Early Planting Increases Profits

The rain may have dampened the ground but it certainly had no impact on Chuck Mohler’s spirits the day AVG came to visit his farming operation in Millersburg, IN. Aptly called Sweet Corn Charlie’s, the 100-acre farm has a rustic feel to it, with a red barn housing the produce stand in the foreground and a field of sweet corn behind it.

But don’t be fooled by the country flavor of the farm. Behind this rural charm is a man who has made it his business to learn advanced growing practices so he can offer consumers top-quality vegetables and melons early in the season.

Mohler didn’t start out in the vegetable growing business. He was introduced to farming via his father Bud’s dairy farm. The two later opted out of the dairy business, and, in 1986, Mohler began producing vegetables. Now his fresh produce is sold at six satellite markets.

To help him produce crops, Mohler enlists the help of his family. In addition to his wife Tami, his sons, Sammy, 14, and Danny, 12, help out on the farm.

The Early Bird

Willing to share the secret of his success, Mohler has found a way to keep the local folks coming back for more. So how does he do it? The answer is simple: He offers fresh, high-quality produce in his markets before other area growers do. How he is able to produce crops very early in the season, however, is far from simple.

“We are the doctors of early,� Mohler explains. “We do things before we have to.� To bring product to market before the competition does, Mohler employs the latest production technology that he has learned from taking annual trips to Israel.

He made his first visit back in 1982 and saw vegetable production done quite differently from the way it is done in the U.S. “I saw things in Israel that I can employ on my farm and get an advantage in this business,� he says.

What exactly did he see? Things like low tunnels, drip irrigation, the use of plastic mulch, and fertigation — just to name a few.

Keep It Simple

Most of the techniques Mohler employs, however, are not done with lots of technical and expensive equipment. In addition, he had to learn how to adapt what he learned in Israel to the climate in North America.

“We have more disease pressure here with rainy summers and cold winters,� he says. “The Israelis have to deal with rainy winters and hot, dry summers.�
When he decided to grow vegetables, Mohler knew changes were coming. “I knew that if I was going to farm, I was going to have to do something different,� he explains. “I thought that growing vegetables using some Israeli technology might work.�

By 1987, Mohler was using low tunnels to get a jump on the growing season. He typically begins production in April, before anyone else in the area is planting. In the low tunnels, Mohler grows zucchini, cantaloupe, watermelon, cucumbers, cabbage, lettuce, and kohlrabi.

He opted to put up his first high tunnel in 1990. Now, he uses high tunnels for tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, onions, and strawberries.

“When we put up the first high tunnel,� says Mohler, “I told my father, ‘Today, I’m doing this as an experiment. I don’t need to do this to survive, but 10 years from now, if I don’t do this, I won’t survive. So I must start to learn now.’�

Also in 1990, Mohler began transplanting sweet corn. He now grows 7 acres of transplanted sweet corn that he starts in the greenhouse and then covers with a low tunnel.

“People often ask me if we transplant all that corn by hand,� he says. “I laugh and say, ‘No,’ we use Speedling flats and a carousel planter. I think that I was one of the first people in the U.S. to transplant sweet corn,� he adds.

In addition to the 7 acres, Mohler seeds and covers 20 additional acres. For his efforts, he sells the sweet corn at a premium: $6 per dozen. “We were afraid to advertise too much, because we didn’t know if our supply could keep up with the demand.

“We pick the best and leave the rest,� Mohler continues. “We pick by hand and put the corn on a conveyor that we purchased in 1989 from Harvest Products in Michigan.�

Another technique he learned about from the Israelis is grafting. Mohler began grafting his own watermelon about three years ago. Recently, he has started grafting tomatoes and peppers.

The first time Mohler grafted plants, he started out small with just 200.

He now produces seedless watermelons that weigh between 22 and 30 pounds. He purchases the rootstock seed from Seminis Inc. to produce melons that are not only rather large, they also have improved fruit quality and plant vigor.

Mohler’s son Sammy is producing giant watermelon, which are also grafted, weighing between 180 and 199 pounds. Sammy typically sells these watermelon on Labor Day weekend.

