Los Banos Ag Businessman of the Year has farmed for almost half a century

David Santos on his first new tractor, which he bought from his savings at age 23 in October 1969. It is an 856 International purchased from Nylander & Sorenson for $8,500. Santos is the 2019 Los Banos ag businessman of the year.
David Santos on his first new tractor, which he bought from his savings at age 23 in October 1969. It is an 856 International purchased from Nylander & Sorenson for $8,500. Santos is the 2019 Los Banos ag businessman of the year. Special to the Enterprise

The person honored at the recent Los Banos Farm-to-Table event for his agricultural success knew he wanted to be a farmer when he was a teenager. He raised 2½ acres of cotton in high school and won an award for his crop.

David Santos’ Farming was given the 2019 Los Banos Agricultural Business of the Year award at the Farm-to-Table dinner held Thursday night , sponsored by the Los Banos Downtown Association, which has been working to rejuvenate the central section of town.

John Spevak New Photo
John Spevak, columnist for the Enterprise. Enterprise file

Santos was born in Los Banos in 1946 and went to local schools — Our Lady of Fatima and Los Banos High. He grew up on a dairy and milked hundreds of cows, for his own family and other local families like the Cardozas, the Rodonis and the Areiases.

But he also had an early interest in crop farming. When he grew cotton successfully for an FFA project in high school, he realized he had a talent and desire to raise crops.

Since 1970 he has been raising his own crops, first on rented property and then on land he purchased from diligent savings. Over the past half-century he built a company that has farmed many acres in the Los Banos area and annually hired more than 40 employees.

He gives much of the credit for his success to Carolyn, his wife of 43 years. “Carolyn has been at my side me throughout our life together,” Santos said. “Together we have been through many hard times and good times, and we have always supported each other.”

Santos also is grateful for all that his son Alan has done for him. “He started working with me when he was 15,” Santos said, “working on cotton-picking machines. For the past 40 years he has ably helped me manage crop production and supervise employees.”

David has treated his employees well, and they have been loyal to him. One employee worked for him for 43 years, and others have been with him for more than 30 years.

Santos is still going strong, continuing to provide jobs and contributing to the local economy. He is also aware of how blessed he has been. “God has given me,” he said, “the good health to go to work each day and the mind to think things through.”

Grateful for these blessings, Santos is an active contributor to many organizations in Los Banos that have helped him and his family, including St. Joseph’s Church, Our Lady of Fatima School, New Bethany Residential Care, 4-H, FFA, the May Day Fair and the D.E.S. Portuguese organization.

His career in farming began soon after he completed six months of service at Ford Ord as part of his National Guard commitment, which started in 1967. He gradually saved up enough money to buy a new International tractor in 1969. Using that tractor to help other farmers, he earned and saved money.

Soon he was able to rent land to grow his first crop. Before long, with the help of other farmers who co-signed for him, he took out his first loan in 1971 to farm land, raising alfalfa and corn silage. His “work force” then consisted of one part-time employee who helped him irrigate. Year by year his farming operation continued to grow, increasing in acreage and employees.

David has strong local family roots. His father, Marion Santos Jr., was born in Crows Landing and moved to Newman as a young man. His mother, Mary Rosa Santos, was born in Los Banos and graduated from Los Banos High School. David’s two brothers are also successful local entrepreneurs, Marion III (in vehicle dealerships) and Anthony (in farming).

His grandfather on his mother’s side, Frank Sousa Rosa, helped start the Los Banos Dairymen’s Association and the creamery that processed dairy products in Los Banos for years.

David is proud of his Portuguese heritage, attending festas throughout California from Yreka to San Diego, and he has served as president of the local D.E.S. association. He has marched in many Portuguese processions and carried the statues of many Catholic saints.

Santos gives a lot of credit for his character formation to the nuns who taught him at Our Lady of Fatima School. “They made sure we learned,” he said. “We had to work hard at our studies every day.” That developed a work ethic in him which he still has today.

Despite the long hours involved in farming, David has enjoyed his career in agriculture. “I like watching crops grow from seed to maturity,” he said, “and I appreciate seeing a good crop harvested.

“I also get a sense of satisfaction,” Santos added, “in developing land that is almost barren into productive soil that yields good crops.”

Although Santos has worked hard to be a successful farmer, he never forgets how fortunate he is. “Without the physical and mental health God has blessed me with,” he said, “I couldn’t have succeeded.”

John Spevak wrote this for the Los Banos Enterprise. His email is john.spevak@gmail.com.