family background/ Nathan returned to the family pear farm in the Hood River Valley about two years ago. He and his brother, Aubrey, work with their dad, Phil, and uncle, Jack Davis.
grower/Odell, Oregon
crops/Pears, apples, cherries
business/D&P Orchards

How did you get your start?
When I was a teen, my first farm experience was sorting cherries for little to no money.

My brother and I would help sort and box cherries ourselves. We had a bench all set up and we’d put them into 25-pound boxes and throw out the bad ones.

Every year, we’d start pruning the fruit in the winter, and then in cherry season everything else on the farm pretty much stops so everyone can harvest the fruit.

Right around the Fourth of July, we’d start picking cherries, then we’d go right onto pear and apple harvest. If you ask people from Odell, they would say it’s the best place to grow pears.

Its reputation for pear production is one of growing great fresh pears. As a family, we have quite a few varieties on the farm, and we try to have enough different ones so we’re always busy moving onto the next variety during harvest.

What was it like coming back to the farm?
I have memories of my dad working hard with my uncle to make this operation work, and it was inspiring to me how they were able to make this small business thrive. When the family asked if I was ready to come back to the farm full time, there was an expectation for me to learn and be ready to take over the business with my brother.

I’ve been learning hands-on, especially from the management side, because my prior experience was as an employee. I’ve been trying to pick up things from my dad and uncle — there’s so much to learn, and I’m no expert.

What was one of the first things you worked on?
The main thing I wanted to learn when I returned was to go out with our foreman and learn how to prune a pear tree. Even with that introduction, I can say I still don’t know how to prune a pear tree. It’s going to be something that’ll take a while to learn.

As a tree farmer, I’ve got to know how to prune and thin the trees. All that stuff is a second language to me at this point. Those are things that I want to learn how to do so I can grow nice trees and nice fruit.

What else did you learn that will help you in the future?
The first year I was back, we started setting up blocks to plant some new pear trees — Starkrimson. When we were doing that, my uncle let me run the transit gun to set up the rows and make sure they were nice and straight with the right spacing.

That was a great learning experience. Our main pear is Anjou, and the old plantings are 20 foot by 20. The plantings that we are doing now, depending on the variety of pear, are more like 14 or 12 feet between trees, and the Starkrimsons are at 8 feet by 18 in the row.

That way we can maximize the trees and bins per acre. We’re not putting in trellis systems, however we are trying to maximize our yield per acre for the pears that we do grow.

What advice do you have for other young growers?
In hindsight, I could’ve benefited from going to a college to learn horticulture and the ag side of life. When I graduated from high school, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I went out and did two different jobs after high school.

Now that I’ve found myself back at the farm, I wish I would’ve gone to one of the schools that has a solid ag program. I’ve realized that working in ag is much more fulfilling and more enjoyable than every other job I’ve done before.

One of the biggest bonuses of working on the farm is there’s always something to do different every day.

—TJ Mullinax