A Family Team

A Family Team
Change is inevitable. As we all know, nothing stays the same and that also applies to farming. Growing vegetables isn’t the same as it was 50 years ago. Equipment has changed, Mom and Pop grocery stores have just about disappeared, and the input costs involved in production are considerably higher than they were just a few years ago.

One of American Vegetable Grower’s Top 100 Growers in the North, Kludt Brothers in Kendall, NY, is an operation that has embraced change and has met with success for more than 50 years. This farm family has seen many things come and go over the years and has managed to thrive through it all.

In the 1950s, brothers Harold and Rudy Kludt formed Kludt Brothers Inc. The farm actually was started by Harold and Rudy’s father, Otto, as a dairy and grain farm.

Vegetables were later added to the mix and the farm is now run by cousins Gary and Mike Kludt with the help of their children. Today, three generations are working on the farm as Harold (Gary’s father) and Rudy (Mike’s father) are still involved in the day-to-day operations.

Welcoming Change

According to Gary Kludt, one of the biggest changes that occurred over the years is the amount of required paperwork. “The paperwork that goes along with our business today — compared to even 15 or 20 years ago — has increased significantly and we have to be more efficient.�

Working Toward Success

Gary Kludt, one of the owners of Kludt Brothers Inc., says that to meet with success in the farming business, several points need to be considered.

1. Diversification is key. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.
2. Hire good employees, and keep them.
3. Take care of your equipment. Perform general maintenance on a consistent basis. It helps if you can do the maintenance yourself.
4. Before you plant your crop, know who is purchasing your crop.
5. Stay on the cutting edge of new technology. Make it your business to investigate the latest products that may help increase efficiencies.

One of the ways he is working on efficiencies is to update existing equipment and keep up with changes in technology. According to Gary, understanding and using available technology is to a grower’s advantage. Not all of this new technology works in every situation, but he says it is best for all farms to look for the best value for their money.

Mike Kludt says in the last five years, GPS technology has provided increased efficiencies. Specifically, he says, the farm now can precisely apply herbicides and fertilizers to crops. “Now there is no overlap and the application process is much quicker,� explains Mike. “All of the machinery we use is computerized and we can determine how fuel efficient we really are.�

Today, the operation includes a total of 7,000 acres. About 4,000 of those acres are dedicated to vegetables mainly grown for processing. The list of crops includes beans, sweet corn, cabbage, cucumbers, squash, carrots, peas, and beets. Kludt Brothers produce for Allen Inc. (formerly Birds Eye), Seneca Foods, and Great Lakes Kraut Company — just to name a few. The remaining acreage is used to grow field corn and wheat.

The 7,000 acres is a far cry from the number of acres the farm started with back in the ‘50s. Harold and Rudy began farming on 150 acres and, over the years, expanded, acquiring additional land whenever it became available.

“We had to become a larger farm in order to survive,� says Rudy. “We had to diversify and grow vegetables. �

Immigration Irritation

Another change the farm has had to come to terms with is the labor and immigration situation. As no agreement has been reached by Congress, and some of the Kludts’ crops require hand harvesting, the farm decided to use H-2A workers this past growing season. According to Gary, it has been a tough road to travel.

The farm now hires about 20 laborers before harvest using the H-2A program. The workers came during the third week of May and are kept busy through harvest. “Because of the immigration problems that we are having in the country right now, we are trying to keep a step ahead of the immigration situation and make sure that everyone we have here on the farm is here legally,� Gary explains.

Adding more work to their plates, Gary says being in compliance with the H-2A program is a time-consuming process, requiring additional paperwork. “It just doesn’t happen within a month,� he explains. “It took us three months to get everything right. It wasn’t easy.�

Before the farm opted to go with the H-2A program, some of its help had come from Hispanic populations in Florida and Texas. According to Gary, he was using the same group of people every year. He decided to discontinue their employment because he had some concerns about the paperwork they would supply.

