Alfredo Reyes, a young grower from Royal City, Washington
TJ Mullinax // June 2, 2017
family background / Alfredo was born in Mexico and grew up in Wenatchee with four sisters and two brothers. Everyone in his immediate family works in agriculture. He worked all types of orchard jobs before pursuing his college degree to advance his career. age / 29 crops / Apples business / Washington Fruit and Produce Co.
How did you get your start?
I started working out in the orchard when I was in high school, helping during cherry harvest in the summers. After graduating I began full-time work operating the spray rigs and helping manage a couple orchards. I learned a lot from those early jobs.
When I was young, I remember my parents telling me to stay in school because, if I didn’t, I’d end up working in agriculture. My first jobs were in ag and I learned how my parent’s perspective on ag was incorrect.
I’ve learned you can make a very good living in agriculture. After going to college I’ve gained the experience to provide farm management recommendations — instead of only working on the tractor. Every day I’m out there I learn something different.
What decisions led to where you are?
When I started, I was picking cherries, apples and pears, then sprays and piece work. It was hard, and it was difficult to maintain a living doing that.
Through all that, I was planning to go to college to become a teacher, but my passion was agriculture. When I learned there was an agricultural program at Wenatchee Valley College, I figured I may be able to combine both my love for teaching with ag.
I could become an orchard manger, a consultant, a fieldman and be able to teach people how to work with the trees. This was a path that I wanted to take — and I could make a really good living at — and enjoy my job every day.
What are things you want to teach to others?
When I started out, regulations were not as stringent as they are today. Now there are many new regulations to protect workers and the environment.
Before, we used to plant trees that were 20-by-20 feet spacing and you pick a full bin of apples from one tree. Now the industry is moving toward more efficient, precise farming techniques. From trellis systems that make it safer for people to work to methods that help the farm be as productive as it can.
Maximizing your revenue and lowering your cost per acre are what growers seek today. No longer are we simply looking at a block and deciding, “yeah, that tree looks good, the apples look good.”
Now we’re using scientific processes in our work, like pollen tube models to tell us exactly when to go outside and spray.
We are calculating bud counts so we can produce the most we can out of a given tree, while not damaging its growth. These are some of the things I get to teach now.
What college work has provided the most benefit?
I think the courses covering agricultural math, such as calculating farm yield and maximizing production, along with the business components. When you are working only in the field, you aren’t seeing the bigger industry.
Being able to learn about how a farm is run, that if you have good financial returns you’ll be able to continue to farm — even expand.
Once you go into school you’ll learn that maybe the irrigation methods you’ve been exposed to are outdated. You’ll learn about all the new research, new varieties and new ways to farm.
The industry is supporting research so there’s a lot a farmer can learn to improve quality and returns.
Where do you see technology in the next few years?
Use of platforms are going to grow. I think platforms and harvesters will continue to be improved to fit the new orchard systems coming out. Platforms will play a huge role to where we aren’t using ladders at all.
That should be our goal because it’s more efficient and it improves safety. Also, sensors in the orchard will increase. From types that manage irrigation to others that help you make better decisions when to fertilize the trees.
Other things would be the improved varieties, thinning and pruning techniques, computer models to estimate crop load — all of these things require training.
These things will improve efficiency of the orchard and ultimately are better for the trees.
What advice would you give to younger growers?
What I’ve told people before is they should be ready to adapt to changes. Even if they are new to the industry, expect systems and methods to change rapidly.
One season you may be thinning trees one way, then the next season you’re switching to another way. You’ve got to be ready to adapt and keep up with how the industry is going.
Realize that when you join this industry, look around and see how huge it is and how many opportunities are available. The pay can be really good with benefits and time off.
Growing up, you may have the perspective that agriculture is shovels, tractor driving, etc., but there are so many jobs in many disciplines that allow people to advance in their career.
TJ Mullinax joined Good Fruit Grower as digital producer and photojournalist in 2013. He photographs and edits visual stories for the print magazine and online publishing spaces. Along with editorial production, TJ develops and maintains the magazine’s digital products. -- Follow the author: Phone: (509) 853-3519 -- Email