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.

To Market, To Market

Chuck Mohler, a.k.a. Sweet Corn Charlie, not only sells his sweet corn at his Millersburg, IN, farm, he also sells it, and other produce, at six satellite markets. When customers stop at his markets, they know they will get good, quality produce and they are going to be treated well when they visit, he says. “In addition, we try to make it fun.”

“We have customers buy our corn and then ship it around the country to friends and relatives,” says Mohler’s wife, Tami. In an effort to keep things simple, the Mohlers don’t use cash registers at their markets. “We add things up with pencil and paper,” she says.

Because Mohler and his wife have opted to turn back the clock when it comes to the technology used at the markets, they have employees go through a training program before waiting on customers. “We make sure our employees have good math skills and relate well to our customers,” says Mohler. “There are no calculators. This is the farm. Our people are an extension of the farm.”

When asked to offer some advice for other farm marketers, Mohler had two words: high quality. “Make sure what you offer is high quality,” he says. “Be farmers. Don’t be Wal-Mart. Be what you are: a farmer.”

“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

MarketingTomato Survey Tracks Consumer Trends
October 23, 2014
Results indicate how labeling matters in purchasing decisions. Read More
Farm ManagementBill Gates Uploading Lots Of Florida Farmland
October 22, 2014
Recent acquisition for the Microsoft icon involves more than 4,500 acres for nearly $28 million. Read More
FruitsAnnual Santa Maria Strawberry Meeting Approaching
October 22, 2014
The meeting will focus on IPM practices, weed management, updates on fumigation, and more. Read More
Farm ManagementUSDA Awards $18 Million To Stimulate Research And Development Innovation
October 22, 2014
The grants will provide resources to help small operations create breakthroughs, says USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack. Read More
CitrusEPA Launches Program To Reduce Pesticide Drift
October 22, 2014
The voluntary star-rating program aims to protect people, wildlife and the environment. Read More
CitrusMcCrometer Introduces New Ag Management Mobile App
October 22, 2014
The app displays data on weather, ET, soil moisture, water flow, and more. Read More
CitrusAgriculture, Interior Departments Partner To Measure Conservation Impacts On Water Quality
October 22, 2014
Goal is to provide science-based information for watershed wellness. Read More

The Latest

VegetablesEnza Zaden Field Day Highlights 25 Vegetable Varieties …
October 24, 2014
Seed breeder Enza Zaden hosted its 2014 variety showcase September 25th at the company’s research station in San Juan Bautista, California, with 250 Read More
Farm ManagementBill Gates Uploading Lots Of Florida Farmland
October 22, 2014
Recent acquisition for the Microsoft icon involves more than 4,500 acres for nearly $28 million. Read More
FruitsAnnual Santa Maria Strawberry Meeting Approaching
October 22, 2014
The meeting will focus on IPM practices, weed management, updates on fumigation, and more. Read More
Farm ManagementUSDA Awards $18 Million To Stimulate Research And Devel…
October 22, 2014
The grants will provide resources to help small operations create breakthroughs, says USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack. Read More
CitrusEPA Launches Program To Reduce Pesticide Drift
October 22, 2014
The voluntary star-rating program aims to protect people, wildlife and the environment. Read More
CitrusMcCrometer Introduces New Ag Management Mobile App
October 22, 2014
The app displays data on weather, ET, soil moisture, water flow, and more. Read More
CitrusAgriculture, Interior Departments Partner To Measure Co…
October 22, 2014
Goal is to provide science-based information for watershed wellness. Read More
CitrusIt’s Time For Young Farming Leaders To Engage [Op…
October 21, 2014
Florida Grower editor Frank Giles says there are capable and talented youths in the ag field ready to step up and take the reins. Read More
Farm ManagementResearchers Finding Biofuel Fits For Florida
October 21, 2014
Alternative crops identified that are suited for the state's climate and can easily be processed for power. Read More
CitrusBayer CropScience Launches New Award To Recognize Produ…
October 21, 2014
Award recognizes innovation that enhances the role of produce in creating better lives. Read More
CitrusReport: Major Food And Agriculture Employers Can’t Fi…
October 21, 2014
Current shortage of young farming professionals means ample employment opportunity for the next generation. Read More
CitrusGrowers Need To Take The Ball And Run — Now! [Opi…
October 18, 2014
Help yourself, your farm, and fellow colleagues by becoming more involved in your industry. Read More
CitrusDiversification Is King For Small Farm’s Success
October 16, 2014
Being flexible and adapting to the times critical for Central Florida's Vo-LaSalle Farms. Read More
Farm ManagementVidalia Onion Committee Reaches Younger Audience with D…
October 15, 2014
“V is for Vidalia” campaign focused on social and digital media outreach. Read More
VegetablesSakata Seed America To Debut “Tasty 10 By Sakata Coll…
October 15, 2014
The collection includes a new variety and will be launched at the PMA Fresh Summit Oct 17-19. Read More
Vegetables8 Blazing Hot Pepper Varieties [Slideshow]
October 15, 2014
Check out these 8 hot pepper varieties from the nation’s leading seed breeders and distributors. Read More
CitrusScientists Uproot Common “Superweed” Myths
October 15, 2014
A new fact sheet is available that explores the truth behind two fallacies.   Read More
CitrusUF/IFAS Joins In On Specialty Crop Block Grant Bonanza
October 15, 2014
Researchers partnering with FDACS and USDA on 24 separate projects to strengthen the produce market sector. Read More