Innovation, Teamwork Help Ferris Farms Make The Grade

Dudley Calfee
Dudley Calfee

With every new occupation comes a learning curve. That certainly was the case for Dudley Calfee when he joined Ferris Farms in Floral City as its new general manager in 2007. Calfee came from a construction management background and had no previous experience in farming. But the equine-friendly location fit well for him and his wife Diane who both have a passion for horses.
The education process accelerated after his production manager was killed in a tragic accident only three months into the job. “We had a million and a half strawberry plants in the ground at the time, so the learning curve was steep,” says Calfee. “I learned a lot quickly and made a lot of mistakes. But, we have a great team here who pulled together and made this farm thrive.”
Calfee also attached himself to UF/IFAS professors like Joe Noling, Natalia Peres, and Oscar Liburd to help learn about growing in Florida. He got to know some of the strawberry growers to the south around Plant City who shared insights on successful production.
“The great thing about agriculture is everybody involved wants the other guy to be OK,” says Calfee. “That’s different than construction, which can be a little more cut throat.”
With a strong team of employees, the farm has continued to improve and grow with 85 acres of strawberries, 30 acres of blueberries, 25 acres of citrus, and Black Angus cattle.
“I can’t emphasize how important it is to have a strong team here from our managers to our pickers,” says Calfee. “They all care about this farm and we care about and have respect for one another. This encourages an atmosphere where we share ideas and feedback, which has improved the quality of what we grow.”

Leading, But Not Bleeding

“We like to stay on the leading edge of technology, not the bleeding edge,” says Calfee. “If we try something new, we want good science behind it, so we run trials with three replications and controls to collect data to prove something is working to improve our yields.”
New technology and practices are constantly being evaluated on the farm. “We usually have eight to 10 of our own trials going, and sometimes cooperating with UF/IFAS we can have up to 30 experiments running,” says Calfee.

One such experiment that has now expanded across all strawberries planted on the farm is the use of a Strawberry Advisory System (SAS) developed by Dr. Peres. The system was first tested on Ferris Farms starting in the 2008-2009 season.
The SAS gets weather data from a weather station located on the farm. It monitors leaf wetness duration and temperature, and that is used to calculate a disease infection risk for Anthracnose and Botrytis fruit rots, which are the two most important diseases affecting strawberries in Florida. The data is updated every 15 minutes. Once it determines there is a risk for one of the diseases in a certain location, it updates the information on the website (Agroclimate.org) and it also sends eMail and/or text message alerts to subscribed growers.
“By spraying only when weather conditions are favorable for those diseases, growers have been able to reduce the number of fungicides sprays by one third to half,” says Peres. “In the past, growers sprayed fungicides preventively to protect their crops because they didn’t know exactly when the diseases would occur.”

Calfee says the system has cut fungicide sprays in half on the farm. “We follow the model, but every once in a while, I’ll lose my nerve and spray when the SAS says we don’t need to,” he says. “But, those times are becoming less frequent because I am more confident in the system. It is a pretty miraculous thing to watch the system work.”

Loading the player...

Quality First

Calfee says his harvest manager Lupe Fernandez and crew of pickers harvest some of the best quality strawberries in the state. Linda Gallant, who has worked as the farm’s office manager for almost 30 years also gives the berries a close inspection for quality.
“At first, I never thought I’d pick a flat of strawberries Linda would be satisfied with,” Calfee jokes. “Over the years, we have developed our harvesting techniques and quality control where we now have one of the best pack-outs in the state.”

A technology that has helped quality is Fresh QC tracking software. The system allows consumers to trace their strawberry clamshell back to the field and to the picker. While its original purpose is for traceability and food safety, it has helped identify areas where quality can be improved in the harvesting process.
“Our broker, Wish Farms, has done a fantastic job marketing our fruit, and their Fresh QC system has helped quality control,” says Calfee. “Once a picker harvests a flat, it has to pass our QC on the packing wagon in the field and ultimately the consumer gets to decide the quality of the berries.”
Consumers can comment on the good and bad of their strawberry purchase at FreshQC.com. This brings accountability for quality harvest to a higher level. “I’ve found that most times the consumer is right,” says Calfee. “Miss Jones in Boston might go to the website and say her strawberries tasted watery. And, sure enough, I go back and look and find those were picked the day after a big rain. It is not always the pickers fault, sometimes Mother Nature can cause problems, or it is a decision by management to harvest a field at an inopportune time.”

