family background / Juan is a second-generation tree fruit farmer who recently joined Simplot Growers. He’s the son of Celina and Juan Ojeda.

grower/Royal City, Washington
crops/Apples, cherries and pears
business/Simplot Growers

How did you get your start?
Growing up, I was always with my dad in the orchard, helping with tasks or scouting for pests. At a young age he exposed me to how an orchard is managed.

I remember going out in the pickup and he would teach me the techniques he learned, such as how to evaluate a spray crew after they’d worked all night. Whatever his boss taught him, Dad would pass it onto me.

When I was about 13 or 14 years old I started taking a serious interest in the work, from pulling weeds to helping build trellises.

Why are you in agriculture?
Living in Royal City, with orchards everywhere, I realized during high school that I wanted to have the type of seasonal lifestyle that came with farming.

For my senior high school project, I needed to work on something related to the occupation I was interested in. I contacted my boss and he had me do an evaluation of a block’s performance, from measuring apples, soil samples, etc. My presentation focused on how I could help that block improve in the future.

What was your first big job?
One of the most satisfying things I have done was helping build a trellis system. At the beginning of the process there’s nothing in the ground.

Once everything was installed and in the ground — I took pride in knowing it would benefit the orchard in the long run.

What where your early challenges?
When I was in school, I remember a lot of kids my age were not motivated to get up early and work outside all day, every day. I got used to that rhythm with my dad and I learned how hard the work can be.

The types of jobs early on are orchard maintenance and physical work. At the end of your day, you are always sore. Some days you’re working in 100-degree heat and you really can’t stop until you’re done.

It takes a strong person to be a farmer and be able to face the tough days where you ask yourself why you’re doing it. I remember wondering: What am I going to get from all this hard work?

I developed a hard work ethic by overcoming those moments. Those lessons and experiences set a foundation that will benefit me in the future.

What are you looking forward to in your new job?
Now that I’m with Simplot, I’m really looking forward to the chemigation side of ag. Being out on the farm when I was young really gave me an understanding of how a farm is operated from a grower’s perspective and how to manage my time.

Now I’m looking at an orchard and seeing it with a larger view. Some of the management decisions that I didn’t understand when I was young are kind of adding up. With this new job I’m looking forward to going out into the field and evaluating orchards to make sure everything is being done right.

I’m excited to see the outcome of the chemigation plans. When I recommend a plan, I’ll know in a couple months if it worked. When it does work, I’ll know I did a good job.

What would you tell younger growers about ag?
I’d tell them that agriculture is a diverse industry and there’s a job for just about anything you want to do. Whether it’s sales, marketing, or if you want to work out in the field, there’s a job for most anybody.

In my job search, I’ve found good opportunities that pay well, especially if you get the training or education. I see the future of ag adopting more technology that will reduce labor, forcing everyone to be more aware of the tools and crops than ever before. It’ll lead to more precise farming and will help everyone out in the long run.

—TJ Mullinax