Marcus Morgan, Young Grower from The Dalles, Oregon
TJ Mullinax // Mar 18, 2015
grower / Marcus Morgan, 36, The Dalles, Oregon. (with Miss Blue) crops / Cherries business / Orchard manager for Morgan & Sons Honey Company. other experience / He has worked the family farm since he was a child. At one point he pursued professional bull riding as a career. Volunteers as an auctioneer for charity events.
How did you get your start? My parents owned the orchard and one of my first jobs working the farm was ‘bucket boy,’ back when we used galvanized steel buckets. I just remember when I was a kid the pickers would yell, botes! Botes! Screaming and yelling, so I would have to rally the little four-wheeler around with the little bucket trailer, getting them the buckets so they could pick cherries.
So that was my first job. Great was the day when we switched from the metal buckets to the plastic ones. They were so much lighter and easy to carry. Then I moved up to swamping — back when I would take the full buckets and load them into the trailer. That job is partly responsible for the big arms I have now.
What are you responsible for now? I was the one that had the closest relationship with the pickers. I really enjoyed learning Spanish and it kind of set me up to be the crew boss and run the cherry orchard when I got older. When I decided to go to college I wanted to become a professional bull rider.
That didn’t pan out. Thankfully I took ag business courses in college and was able to bring that back to the farm. Our farm works with honey bees and cherries. Although, I don’t help my Dad out with the bees that much because I’m allergic to honeybees. It kind of limits what I can do. I’m really in charge of everything in the orchard, from the ground up.
What are some of the things you enjoy about orchard work? There’s a lot that I don’t enjoy, but I really love pruning — developing that structure in the tree. We’ve really got a good rotation of fruiting wood. I call them ‘money sticks.’ Learning about better pruning techniques at seminars and conferences, I’ve learned that the upright wood grows the best fruit on our farm. So, now we grow upright wood instead of pendulum wood or flat wood. Because of that we can grow big, firm cherries.
My Dad says I’m a natural at pruning. I just enjoy doing it. Another thing that I really enjoy is driving the tractors. Spraying all-night long. We spray always at night because the wind is the best. We believe the trees take in a little bit more and are a more absorbent at night. Just enjoying the night stars in the sky and being out there by myself on the tractor.
What challenges do you face on the farm? Our orchard is really steep. There’s a few places where I’m like holding onto the back of the chair and my foot is on the clutch, ready to push in, and my other foot is ready to push on the brake, just praying that I’m goin’ to get to the end and make it to the other side safely. It’s so steep in areas, that I have to spray carrying only a half of a tank. It’s always been tough to find tractor drivers that can handle our farm.
One time we hired this guy out of California who said at the time, ‘I’ve been driving tractors for 25 years,’ so I thought, great, he’s gonna be good. Then we put him out on one of the tractors and he gets on one of the steeper hills and the crew starts screaming at me. I fly up the hill on the four-wheeler and this guy says, ‘ I can’t stop the tractor.’
He had it in too low of a gear. He jumps off while the tractor is crawling down the hill and I jumped on and stopped it. He was used to driving in California in orchards that were flat. Well, it’s a different story when you are on our hillsides (laugh.)
What things are you looking at for the future? We’re really fortunate to have a good core group of pickers to pick our crop. One concern is lack of workers and there’s a lot of farmers struggling to get enough people to work their crops. One of the things Dad and I did on the orchard was switch to bush-sized trees. Kym Green, from Australia, came over to talk about using a bush tree system. It’s a system where trees that are short to the ground and don’t require ladders.
We can pick a lot more acres in less time with fewer people. So if we did get in a spot where our harvest labor was short, we could pick just as much as before now that we’ve introduced these bush-like trees. More than 25 percent of our trees are short, ‘pedestrian type’ orchards. I really think there has to be some type of automated harvesting method in the near future for sweet cherry growers. Stem-free cherries is also something we are going to have to look at for our future.
TJ Mullinax joined Good Fruit Grower as digital producer and photojournalist in 2013. He photographs and edits visual stories for the print magazine and online publishing spaces. Along with editorial production, TJ develops and maintains the magazine’s digital products. -- Follow the author: Phone: (509) 853-3519 -- Email