Topics: , , ,

Leave a Reply

One comment on “Innovation, Teamwork Help Ferris Farms Make The Grade

Berries Stories
The retractable roof and walls are controlled by a computer.
Berries
April 1, 2016
Strawberry Greenhouse Wins Sustainability Award
Unusual — for strawberries — British retractable roof greenhouse gets top honor from one of the largest retail chains. Read More
lorena strawberry commission chair 2015-16
Berries
March 31, 2016
New Report Highlights Farmworker Opportunities In California Strawberry Fields
Extensive labor standards, on-the-job training, and strong work ethic create upward mobility. Read More
Almost everybody favors sweet blueberries, but poor texture was the most mentioned turnoff, according to a University of Florida study.
Berries
March 31, 2016
Breeding For The Ideal Fresh Blueberry
While sweetness might be the top attraction for consumers, a new study found poor texture was their biggest turnoff. Read More
The effects of Phytophthora root rot on blueberry plants are clearly evident. (Photo credit: Jerry Weiland, USDA-ARS.)
Berries
March 30, 2016
Fighting Phytophthora In Blueberries
The authors of a recently published study have identified which blueberry cultivars you might want to consider planting in certain soils. Read More
Figure 2. A Joanna-4 is being pulled to harvest black currants. It is also a very efficient and cost-effective model for aronia growers. (Photo credit: WEREMCZUK FMR LTD. via Dean Mangrich)
Berries
March 29, 2016
Mechanization In The Berry Patch Can Make Your Job Easier
Mechanical harvesters could be more of a necessity than a luxury for many fruit growers. Read More
(Photo credit: USDA)
Berries
March 27, 2016
Use Common Sense Growing Berries That Are Food-Safe
Follow these tips to ensure your end product is wholesome and pathogen-free. Read More
Almond Leaf Sampling
Berries
March 21, 2016
FMC Fungicide Triggers New FRAC Group
Multi-site mode of action classified in new group by Fungicide Resistance Action Committee. Read More
The Latest
Berries
April 27, 2016
New Herbicide For Tomatoes, Strawberries
The product from Helm Agro US is registered to control more than 100 broadleaf, grass, and sedge species. Read More
Berries
April 19, 2016
Graduate Student Wins Prize For Space St…
Growth chambers could be the future of small fruit and vegetable production in space. Read More
Berries
April 16, 2016
California Strawberry Field Day On Tap I…
The annual Santa Maria Strawberry Field Day will cover pest management and shelf life studies. Read More
Berries
April 1, 2016
Strawberry Greenhouse Wins Sustainabilit…
Unusual — for strawberries — British retractable roof greenhouse gets top honor from one of the largest retail chains. Read More
Berries
March 31, 2016
New Report Highlights Farmworker Opportu…
Extensive labor standards, on-the-job training, and strong work ethic create upward mobility. Read More
Berries
March 31, 2016
Breeding For The Ideal Fresh Blueberry
While sweetness might be the top attraction for consumers, a new study found poor texture was their biggest turnoff. Read More
Berries
March 30, 2016
Fighting Phytophthora In Blueberries
The authors of a recently published study have identified which blueberry cultivars you might want to consider planting in certain soils. Read More
Berries
March 29, 2016
Mechanization In The Berry Patch Can Mak…
Mechanical harvesters could be more of a necessity than a luxury for many fruit growers. Read More
Berries
March 27, 2016
Use Common Sense Growing Berries That Ar…
Follow these tips to ensure your end product is wholesome and pathogen-free. Read More
Berries
March 21, 2016
FMC Fungicide Triggers New FRAC Group
Multi-site mode of action classified in new group by Fungicide Resistance Action Committee. Read More
Berries
March 15, 2016
Longtime American Fruit Grower Contribu…
National Raspberry & Blackberry Association recognizes Charlie O’Dell at annual conference in Williamsburg, VA. Read More
Berries
February 27, 2016
Tips To Step Up Your Strawberry Nutrient…
Learn how to maximize nutrient uptake to ensure strong, healthy yields in your strawberry crop. Read More
Berries
February 22, 2016
U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council Seeks No…
State member positions and alternatives sought to fill eight positions for a three-year term. Read More
Berries
February 19, 2016
El Niño’s Naughty Nature Causing Concern…
Growers gather to discuss this season’s lack of proper chill hours, learn about new varieties. Read More
Berries
February 12, 2016
Central Florida Farm Goes Vertical To Ca…
Hydro Harvest Farms in Ruskin has built a loyal following by serving and engaging the community. Read More
Apples & Pears
February 9, 2016
State Of The Fruit Industry 2016 [VIDEO]
According to an national poll of fruit growers, fruit industry suppliers, and researchers, the market is poised for growth in Read More
Berries
February 5, 2016
Moving Beyond Methyl Bromide With Biofun…
Editor’s note: University of California Farm Advisor Mark Bolda will present much more information on this topic at the Biocontrols Read More
Berries
January 27, 2016
Tips to Increase Yields and Improve Harv…
Removing old blueberry pruning stumps will help you extend the life of your berry plantings and hopefully make your job a little easier. Read More
[gravityform id="62" title="false" description="false"]