In Northern Indiana, Mohler begins harvesting the grafted melons in mid-July and continues to pick the same plant until late September when frost comes. Even then, he says, he sees baby watermelon just starting.

“The Israelis did not invent grafting, but they certainly have taken it to a new level,� Mohler states. “Amit Dagon, president of Histil Nurseries, Ltd., in Israel, told me that they are the ‘high tech of low tech,’ and with that I would certainly agree. They understand the light, temperature, water, fertilizer, and timing better than anyone else, because they are producing a superior grafted plant.�

Down The Line

A family business all the way, Mohler hopes to continue to work with his two sons. Sammy really enjoys farming in addition to being a beekeeper and taking flight lessons, he says. His younger son, Danny, likes designing, and last fall, he helped engineer the construction of a new cooler.

What it all comes down to, however, is a love of farming. “We depend upon honesty and a love for what we do to be the base for how we conduct our business,� he explains. “We borrowed no money for this farming operation. We expanded as God provided. If you deal with a small amount of money, you make small blunders. Small mistakes are easier to recover from.�

That’s a lesson we all can learn.

Leave a Reply

2 comments on “Early Planting Increases Profits

  1. I am interested in purchasing produce from Sweetcorn Charlies. What is the closest satellite to South Bend, Indiana.

    Thank you,

    DDL

  2. I am interested in purchasing produce from Sweetcorn Charlies. What is the closest satellite to South Bend, Indiana.

    Thank you,

    DDL

Vegetables Stories
Inside the Horticulture field tour wagon at the 2016 Florida Ag Expo
Florida Ag Expo
September 21, 2017
Everything You Need to Know About the 2017 Florida Ag Expo
More education choices, flexible field tours, and networking opportunities to provide an enhanced attendee experience. Read More
Whiteflies on a leaf
Insect Control
September 20, 2017
Whitefly Troubles Go From Bad to Worse in Florida
Growers should have a plan for managing the pest from beginning to end of season. Read More
Grower Achievement Award
September 20, 2017
Ask Yourself: What Can I Do to Make Things Better?
Alan Jones, this year's recipient of American Vegetable Grower magazine's Grower Achievement Award, invites all growers to do what he does: Look in the mirror and ask," What can I do to make a positive impact on our industry?" Read More
Citrus
September 19, 2017
Precision in Specialty Crops Gains Momentum
Here are some of the key drivers that may transform your farm in the years ahead. Read More
Fruits
September 19, 2017
EPA Mulls Restricting Dicamba Use
Proposal is a part of agency’s focus on reducing herbicide injury in vulnerable crops. Read More
Neo 1 hops at UF/IFAS MREC
Citrus
September 19, 2017
Hopes High for Hops Fresh From Florida
When it comes to alternative crop solutions, something good is brewing in the Sunshine State. Do you have what it takes to tap in? Read More
Winter melon damage from Hurricane Irma in Elkton, FL
Citrus
September 15, 2017
Help Extended to Hurricane-Weary Farmers Dealing With Disaster
USDA chief grants extra time and special procedures to document and file claims. Read More
raindrops in standing water
Citrus
September 13, 2017
New Guidance on FSMA Ag Water Compliance, Water Testing, and Farm Inspections Announced
FDA issued a rule to extend compliance dates for agricultural water and announced a start date for farm inspections. Read More
Packinghouse damage from Irma at SWFREC in Immokalee
Citrus
September 13, 2017
Florida Farmers Digging out From Impacts of Irma
Damage reports starting to flood in from the field following monster storm, and it's not pretty. Read More
Tomatoes
September 13, 2017
550 Pounds of Tomatoes Stolen from Massachusetts Farm
Community farm in Waltham, MA, has been hit by a thief three years running. Read More
Farm Management
September 10, 2017
$3 Million Available to Train Future Agriculture Leaders
There are a lot more jobs being created than there are graduates with bachelor’s or higher degrees who can fill them. Read More
Citrus
September 7, 2017
Summer News Stories that Have Growers Talking
Farming has been in the media spotlight this year. I asked each of this month’s columnists and contributors for their Read More
