College of Agriculture


Dennis Choate

In the mid-1970s, when Dennis Choate was thinking about what he wanted to study in college, his parents encouraged him to major in anything besides agriculture. But summers spent on his uncle's farm in Gridley, Calif. convinced Choate that agriculture was exactly the career he wanted to pursue.

"I liked being outdoors, working with plants and machinery. I got to make things, fix things, and solve problems," Choate recalled.

He pictured himself one day managing a farm or ranch in Northern California. That dream led him to attend California State University, Chico and set him on the path to being named the 2011 Distinguished Alumnus for the College of Agriculture.

Choate graduated in 1980 with a bachelor of science in agronomy. A summer internship with Asgrow Seed Company led into a full-time job and a career. After 20 years with Asgrow Seed Company, he embarked on his current career path at Harris Moran Seed Company.

Choate is now the vice president of production, operations, and quality control for Harris Moran, which is a part of the largest independently-held seed company in the world. He provides strategic leadership for the company's production and operation activities, translating business needs from the market and the customers into a crop plan. A large part of Choate's job includes managing people. "You have to understand people's needs and work to help them grow in their profession," said Choate.

Choate attributes much of his success to his experiences at CSU, Chico. "The faculty at Chico State were great teachers who could reach students on different levels and present material in a way that anyone could understand," said Choate. "Chico State taught me to balance my life between class, work, and a social life, which was instrumental in my ability to balance my career and family life." He also thanks Chico for allowing him to meet his wife, Shawn. They met in August 1979 while they were both attending CSU, Chico.

Because of his love for agriculture, Choate has a passion for reaching out to those with little or no agriculture experience and teaching them about agriculture and its importance to the world. With encouragement from his wife, Choate developed a pumpkin patch at Harris Moran for children to come and pick pumpkins and gain a firsthand experience of agriculture. The program is free of charge and designed for kindergarten through second grade students. Each year the pumpkin patch has about 1,500 student visitors. "I like being able to work with kids and teach them basic agriculture literacy," said Choate. "At the pumpkin patch we teach them about plant growth and seeds so the kids are able to go home with an agriculture experience."

Though Choate spends all week working for an agriculture company, one of his favorite things to do on his time off is farm. Choate and his family own a small cherry orchard where they sell cherries roadside and commercially. When selling the cherries roadside, Choate often takes the opportunity to introduce customers to agriculture. "I enjoy meeting people and customers," said Choate. "Sometimes I load people up in my old truck and take them on a little tour of our orchard to introduce them to agriculture and the process behind agriculture production." Dennis and Shawn do much of the production work themselves. Another one of Choate's pastimes is restoring his 1954 Chevrolet 6400 two-ton flatbed truck.

Dennis and Shawn have two children, Bryan and Bonny. Bonny graduated from CSU, Chico with a bachelor of science in agricultural business in Dec. 2010. She now works for Head Start Nursery in Gilroy, Calif. Bryan is a lineman for Pacific Gas and Electric in River Bank, Calif.

Choate continues to remain involved in his alma mater as a member of the CSU, Chico Agriculture Advisory Board, which provides industry guidance to faculty and staff on the direction of the agriculture program. "It's part of my responsibility, as I've grown in my career, to give something back," said Choate.

Given the chance to advise students, Choate said, "Don't worry about learning too much in college. Learn the basics, how to analyze and how to problem solve. In an agriculture career you will learn as you go."

Choate distinctly remembers a plant pathology class where the instructor told his students, "I have good news and bad news. The bad news is that only 50 percent of what I'm teaching you is right. The good news is that you will learn the rest through experience."

"That's been true in my career," said Choate. "Agriculture changes so rapidly that what we do now is very different than what we were taught."

Taking a cue from his own unexpected career path to vice president of a global seed company, Choate encourages students to spend some time learning about other parts of the world. "Agriculture and feeding people is a global business. Whether they stay in Northern California or go elsewhere, students need to understand the global nature and global impact of what they do."

The bottom line, Choate said, is, "whatever you choose to do, pick something you like because you will be doing it a long time."

Choate was honored as the 2011 College of Agriculture's Distinguished Alumnus at a university-wide ceremony in the Bell Memorial Union on April 15, 2011.