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Dairy Producer Named California's 2015 Agriculturalist of the Year

16:39PM Mar 04, 2015

The winner helped found Hilmar Cheese Co.

Source: California State Fair

The California Exposition and State Fair Board of Directors unanimously approved the nomination of Charles Ahlem as the 2015 Agriculturalist of the Year during their Feb. 27, 2015 meeting. The Agriculturalist of the Year award is  presented to an individual who has contributed extensively to and demonstrated leadership within California’s agricultural industry.

Ahlem is owner of Charles Ahlem Ranch in Turlock and a partner in several other ranches. He started the Ahlem Ranch dairy in 1975 with only 100 cows and has grown the business to 4,000 milking cows. He is also the founding co-owner of Hilmar Cheese Company, a global processor and supplier of cheese, whey protein and lactose. Hilmar produces more than 2 million pounds of cheese per day and accepts milk from 231 California dairies and 32 Texas dairies. The Hilmar facility produces more cheese annually than any other facility in the world.

Ahlem’s success is a testament to his strong work ethic, innovative spirit and willingness to embrace ag technology.  Since January 2009, a robotic arm has provided a consistent and efficient way to assist in milking most of Ahlem’s Jersey cattle by applying a postdip iodine solution to the teats of the cows. His dairy project served as the prototype for this postdip application, which now is also used at some of the largest dairies throughout the United States.

Ahlem serves in a number of leadership roles throughout the State including: board member of the California Dairy Council; member of the California Milk Manufacturing Board; and as an advisory member of the California Animal Health and Food Safety Board. He previously served as Undersecretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture in the Schwarzenegger administration.

Other positions of leadership have included serving as dairy industry representative on the State Board of Food and Agriculture and as a member on the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board and the UC President’s Advisory Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources.

A lifetime resident of the Central Valley, Ahlem graduated with a degree in dairy science from California State University, Fresno.

The California State Fair first began presenting the Agriculturalist of the Year award in 1980. Most recent awardees include Craig McNamara (2014),Edward H. Nishio (2013), A.G. Kawamura (2012), Robert “Bob” Gilbert (2011), Bill Lyons, Jr. (2010), Ron Schuler (2009), Bill Pauli (2008), Len Richardson (2007), John Harris (2006), George Gomes (2005) and Al Montna (2004).

The Agriculturalist of the Year Award will be presented to Ahlem at the annual The Friends of the California State Fair Gala on June 25, 2015. The Gala is an elegant evening of gourmet food, live and silent auctions, entertainment, and a Blue Ribbon Salute to the best in California agriculture, viticulture and technology. Proceeds of the event benefit the Friends of the California State Fair Scholarship Program. To support the celebration and recognition of the 2015 Agriculturalist of the Year Chuck Alhem, please visit or email

For more than 160 years, the California State Fair has showcased the best of the Golden State. This year’s Fair will take place July 10 - 26, 2015 and is expected to draw more than 750,000 people to Cal Expo to make memories that will last a lifetime.  Initiated by Governor Pat Brown and opened by Governor Ronald Reagan in 1968 the current Cal Expo facilities were dedicated as a place to celebrate California’s achievement, preserve a slice of Americana, and provide a window into the future.