“If the paperwork didn’t match immigration documents, the workers would be taken away,� he explains. “Then you are left with no help because the workers aren’t just gone for a day, they are gone for weeks. It is a huge problem if you have to do packing or picking at a specific time. I’ve seen this happen to other growers in the area.�

So what are the labor plans for next year? Gary says he will use H-2A workers again. “I don’t have a choice,� he says. “There is no interest from any one else in the area to do this kind of hand labor.�

Even though labor has been an issue, at least disease pressure has not. The farm, however, did experience some cucumber blight and had to deal with some blight issues in its bean crop.

Originally a dairy and grain farm started by Rudy (left) and Harold Kludt’s father, Otto, the operation later added vegetables. Rudy and Harold formed Kludt Brothers, Inc. in 1953.
Originally a dairy and grain farm started by Rudy (left)
and Harold Kludt’s father, Otto, the operation later added
vegetables. Rudy and Harold formed Kludt Brothers,
Inc. in 1953.

“We sprayed right away for the cucumber blight and that brought back most of the cucumber plants,� Gary says. For the string beans, we didn’t lose the crop, either. It just didn’t yield like it should. Every year is different and it’s always something that must be dealt with,� he adds.

The High Cost Of Doing Business

With high input costs also impacting the bottom line, growers are faced with a dilemma because, in most cases, they can’t pass much of the cost onto consumers or processors. According to Gary, he tries to pay attention to pricing and purchase fuels, fertilizers, and crop protectants when they are at their lowest price. Four months ago, he was able to buy potash for $200 a ton and in August it was $300 a ton.

According to Mike, high input costs are part of the reason the farm has become more efficient with how it applies crop nutrients.

“Our crops are contracted so we can’t recoup the money we spend on inputs,� Gary explains. “The only way to get ahead is if you get a good yield. We have to rely on Mother Nature to give us the proper rains — and not too much rain.�

When the grain market increases, however, Gary says the vegetable market increases as well. “This past winter, the price of field corn went up and that pushed everything up,� he says.

Running Smoothly

Because the farm is always looking for ways to reduce its expenses, it makes sense for the Kludts to continue to fix and retrofit their own equipment.

“The day we are done harvesting we go back into the shop to work on the equipment,� Gary explains. “We bring every piece of equipment through the shop so it will be ready for use the following spring.

“We had a fire in 1984 and we had a new shop built at that time,� he continues. “Now it is time to expand the shop. Back in 1984, the facility was 25 feet wide and some of the equipment was 20 to 30 feet wide. Today, things are 30 to 45 feet wide. Because we can’t get as much machinery in the same building, we are expanding.�

With expanding the machine shop in the near future, where would Gary like  to see Kludt Brothers down the line? To sum up, he’d like to see it continue to be run by his family.

His son, Matt, 28, works on the farm and his daughter, Lisa, works in the office with their mother Linda. Matt and Lisa’s spouses also help with the farming operation. Russ, Lisa’s husband, works in the fields and Jill, Matt’s wife, helps in the office.

Matt, however, has been working on the farm for years. “We couldn’t keep him away from it,� says Gary. “He was always around when we were working.�

“It’s all I’ve ever done,� Matt adds. “I’ve always found it to be enjoyable. I’ve also learned that to be successful in this business you have to communicate well, and you have to have fun.�

Joining Gary’s family in the operation are Mike’s two sons: Andrew, a freshman in college who plans to return to the farm upon graduation, and Phillip, a junior in high school.

What Gary would like to see most, however, is a positive forecast for the industry overall. “I want these kids to have a reason to keep farming,� he says. “They need something to look forward to every year.

“Hopefully, the vegetable market will increase in price so they will make some money,� he says. “The kids on our farm are very energetic and they want to do different things, but it is hard to start something new because input costs are so high.�

Leave a Reply

One comment on “A Family Team

  1. Hello,we have to be related with a surname like we have. Would like to meet you folks sometime or if you want to come south you would be very welcome. Let me know…

