In preparing for this month’s cover story on our Apple Grower of the Year, Mike Taylor, I had the opportunity to spend a good deal of personal time with him. We spent a full day driving through some of Washington’s prime apple growing regions. Along the way he would point out some of the newer plantings, while offering bits of history on the region, such as where the Mathison family first settled on Stemilt Hill, and how the Columbia River has been the lifeblood for the fruit industry.
As someone who could always use more time out of the office and in the field, it was certainly an educational experience for me. Not only did I come away from this experience more informed about why the area is known as the world’s apple capital, I also realized why, in hindsight, Taylor is so deserving of our selection as the Apple Grower of the Year for 2010.
Taylor is clearly driven by his desire to view the apple industry not as it stands today, but where it will, and should, be in the next five to 10 years and beyond. He’s always looking ahead, and striving to increase his knowledge of the apple and fruit market as a way of forecasting consumer demand.
It may be true that Taylor is fortunate to live and grow in a location that is home to some of the apple industry’s most innovative leaders when it comes to growing, packing, marketing, and research. But as he states in his story, “Get outside of yourself and your area and see what others are doing. You may find some pearls of wisdom to apply to your own business.”
Rules Of The Road
There are several principles that Taylor lives by that have helped him build a successful company. Any grower would be wise to follow some of his observations mentioned here; they apply to you regardless of where you are, the crops you grow, and how many acres you own.
• Make sure your first decision is a good one. Every decision you make, whether it’s adding a new variety or raising prices at your farm stand, is done so with an eye toward the future. If you choose wisely the first time, you won’t have to revisit your mistake down the road.
• Focus on flavor, and try to align the product you produce with consumer demand. Farm marketers may be more well-suited to do this than anyone, as they have the advantage of first-hand communication with their customers every day.
• Always ask yourself, what is my competitive advantage in the current landscape? How do I fit in? What am I going to focus on in order to maximize my results? The answers may be different, but they will help you define where your business needs to be down the road, and how you plan on getting there.
• Focus on better acreage, not more acreage. For some growers, this might mean diversifying your crop, either with newer varieties to replace older ones, or adding crops you may not have considered before. Always be searching for ways to maximize the potential of the acreage you already have.
• Execute on the fundamentals first and foremost. This is perhaps the most critical rule that every grower should follow. It’s certainly important to be thinking ahead, and trying to determine where you can be more innovative and what new ideas you might try. But if you’re not keeping up with the basics in fruit production, you’re setting yourself up to fail.
Later this month, we will be presenting the Apple Grower of the Year award to Taylor during the U.S. Apple Association’s Apple Crop Outlook and Marketing Conference in Chicago. Those in attendance will get a first-hand look at Taylor’s dedication to his business and the entire industry. It’s a model worth following.
A Closing Thought
I wanted to end this column by acknowledging the passing of one of agriculture’s true pioneers. John Inman, an agricultural engineer and farm advisor emeritus with Monterey County (CA) Agricultural Extension, passed away suddenly in June at the age of 69. If you’ve attended any of the large equipment shows in the past 30 years, such as the World Ag Expo or the International Agricultural Machinery Manufacturers Exhibition in Bologna, Italy, chances are you’ve either seen or met John checking out the new equipment on display. He worked with countless growers offering advice on engines and hitches, and was not afraid to voice his thoughts on controversial issues such as emission standards, trucking regulations, and food safety.
You can read more about John’s legacy here, but in the meantime, our staff offers our thoughts and prayers to the Inman family.