hoppin

As a Chico State student in the mid-1960s, Charlie Hoppin scoffed at the school motto, "Today Decides Tomorrow," and lived by his own personal motto instead: "Today is the tomorrow I decided on yesterday." He had decided on his future long before entering college, and as far as he was concerned, he couldn't wait to get out of school and get on with his life. Now looking back on 40-plus years in the agriculture industry, the 2010 Distinguished Alumnus for the College of Agriculture has changed his opinion about the school motto. He marvels at the path his career has taken and credits Chico State for helping him develop some of the skills he needed to navigate it.

Until 2006, Charlie Hoppin was living his dream as a farmer—or at least his revised dream. "When I got out of college I wanted to be in the livestock business," Hoppin said. "I quickly shed the idea of going into livestock because I didn't want to live in poverty all my life." Hoppin's views on livestock stemmed from his experience as a student raising 300 head of sheep east of Highway 99 where the Chico Mall now sits. "That was really my first taste of poverty," Hoppin recalls. "When everyone else was having an extraordinary amount of fun going here or there, I was here. That was a good experience for me."

But not so good that he wanted to remain poor for the rest of his life. After a couple years working for ag-related businesses, Hoppin considers himself fortunate to have been able to start farming full time in the early 1970s. "I was able to start a farm because my wife (Kathy) worked as a school teacher, providing the income to pay the bills and weather the highs and lows of farming. I worked very hard, we didn't spend a lot of money, we lived within our means, and we were uniquely successful."

CR Hoppin Farms is a diversified farming operation in Yolo and Sutter counties. The family (Charlie, Kathy, son Casey, and daughter Kelly, who just received her secondary agriculture teaching credential from CSU, Chico) grows rice, fresh-market melons, seed sunflowers, walnuts, corn, and other crops.

Through his involvement in industry organizations during the course of his career, particularly in the rice industry, Hoppin began to develop another interest: politics. In 2001, Hoppin played a crucial role in getting the state legislature to enact the Tractor Tax Exemption as part of the state budget. The exemption has provided $110–115 million per year in tax relief to California farmers, and it levels the playing field between California and other states in regards to the tractor tax.

His experiences in working with legislators and state agencies led Hoppin to the realization that ordinary people can have an impact. "I'm just a normal person, but I took an interest and became involved in political activities that made a difference in our industry."

In 2006, Hoppin turned over the day-to-day farm management to his son, Casey, and accepted Governor Schwarzenegger's appointment to the State Water Resources Control Board. The influential board sets and enforces statewide policy regulating water quality and water rights in California. The board also administers the state revolving fund, which provides low-interest loans to municipalities to help them bring their waste treatment plants and drinking water plants up to the specifications the board places on them. The first appointee ever to have come from the board's regulated community, Hoppin viewed the appointment as an opportunity to inject a sense of the practical implications of board regulations into the decision-making process. In 2009 the governor appointed Hoppin chair of the board, so what had previously taken most of his time now takes all of it. "If you ask me what I do today I guess I'm a regulator, but when I brush my teeth and shave in the morning, I still see a farmer," Hoppin said.

It's probably not where he saw himself headed in 1966, but Hoppin credits his experiences at Chico State for helping him get where he is today. "I think the most important thing about my college education was learning to have the discipline to do things that I didn't necessarily want to do," Hoppin said. "I had classes that I thoroughly enjoyed, and I had classes that I knew I would never need to use in my life, but I had to take it to graduate. One of those was chemistry, and I couldn't have been more wrong. Chemistry is something I really would have benefited by learning more about." Whether it's changing course when his business models and projections don't work out as expected, or learning the complex intricacies of water regulations throughout the state, Hoppin calls upon the discipline he developed at Chico State on a regular basis.

He also has fond memories of the people who supported him during his college education, such as Jack Nolan, who taught sheep husbandry and a diesel power class. "Jack wore overalls, smoked a cigar, and had a limp from an injury in World War II, and he was a role model for me. Jack would come by our barbecues and parties because he really liked us and wanted to see what would become of us. He would call on a regular basis, and we stayed in constant contact until he passed away in 2007. It was gratifying to know that a professor really cared about me."

In addition to his role on the water board, Hoppin also serves on the Board of Directors of Farmer's Rice Cooperative and on the Chico State Agricultural Advisory Council. His success as a farmer, his remarkable service to the agriculture industry, and his support of the College of Agriculture led to his selection as the college's 2010 Distinguished Alumnus, for which he was honored at a campuswide celebration on April 23, 2010. He also spent time that day speaking with agriculture students and encouraging them to be active in their industry. "I can look back and point to things that changed because of my involvement," Hoppin told students. "Ordinary people can have a tremendous influence."

Now that he thinks about it, the Chico State motto wasn't that far off. "When I look what I'm doing now the motto fits perfectly because with my work in the regulatory arena with the State Water Resources Control Board and my involvement with political activities, I know I'm having some input in shaping our tomorrow—not just tomorrow as in Saturday of this week, but the tomorrow for my children. So I've really come full circle with the motto, it means a lot more to me today than it did when I was in college."