    Larry R. Kludt

Vegetables Stories
Brussels Sprout on a fork
Citrus
February 16, 2017
Food Trends Driving Growth Opportunities for Florida Farmers
More niche markets emerging for growers to give consumers what they want and need. Read More
Vegetables
February 15, 2017
Tanimura & Antle Will Now Be Partially Employee-Owned
The third-generation farming company takes employee commitment to the next level Read More
Business Planning
February 15, 2017
Are Retailers Your New Competition?
Target will be following a trend that is already under way in Germany and China: offering shoppers greens that are grown right there in the store. Read More
Farm Management
February 14, 2017
Californians Holding Breath as More Storms Loom
Nearly 200,000 people evacuated below nation’s tallest dam; even growers have had enough for now. Read More
Wish Farms mega strawberry donation
Berries
February 14, 2017
Wish Farms Shows Love With Super-Sized Strawberry Donation
More than 4,000 pounds of locally grown produce from Central Florida farming operation goes to help feed needy families in the Tampa area. Read More
farm labor pic for web
Fruits
February 10, 2017
Immigration Enforcement Warning Issued by Western Growers
Association advises members to prepare for Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids in wake of Trump’s executive order. Read More
Florida Beauty strawberries
Berries
February 10, 2017
New Florida Strawberry Shaping up to Be a Thing of Beauty
Unique variety, a collaboration between UF/IFAS and an Australian scientist, still in its early stages. Read More
The Latest
Citrus
February 17, 2017
How Precision Agriculture Is Helping Far…
New Florida-based organization is seeking to break down barriers between farmers and shoppers by providing a platform to not only show what it is grown, but how it's grown. Read More
Equipment
February 17, 2017
Wanted: Tech Innovators for Drone Challe…
Land O'Lakes Prize offers up $150,000 to help make drones more useable for farmers Read More
Fruits
February 17, 2017
Are Drones the Future of Pollination?
Researchers in Japan have turned drones into robot bees as artificial pollinators. Read More
Citrus
February 16, 2017
Food Trends Driving Growth Opportunities…
More niche markets emerging for growers to give consumers what they want and need. Read More
Vegetables
February 15, 2017
Tanimura & Antle Will Now Be Partial…
The third-generation farming company takes employee commitment to the next level Read More
Business Planning
February 15, 2017
Are Retailers Your New Competition?
Target will be following a trend that is already under way in Germany and China: offering shoppers greens that are grown right there in the store. Read More
Farm Management
February 14, 2017
Californians Holding Breath as More Stor…
Nearly 200,000 people evacuated below nation’s tallest dam; even growers have had enough for now. Read More
Fruits
February 10, 2017
Immigration Enforcement Warning Issued b…
Association advises members to prepare for Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids in wake of Trump’s executive order. Read More
Fruits
February 6, 2017
Organic Trade Association Rallies Suppor…
Group is encouraging consumers to tell USDA they support an organic research and promotion program. Read More
Citrus
February 5, 2017
New Product Helps Bees Brush Off Mites
A British company developed Bee Gym, distributed by Vita Ltd. Read More
Citrus
February 2, 2017
Florida Seeking to Fete More Eco-Innovat…
Nominations open for the Commissioner’s Agricultural-Environmental Award. Read More
Vegetables
February 2, 2017
Meet the New Editor of American Vegetabl…
Carol Miller leads American Vegetable Grower forward as our business – and yours – evolve with the times. Read More
Tomatoes
February 1, 2017
Lipman Takes Home Virginia Clean Water F…
The Florida-based tomato producer has received the 2016 Virginia Clean Water Farm Award in the Grand Basin district. Read More
Irrigation
January 31, 2017
Use Water Pressure to Get More from Your…
Pressure management is key to successfully operating drip systems because getting the pressure right will assure that you are getting the water right. Read More
Crop Protection
January 31, 2017
Defend Your Cole Crops from Three Critic…
Learn symptoms, causal agents, and control measures for black rot, Alternaria leaf spot, and downy mildew. Read More
Vegetables
January 31, 2017
Take a Look at Our Top Graphics from the…
Through our analysis of American Vegetable Grower's 2017 State of the Vegetable Industry, we learned a great deal about your viewpoints, how issues change from one side of country to the other, and even learned a little more about you, the grower. Read More
Citrus
January 30, 2017
List of Best College Farms Released
Website evaluated farms on sustainability factors, community programming, and courses available at the university or college farm, not just in the classroom. Read More
Equipment
January 30, 2017
The Latest Developments in Sprayer Tech…
Cornell University’s Andrew Landers offers details on the latest advancements in sprayers, tips to reduce drift, and how to choose the proper nozzle. Read More