Citrus
September 7, 2017
Whose Sustainable Standard Wins?
Retailers’ race to win the most sustainable produce prize leaves growers trying to keep up with fast-developing demands. Read More
Business Planning
September 7, 2017
Make Failure Your Secret Weapon [Opinion]
Something this year's winner of American Vegetable Grower magazine’s Grower Achievement Award, Alan Jones, said really highlights why he and his wife, Leslie, are doing so well with their farm: “To be innovative, you have to be willing to fail.” Read More
Citrus
September 7, 2017
Improving Water Management: Can Silicon Valley Help?
Though very much-needed, technological solutions must be cost-effective and industry appropriate. Read More
The Latest
Citrus
September 22, 2017
Water Management Concerns Flowing in Flo…
Efforts mounted and executed to move gallons by the ton to protect property. Read More
Citrus
September 22, 2017
When it Comes to Growing, Florida Farmer…
Let's raise a toast to the bold producers and researchers who are taking our industry beyond previously perceived crop viability boundaries to places once figured forbidden. Read More
Citrus
September 21, 2017
Hurricane Relief Fund Launched for Flori…
Money raised will benefit Redlands Christian Migrant Association’s efforts to aid families in need. Read More
Florida Ag Expo
September 21, 2017
Everything You Need to Know About the 20…
More education choices, flexible field tours, and networking opportunities to provide an enhanced attendee experience. Read More
Insect Control
September 20, 2017
Whitefly Troubles Go From Bad to Worse i…
Growers should have a plan for managing the pest from beginning to end of season. Read More
Grower Achievement Award
September 20, 2017
Ask Yourself: What Can I Do to Make Thin…
Alan Jones, this year's recipient of American Vegetable Grower magazine's Grower Achievement Award, invites all growers to do what he does: Look in the mirror and ask," What can I do to make a positive impact on our industry?" Read More
Citrus
September 19, 2017
Precision in Specialty Crops Gains Momen…
Here are some of the key drivers that may transform your farm in the years ahead. Read More
Fruits
September 19, 2017
EPA Mulls Restricting Dicamba Use
Proposal is a part of agency’s focus on reducing herbicide injury in vulnerable crops. Read More
Citrus
September 19, 2017
Hopes High for Hops Fresh From Florida
When it comes to alternative crop solutions, something good is brewing in the Sunshine State. Do you have what it takes to tap in? Read More
Citrus
September 15, 2017
Help Extended to Hurricane-Weary Farmers…
USDA chief grants extra time and special procedures to document and file claims. Read More
Citrus
September 13, 2017
New Guidance on FSMA Ag Water Compliance…
FDA issued a rule to extend compliance dates for agricultural water and announced a start date for farm inspections. Read More
Citrus
September 13, 2017
Florida Farmers Digging out From Impacts…
Damage reports starting to flood in from the field following monster storm, and it's not pretty. Read More
Tomatoes
September 13, 2017
550 Pounds of Tomatoes Stolen from Massa…
Community farm in Waltham, MA, has been hit by a thief three years running. Read More
Farm Management
September 10, 2017
$3 Million Available to Train Future Agr…
There are a lot more jobs being created than there are graduates with bachelor’s or higher degrees who can fill them. Read More
Citrus
September 7, 2017
Summer News Stories that Have Growers Ta…
Farming has been in the media spotlight this year. I asked each of this month’s columnists and contributors for their Read More
Citrus
September 7, 2017
Whose Sustainable Standard Wins?
Retailers’ race to win the most sustainable produce prize leaves growers trying to keep up with fast-developing demands. Read More
Business Planning
September 7, 2017
Make Failure Your Secret Weapon [Opinion…
Something this year's winner of American Vegetable Grower magazine’s Grower Achievement Award, Alan Jones, said really highlights why he and his wife, Leslie, are doing so well with their farm: “To be innovative, you have to be willing to fail.” Read More
Citrus
September 7, 2017
Improving Water Management: Can Silicon …
Though very much-needed, technological solutions must be cost-effective and industry appropriate. Read More