family background / Derric decided to work alongside his family over a decade ago to grow the business north of Bakersfield. The diverse family farm grows several types of grapes for wine, raisins and fresh market along with other crops such as almonds, row crops, cotton and grasses.
crops/Grapes and diversified crops
business/Kirschenmann Bros. Farming
How did you get your start?
During high school in the summers, I’d do whatever needed to be done around the farm. We had a lot of row crops back then and I remember pulling sprinkler pipes a lot.
At that time, we were farming nearly 4,000 acres of ground. Now, we’re pretty much out of the row crops, with only about 300 acres, and everything else is permanent.
After high school, I went to college for about a year. I realized school really wasn’t for me. Farming is the only thing I’ve wanted to do.
What is your current path on the farm?
Our grapes are my primary focus — from spraying to controlling crews all the way through harvest to making sure everything gets out to the distributors.
I didn’t go to a trade school to learn about farming; I’ve learned by trial and error. There’s challenges in that path, of course. When I’m told to call a mechanic to fix something, I can’t.
We can’t do that nowadays because of how much stuff costs. One of my challenges is trying to find ways to do as much as we can ourselves.
What projects are you working on?
Labor is probably the biggest problem now in California. Our goal recently has been to cut all our contract workers back to 10 hours a day to save on our overtime fees, and our grape crews are being cut to eight hours a day.
We hope we can get the same amount of work done, but in reality, it isn’t going to happen. I’ve been experimenting with some of our spray crews where we’ve cut them down to six hours with two shifts, one in the morning and the next crew coming in the evening.
We hope we can do it. Before the recent increases in labor costs, we were running crews on 12 to 15 hour days. Back then, our family would be out working before and after the crews arrived.
Now it seems we’re working even more because we have to make cuts to our workforce hours.
Even if the crews head home at 4 p.m., I know I’ll be out past 7 p.m. because the work’s still got to get done. That’s just how it is.
Is mechanization something you’re looking at?
The small farming companies and mom and pop farms — the labor problems could break people. Because of it, I’m trying new ways to get rid of our crews.
For instance, if there’s a mechanical pruner or vine tying machine, we’re going to need them. The task of tying canes onto the wires has forced us to look at machines that could do the job.
In your area, what crops challenge you?
All our neighbors grow some type of wine grapes and the variety we’ve been working with is Petite Sirah. I’d consider it one of the toughest varieties to grow around here.
The grape clusters are really small and the ground we grow them in is very sandy, forcing us to water more often then we’d like. Doing that brings challenges.
With the small berries it grows, if you water too much, you blow the berries out, which makes wineries mad. That vineyard takes more time to work than our table grapes.
Every year, we’re watching that crop so much closer for problems, hoping to get all of the grapes off to the winery.
Our new plantings are all T-trellis with drip irrigation, built for over the row sprayers, mechanical pruning and harvesting.
We’re also trying some new soil amendments that can hopefully hold water a bit longer. This crop is important, and when it’s grown well, it’s worth a lot of money.
What advice would you give younger growers?
The first thing I’d tell them is they need to learn Spanish. If you don’t learn and you want to farm, it’s going to be tough.
The next thing is to pursue a business degree. I’ve realized that understanding the numbers well is a skill that really helps the business. I’m not saying ag business either — you aren’t going to learn ag in a book — you’ll learn that out on the farm.