family background/ Jacob is a third-generation grower and nurseryman in upstate New York. He is the son of Sue and Paul Wafler.

grower/Wolcott, New York
business/Wafler Farms

How did you get your start?
My experiences on the farm were always hands-on. As long as I can remember, I was always working with my dad or Grandpa Fritz on the farm.

When I was 8 years old, I started working in the summers doing tree training, painting bins, doing odds-and-ends things. As I got older, I worked with a crew, started doing tractor work and planting crops. Now I help manage the farm.

What were some of your early lessons?
I learned from my grandfather to always be neat and make the farm look good. My dad taught me to find efficiencies in what I do; always look for a better way to do things.

I remember when I was very young watching him go through the math regarding new ideas, such as figuring out spray ratios or trying to get the right hydraulic pump for a new piece of equipment.

He’d ask me to figure out the math on some things, and I could barely do it. Dad involved me at a young age so I could learn.

What is your growing area like?
Wolcott is a very small town centered in the heart of the Wayne County apple industry. It’s a really good apple growing region because we’re so close to the lake, which protects us from early frost.

Our area is a mixture of process growers and fresh fruit growers. More and more you see people transitioning to fresh, but we still have a lot of processing plants with their affiliated growers nearby.

My specific area is working with the fresh fruit farms that range from as much as 2,000 acres down to 50 acres.

Is there a benefit to having a nursery and orchard?
Our farm is split about 50-50 between commercial orchard and nursery. We grow about 800,000 trees for commercial growers in our area, and that gives our business diversity to deal with problems like bad weather or bad pricing.

If apple crop prices fall on a particular year, sometimes the nursery is there to help. A while back we had a really bad hailstorm and the crop was nearly wiped out, and the nursery was there to back us up and help keep the business going until the next year.

Another thing we prioritize is to be as efficient as possible by using mechanization and our platforms. A lot of our tools are designed by us to make the labor easier for both the workers and the farm.

Between the farm and the nursery, I’m most interested in the nursery. In the near future, I will be looking for efficiencies and new business opportunities for the nursery.

What excites you about working in the nursery?
One thing is moving into new products, such as incorporating an Ellepot root system. Instead of bare roots out in the field, they are grown in a greenhouse pot that is easier for the orchardist to plant.

It’s the ultimate goal of a nurseryman to provide the highest quality tree for the orchardist. With this type of system there is very little transplant shock because the tree is already potted, and the roots are growing.

When the grower puts it into the ground the tree will continue growing right down through the soil. It gives the tree a massive jump start against traditional commercial trees.

As a nurseryman, I need to look for ways to provide trees that better meet an orchard’s needs in a cost-effective manner.

—TJ Mullinax