Don’t Underestimate The Value Of Production Bus Tours For Your Business [Opinion]

With almond harvest starting recently here in the San Joaquin Valley, I was writing a story about growers doing all they can to minimize the dust they kick up. And by the way, they’re doing a heck of a job: I can recall back in the ’90s hearing motorists complain about huge dust clouds obscuring their vision. I don’t hear many complaints like that anymore.

While writing the headline, I got an earworm — a term for a song you can’t get out of your head – for “Another One Bites The Dust” (great bass line). An outstanding parody of that song, “Another One Rides The Bus,” (great accordion) was written and recorded by Weird Al Yankovic, my fellow alumnus from the most outstanding university in the West, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.

Through riding buses, not normally thought to be a pleasant experience, you can meet some of the most interesting people in the world.

I was reminded of that recently while attending a lecture by Viticulture Professor Vittorino Novello of the University of Turin, who was discussing what Italian winegrape varieties might be suitable for growers in the foothills of California’s Sierra Nevada.

The visit was arranged by University of California Cooperative Extension Farm Advisor Lynn Wunderlich. I asked her how she connected with Novello, who is currently President of the International Viticulture Group for Innovation, and she said they met on a bus tour of vineyards in the south of France.

Hah — Another one rides the bus!

A couple years ago, I was writing a story in which I wanted the input of industry experts from New York. I remembered an International Fruit Tree Association (IFTA) tour of China I had taken almost a decade earlier, in 2005. There were a couple of Cornell University Extension guys on the trip, Dave Rosenberger and Steve Hoying.

I called the two men, who are incidentally now both retired, and asked if they remembered me. Interestingly, they said almost the same thing, that of course they did, because that trip to China was one of the more memorable trips of their lives. The trip also involved a LOT of time on buses, allowing for some lively, extended discussions.

There have been other tours through the years I recall fondly. From those for the Almond Board of California’s annual environmental stewardship tour to my company’s own annual Biocontrols Conference & Tradeshow, often the best part is the bus tour. I mention IFTA, because they have such long ones — Europe and the Pacific Northwest also come to mind — which means a lot of time for conversation.

But not conversation with just anyone. They are great for a curious guy (pun intended) like me. Where else could you have access to some of the top tree fruit growers and industry experts in the world, for hours on end? And you weren’t just talking on the phone, but face-to-face.

That’s the real beauty of it. Sure, with today’s technology I can and do Skype with people as far away as Japan. It’s fantastic, and I’m incredibly thankful I live in this day and age. But I can’t reach out and shake their hand.

It’s that personal touch, that human connection, that builds business relationships, even lifelong friendships. The take-away: Find a bus tour in your area of interest, preferably as far away from home as possible, climb aboard, sit down, stick out your hand, and say “Hi, my name is …”

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