Nick Ferrari, Young Grower from Linden, California
TJ Mullinax // December 30, 2016
family background/ Fourth-generation farmer in the San Joaquin Valley. Nick has volunteered with several young grower groups and is involved with converting older walnut orchards to new variety cherry blocks. age/ 31 grower/ Linden, California crops/ Cherries and walnuts business/ Ferrari Brothers Properties
How did you get your start? The farm is what I grew up with. In the back shop, we had an older World War II-era mechanic who worked on machines for a few of the growers.
He took a liking to my dad, who had a lot of old, beat up equipment to work on. When I was younger I took an interest to the old equipment. So as soon as I got back from school, I’d zip over to the shop.
They’d have a tractor split apart, and I’d be fetching wrenches and things like that. I just loved it.
Did you pursue a horticultural degree in college? I wanted to go to an agriculture school, but my dad took me aside and encouraged me to go learn something else. He said, “Once you get that done, then you can come back.” I ended up going to Santa Clara to study finance.
What challenges does your farm face? In Linden, in particular, there’s a lot of Italian immigrants here who’ve planted cherries and walnuts.
There used to be a lot more row crops here but as labor has gotten harder and harder to get, those crops have gone away. My biggest fear in the years to come is labor.
The last couple years have been tough with fewer available workers. There’s been situations with labor contractors at competing cherry orchards offering a couple bucks more to workers at neighboring blocks if the workers crossed the road.
You hear stories of workers dropping what they’re doing in one field to cross the street to pick for someone else for more money. That’s kinda scary.
How do you approach labor concerns? The only thing you can really do is try to be a better farmer, because if you have a good crop set, you’re more likely to get the labor.
People don’t want to pick a tree with just a handful of cherries. They want a tree where the cherries are roped on the branches and they can make money picking them.
What plans do you have for the future? Our older walnuts are beginning to wane with a few pockets of trees dying off. Before it gets too out of hand I’ll end up ripping those blocks out and consider putting more cherries in. Walnuts have been great in this area, but the market bubble is about to burst.
I think that drop will follow a five to seven-year cycle, so I think it’d be wise to diversify with more cherries. Our ranch currently is all Bing on Colt. The problem with that is, it’s a late harvesting variety, especially on that rootstock; it puts harvest right at the end of the California crop.
When we do make the change, we’ll be seeking out an early variety and a rootstock that’ll complement it. At the same time, there’s risks with going with a new variety.
It’s not great to be the guinea pig, and it’s a lot safer going with a variety that’s proven, but you’ve got to start somewhere when deciding to move the business forward.
What are you planning for new blocks? I think you’ll have to consider pedestrian orchards without the ladders. When I was a kid, dad ripped out the older trees with a spacing of 48 feet by 48 feet. Big beautiful trees — but no fruit. We’re packing the trees in tighter. I think it’s the way of the future for cherries.
What advice do you have for younger growers? Farming is about keeping your eyes open. You’ve gotta be attentive to things going on out in the field. Instead of sending an employee out to do something, go out, sit your butt on the tractor and you’ll be able to see what’s going on yourself. You’ll catch problems quicker.
I can say I’m not stuck behind a desk — mine’s basically the cab of a pickup or the seat of a tractor. I’m not constrained — well not completely, I’ve still got the old man. (Laughs) He’s still the boss.
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