family background/ Jerry is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in agricultural technology and finance at Washington State University and is starting a small business. He’s the son of Teresa and Ismael Torres.
How did you get your start?
I started working on the farm as a summer job when I was about 11 years old and continued that throughout high school. During that time, I learned most of the jobs: pruning, picking, thinning, tree training.
When I finished high school, my plan was to major in finance at university, but my father persuaded me to learn about agriculture. He thought I’d be good at it. I took a chance and interviewed at Stemilt when I was 17 years old, and I’ve been here ever since.
I’ve learned there are many opportunities in horticulture for me to provide the best for my family. I’m currently enrolled in college and I plan to double-major in finance and ag. We use finance tools and numbers every day and I plan to use that experience in a new grafting business that I recently started.
Where did you begin learning business skills on the farm?
We use numbers all the time on the farm. One place is within our trials, where we’re calculating a lot of data and creating formulas. A common calculation is figuring out bins per acre and looking for solutions to get what we want in the orchard.
Another set of trial formulas are tied with fruit sizing. I’ve been learning finance skills doing budgets and setting our variance reports: year-to-date compared with actual budgets, our costs-per-acre or calculating variance percentages.
We look at these numbers and figure out what we’re going to modify to lower our costs. It’s important to get a broad concept of how the farm is performing.
Will you share a specific example?
This year we’ve been working with our pruning numbers. We do a lot of bud samples and take them down to the office to determine the percentage of buds that will become flowers or leaves.
After we receive those numbers, we’ll put them into our formulas that will provide an estimate of fruiting buds. After that’s done, we send our crews out to get an average count of buds per tree.
We then compare those numbers with how many flowers we’re expecting to calculate how productive the block will be. If we have 300 buds per tree and our average number of fruiting buds is 50 percent, then we’ll expect to have 150 flowering buds per tree.
These numbers help us calculate how many buds we need to remove to hit our target bins-per-acre yield. This is just a simple tool that we use daily to ensure our pruning is done right and get us closer to our desired harvest numbers.
Why are you starting your own grafting business?
Starting my own business is tough but it’s been rewarding. I’ve stayed up countless nights studying a lot about the industry and grafting. This is my first year and I’m still learning and asking everyone questions.
I love this part of starting a new venture, getting out and learning from others. Grafters that I’ve spoken with feel pride that they are making an impact on the industry, and that’s something that I strive for.
What would you say about internship opportunities?
I would recommend to any young grower to seek out internships. Even though I went straight into an internship out of high school, instead of the traditional route of going to college then finding an internship, I think these opportunities are underappreciated.
On-the-job learning is where you can learn the most about the industry. I’ve learned so much from longtime irrigators or sprayers or managers. You get actual experience to better gain an understanding of the industry as of right now, not as a textbook example from 10 to 15 years ago. That hands-on experience is something I’d definitely recommend.