Sal Parra Jr. (Class 46)


Sal Parra Jr. (46) is the director of farming for Burford Ranch, a multigenerational family operation that grows a diversity of nut, vegetable and row crops on 10,000 acres. He is also an owner and partner of Coyula Farms, a family-owned operation that grows almonds, pistachios, wheat, alfalfa, corn and Angus beef cattle. Parra serves as chair of the Fresno County Farm Service Agency, board trustee for Golden Plains Unified School District, board director for the Fresno County Farm Bureau and director for the James Groundwater Sustainability Agency. He is a member of Class VII of the Western Growers Future Volunteer Leaders Program. Parra is a two-time graduate of Fresno State, earning his bachelor’s degree in agricultural business in 2008 and MBA in 2015. He completed his Ag Leadership fellowship in February 2017 and serves as a CALF Education Team liaison on the Ag Leadership Alumni Council.


How did Ag Leadership enable you to make a greater impact in agriculture, your business or organization, community and/or family?
Ag Leadership helped me become a more engaged leader, contributing to local boards and issues in agriculture. After commencing, I became very involved in our industry – diversifying and becoming involved in groups I previously had not interacted with, such as Western Growers. I accepted and engaged in social media efforts to promote agriculture. I also engaged with journalists in English and Spanish on issues related to drought and food prices. In my community, I have continued to serve on the local school board and regularly help mentor high school students, specifically students looking to agriculture as a career path. In my local Catholic church, my family and I regularly participate in fundraisers and youth groups.

Increased self-awareness is a hallmark of the Ag Leadership Program. What did you learn about yourself and your interactions with those around you?
I learned that my voice matters. The tone, volume and body language I display has an impact on how I am viewed and perceived and how effective my message is. With Ag Leadership, self-awareness taught me to adapt and modulate to situations and circumstances so I can effectively lead. In a stressful situation, the amygdala wants to take over, and though my initial response may be anger or stress, I remain focused and attentive to best address the issue. Self-awareness has made me a good listener by recognizing when I need to be one. Often, I listen to respond, especially in combative conversations. But increasingly I find myself listening to understand. Through understanding, I am able to relate. It does not mean I agree, but it is the first step in coming to an agreeable compromise.

How did the program help you develop your leadership skills and abilities?
Through my experience in the program, I learned to speak up and address uncomfortable and difficult conversations. Prior to the program, I was much more introverted and would hold back in many instances. In my family, I became more outspoken to provide my perspective, while also creating space for others to also voice their viewpoints. I learned to empower and support our employees, providing opportunities for growth, accountability and ownership.

What impact did the personal coaching make on your leadership capacity?
Personal coaching really helped me become accountable to myself. I learned to create attainable and specific goals. Subsequently, I created bookmarks and a roadmap to ensure I worked to achieve those goals. It is a tool that I continue to use today. Personal coaching also taught me to be disciplined. I learned that to achieve a goal I must be consistent with my behaviors and intentional to ultimately achieve what I am after. It means that at times I will fail but continue the path forward. A failure is a bump on the road and a learning opportunity to grow from that failure.

How has your understanding of your specific role as a leader changed?
I can only control myself and what I do. I can’t change someone else or their behavior without first changing my own behavior. To be an effective leader, I must model the behavior that I expect of others. In addition, as a leader I believe it is paramount that varying perspectives are heard and considered. To achieve this, a safe environment and space must be created so that those who traditionally would not be given the opportunity to speak or voice an opinion, can do so. Too often, decisions are made in a vacuum that affect those on the outside, so I believe it is imperative to listen to stakeholder feedback.

How has your view of the world around you changed and impacted your development as a leader?
The world around me is a beautiful place with beautiful people. Everyone has a unique story behind them and my appreciation for that has grown because of Ag Leadership. All too often, we hyperfocus on the negative. I believe it is important to understand that person and see the root cause of where the negativity may come from. If I can understand that perspective, maybe we can create a solution and maybe we can’t, but I have to at least make an effort to step outside of the box. By doing so, maybe that person will as well.

How will you continue to develop as a lifelong learner?
I continue to be a lifelong learner by engaging in Ag Leadership’s book club and First Fridays. I am excited for how the alumni learning curriculum is evolving and growing. In addition, I listen to a lot of podcasts that stimulate my mind to think. On average, I probably listen to two or three hours of podcasts per day. Most tend to revolve around health and fitness, which I believe is extremely important for my leadership journey. As of late, I am also listening and subscribing to audiobooks by Brené Brown and David Goggins to continue challenging myself to grow.

Why would you recommend Ag Leadership to others in agriculture?
I recommend Ag Leadership to leaders in agriculture because it will bring out the best in you. It will challenge you like nothing ever has, but out of that challenge will come tremendous growth that will greatly impact your job, community and family. Ag Leadership is a catalyst and catapults you to a new level of understanding yourself and your impact. Thank you to the donors who fund this program and are truly interested in growing leaders in our state and industry. The program is an investment in you, your company and the organizations you care about. The return on investment for the time you are away is immeasurable because individuals who truly immerse themselves in the program become tremendous leaders. Often it is noticeable within weeks of starting the program. I challenge anyone to look for any other leadership development program or graduate degree that does what the California Ag Leadership Program does. You will not find it.