family background / Brett is a sixth-generation fruit and vegetable grower in northern Ohio near Lake Erie. Grobe Fruit Farm includes about 150 acres of apples for retail and wholesale, as well as a juice facility. He is the son of Allen and Laurie Grobe.
grower / Elyria, Ohio
age / 21
crops / Apple and diversified vegetable crops
business / Grobe Fruit Farm
How did you get your start?
I grew up in a family that’s done it for awhile. Around my junior year of high school, when the kids in school were really looking at careers, I was looked at as “the farm kid,” and I’ve always liked that.
I like the opportunities that come with working for yourself.
Tell me about your farm and neighboring farms.
There’s a lot of growers along the lakeshore and in southern portions of the state where they take advantage of the more mountainous terrain for frost protection.
The majority of the apples we grow are Fuji, Gala and other commercial varieties; however, we have challenges growing Honeycrisp well.
Most of the fruit that we grow is for fresh market production. Even though the growing base in Ohio is relatively small, compared to other states, there’s a close connection between all the state’s growers.
About 90 percent of the tree fruit is sold under one cooperative; we are all growing and selling together.
What are some of your farm’s challenges?
The region I grow in is incredibly rocky and has large plates of sandstone. It makes it difficult to trellis trees at times. The beams will sometimes just explode when the excavator pushes them into the ground.
They just blow up like a toothpick; it’s pretty scary.
That sandstone helps wick away moisture, so when we do get a trellis into the ground, the trees do really well.
The trees maintain a strong vigor, even in dry conditions. In a few areas, we have heavier soils which can be challenging with water management. We can end up with some incredibly wet soil, severely injuring the trees.
Ohio also has really strange weather patterns that can change some 30 to 40 degrees. Our farm, which is close to Cleveland, is known for its wacky weather. For instance, peaches or any other stone fruit is hard to do on a commercial scale because our winters are too harsh. We also get very hot and dry summers.
Because we’ve been getting exceptionally dry the past few seasons, we’ve implemented irrigation systems on our trees to help out on our high-density plantings. We’re worried about severe drought harming overall production.
What are you pursuing in college and why?
Having grown up on the farm, I’ve had a passion for ag. I was never pushed to go into the farm, I was just interested in it.
Pursuing a degree in horticulture probably wouldn’t benefit me nearly as much as a business track in college.
One of the things our farm can improve on is efficiencies in our business. Ohio State University’s food safety courses have been an incredible asset to me, and I hope to manage the food safety program on my farm. We see future renovations of our packing facilities.
Across Ohio, we’ve always had USDA audits, but it wasn’t a major issue up until about 10 years ago when grocery stores were requiring third-party audits.
It forced many farmers to renovate and put in new packing lines and new packing facilities. It was a necessary step and it pushed us in a positive direction.
Why are you a farmer?
There’s also so many dynamic changes happening in agriculture these days — from technology and fruit growing in general.
There’s never a dull moment in agriculture. It’s totally different than it was 20 years ago. It’s an exciting time to be in the history of farming and those changes are what’s inspired me the most.
What improvements are being made on your farm?
The majority of our trees on our farm are a mixture of older, nontrellised trees, but we do have some on trellises. Most of Ohio doesn’t use a super spindle method.
There’s more of a tall-spindle planting. Our farm now uses a 14-foot row with a 3-foot tree spacing. The system has four wires with a single drop-wire to connect the trees, and that’s really worked well for us.
I’ve seen that type of trellising across Ohio, and I can’t think of any super high-density plantings. I think in our area, farmers can improve traceability with our crops.
Our farm is working on it, but I expect new technology will help us make improvements. The bin tag system that we’ve been developing holds great potential for tracing food.