grower / Wapato, Washington
age / 27
crops / Apples, cherries, peaches, apricots, nectarines, pears
business / General manager of Valicoff Fruit Company
background / Fourth-generation grower who returned to the farm after working three years in construction in Seattle, Washington, to help plan and build a modern apple packing line. Son of Rob Valicoff and nephew to Ric Valicoff.
What has been your role with the company?
I started working around the ranches when I was pretty young, training baby trees, thinning, and I worked at our old soft fruit facility. I went to college and then worked in construction for about three years.
The longer I was away from the farm, the more I missed the Yakima Valley and agriculture.
When I returned, my family was in the planning stages of bringing in a state-of-the-art packing line into an older building.
I focused on improving our food safety and writing up how that program works.
How did the program impact the new facility?
The new plans eliminated overhead electrical—everything is buried to eliminate a place for dust to accumulate, another thing is removing as many overhead pipes and wood. We looked for ways to remove places and things where bacteria could grow.
We installed hardware made from aluminum and stainless steel to provide surfaces that can be cleaned and sanitized easily.
When we decided to purchase the old packing facility, we knew we’d have to make some changes. We originally looked to build partnerships with other growers, however we didn’t find any one perfect arrangement that worked.
So we went back to the drawing board and met with the bank and reworked our business plan so the investment in a new line would pencil out using only our own fruit.
Now that we have next-generation technology and a very clean facility, we’ve been able to attract additional growers. Growers seem to appreciate what we’ve done.
What tips do you have for young growers?
Learn about data integration. We are making a push with inventory tracking from field level to packing facility.
Data can then be used as a historic indicator to monitor how blocks are performing, how your growers are performing and what areas are doing better.
With the information, we can share that with the grower to improve their growing practices and improve the fruit we pack. It’s exciting to be part of a generation of farmers who are looking to work smarter and not harder.