The tree nut industry lost one of its biggest champions at the end of June with the death of Tos Farms’ Bill Tos, but the legacy he leaves behind will continue to impact the industry for years to come.
From his involvement with the California Walnut Board (CWB) to his interest in research to his love for farming, Tos left a lasting impression on both the people and the direction of the tree nut industry. Tos was one of the largest walnut growers in the state of California, but those who knew him say his legacy goes far beyond that.
“His legacy in the walnut industry is going to be his leadership, his involvement and the direction of the walnut industry,” said Gary Ford, executive chairman of Diamond Foods. “From being on the board to serving on various committees over the last 30 years, Bill’s legacy is with his positive involvement in every aspect of the walnut industry from marketing to cultural practices to seeking help from our elected officials.”
Tos served in a variety of positions on the Walnut Board over the past 30 years, most recently as chairman of the executive committee. He also served on the Board of Directors of Diamond Walnuts and the Diamond Walnut Grower Advisory Committee and was president of the Sequoia Walnut Grower Association.
“Bill Tos served the California walnut industry as an elected leader for over 30 years in numerous volunteer roles on the California Walnut Board and Commission Board of Directors, committees and working groups,” said Robert Verloop, CWB executive director. “Bill was a growers’ representative as well as handler representative for Diamond Foods. Regardless of his position, Bill was an advocate for all growers and wore an industry hat when he came to the table.”
Tos was a third-generation farmer growing walnuts and almonds at Tos Farms, the family business founded in 1912. He joined his father, uncle and brother as part of the business in 1981, and his love for the job was well-known.
“When we walked in his family walnut orchards, his love for farming was front and center,” Verloop said. “He talked about the beauty and serenity of his well-groomed orchard and how he enjoyed watching the season progress from bare limbs in the winter until the late summer harvest.”
Although his family had a rich history in the tree nut industry, he wasn’t afraid of change, throwing his support behind industry research.
“Bill was known to look out for the industry’s best interest, especially when it came to the importance of production research,” Verloop said. “With pride, he showed me his plantings of new varieties, the result of the Walnut Improvement Program, for which he was a vigorous proponent.”
Former CWB Research Director Dave Ramos credits Tos with being a key player in setting the long-range direction of the Walnut Improvement Program.
“He was responsible for the industry’s approval for launching a five-year strategic plan in 2013 to advance walnut genomics and bring marker-assisted breeding to full application in the breeding program,” Ramos said. “He also made the motion that resulted in doubling the walnut breeding program endowment to bring it up to $2 million [now valued at over $3.6 million].”
Tos also served as chair of the CWB’s Production Research Committee where he was responsible for oversight of grower investments in research.
“He approached proposals with healthy skepticism and asked incisive questions but was always supportive and open to useful new ideas, had a wide vision in support of immediate problems, and kept his eyes over the horizon to support long-term projects directed to the future health of the industry,” said Pat J. Brown and Chuck Leslie of the UC Davis Walnut Improvement Program.
Never the loudest person in the room, Tos was a quiet leader, nearly always listening to everyone else before he let his opinions on a topic be known.
“Bill had a quiet approach during meetings, listening to both sides of an issue, but when the time required it, he would calmly share with others his well-thought-out position,” Verloop said.
Ford’s experience working with Tos was similar.
“He was a great listener,” Ford said. “He did not ask a lot of questions, but when Bill asked a question, it was always relevant and a question that should have been asked. He was a thoughtful, driven, results-oriented businessperson who cared deeply about people.”
But just because Tos was a listener didn’t mean he didn’t have things to say.
“From the first day, Bill struck me as a straightforward person,” said Andreas Westphal, UC ANR Extension nematologist. “In his various roles within the California Walnut Board, he always impressed me with his well-thought-through comments and questions.”
Tos also wasn’t afraid to speak the truth, even it if wasn’t what the person he was speaking with wanted to hear.
“My relationship with Bill was very valuable to me,” Ford said. “I knew I was going to get the absolute truth from Bill. Bill was never going to tell me what I wanted to hear. He was always going to tell me what I needed to hear.”
While Tos loved farming, he also invested heavily in relationships with those both inside and outside the industry.
“He was a very people-oriented businessperson,” Ford said. “He spent most of the past 25 years actively involved in the Walnut Board, primarily as a board member. He took many trips to Washington to meet with our elected officials and was very good at that. He knew how to form relationships with people working on his ranch and how to do the same with people who were in Washington working for us. It’s not easy for people to be as diversified in their relationships as he was.”
And Tos’ love of his family and community came through to everyone he met. He and his wife Linda were married for 42 years, and they had three children and five grandchildren.
“Most of my relationship with Bill has been work-related and walnut-related,” Ford said. “Outside of the business, outside of farming, Bill’s faith and his family always came first. That was clear. He was a good man. I don’t know that I’ve ever heard anyone say anything negative about Bill Tos. He was very well-respected not just within the walnut industry but also within the Hanford, Calif. community.”
When it came to giving back to the community, Tos was involved with the Education and Agriculture Together Foundation where he could share his knowledge and love of agriculture with teachers who would then take that information back to their classrooms to help students understand the importance of agriculture in their lives. He was also active on the boards of Hanford Christian School and Central Valley Christian School in an effort to make a Christian education available to more students.
Whether he was running his business, advocating for the industry or serving on a board or committee, Tos’ quiet presence will be missed.
“I will always remember Bill as an exceptional person. I appreciated his Christian values, his intelligence and humility and wonderful personality that always made me feel so good just to be with him,” said Robert Lea, long-time Diamond Foods and Walnut Board member.
And Tos’ impact on the industry will not be forgotten.
“He was always available to share the history of a topic, presenting insights and options. His counsel was invaluable in my first year,” Verloop said. “We will miss Bill’s participation, contributions and warm demeanor. His imprint on the industry, however, will remain.”