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
Stemphylium leaf spot of spinach
Disease Control
January 20, 2017
Don’t Let Stemphylium Leaf Spot Stump Your Spinach Crop
Learn how to identify, the survival and spread, as well as management methods for this vegetable disease. Read More
Late blight shown in a tomato
Disease Control
January 19, 2017
Clues Found to Block Late Blight’s Blitz on Potatoes, Tomatoes
With food security at stake, breakthrough in genetic research could help prevent more strains of the deadly pathogen from entering the U.S. Read More
Sonny Perdue
Citrus
January 19, 2017
Trump Taps Sonny Perdue for Secretary of Agriculture Position
Ag leaders applaud pick to head up USDA. Read More
Citrus
January 19, 2017
New York Representatives Introduce Bill to Move H-2A from Department of Labor to Department of Agriculture
Legislators say the move aligns the program in the department to better fit the needs of agriculture businesses. Read More
Freeze protected peach trees in Florida
Citrus
January 19, 2017
New Technology Could Take Weather Intel to the Extreme for Farmers
Scientists aiming to make difficult climate-based production decisions easier for growers. Read More
Fruits
January 19, 2017
Funding Available to Improve Ag, Food Sciences Facilities at Land Grant Schools
USDA announces $18.9 million for ag education at 1890s land-grant colleges and universities. Read More
the sunset on a hot day
Citrus
January 18, 2017
NASA, NOAA Concur 2016 Was World’s Warmest Year on Record
For the third time in three years, the heat gets turned up on surface temperature statistics. Read More
The Latest
More Vegetables
January 23, 2017
California Garlic Grower to Raise Minimu…
Christopher Ranch commits to $15 per hour minimum wages for all employees by 2018. Read More
Cucurbits
January 20, 2017
Renowned Researcher Margaret McGrath Rec…
A plant pathologist, McGrath’s expertise has helped both organic and conventional growers fight late blight, downy mildew, and others.  Read More
Citrus
January 20, 2017
Farming Will Always Have a Place in Flor…
Growers are resilient and agriculture will survive in our state and elsewhere. It has to, if we want food on our plates. Read More
Citrus
January 19, 2017
Trump Taps Sonny Perdue for Secretary of…
Ag leaders applaud pick to head up USDA. Read More
Citrus
January 19, 2017
New York Representatives Introduce Bill …
Legislators say the move aligns the program in the department to better fit the needs of agriculture businesses. Read More
Citrus
January 19, 2017
New Technology Could Take Weather Intel …
Scientists aiming to make difficult climate-based production decisions easier for growers. Read More
Fruits
January 19, 2017
Funding Available to Improve Ag, Food Sc…
USDA announces $18.9 million for ag education at 1890s land-grant colleges and universities. Read More
Citrus
January 18, 2017
NASA, NOAA Concur 2016 Was World’s Warme…
For the third time in three years, the heat gets turned up on surface temperature statistics. Read More
Vegetables
January 18, 2017
Southwest Growers Are Best Prepared for …
Almost half of all Southwest operations are grooming its next generation of leadership — an alarmingly low statistic, but one that is the highest in the country, according to American Vegetable Grower magazine's 2017 State of the Vegetable Industry survey. Read More
Vegetables
January 18, 2017
The Midwest Is Nurturing the Next Genera…
It has more young businesses, percentage wise, than other regions: 39% of responding businesses are less than 10 years old. Read More
Vegetables
January 18, 2017
The West Had the Highest Increase in U.S…
The West not only has the largest vegetable operations, it also saw the strongest growth in production in the U.S., according to American Vegetable Grower magazine's 2017 State of the Vegetable Industry survey. Read More
Vegetables
January 18, 2017
One in Five Southeast Growers Use H-2A
American Vegetable Grower magazine's 2017 State of the Vegetable Industry survey revealed quite a few qualities about the Southeast that may surprise you, including it being more likely to use H-2A than other regions. Read More
Vegetables
January 18, 2017
The 2016 Drought Is Having a Big Impact …
The 2017 State of the Vegetable Industry gave us insight into each region of the U.S. Sifting through the data, we flagged those responses that were markedly higher or lower than other regions. Responses from Northeast growers made it clear that the 2016 drought had taken a toll. Read More
Vegetables
January 18, 2017
Mississippi Greenhouse Tomato Short Cour…
Online registration is now open for the Greenhouse Tomato Short Course, which takes place March 7-8 in Raymond, MS. This Read More
Farm Management
January 17, 2017
Will Big Data Yield Big Returns for Farm…
Modern tools of hort tech are ripe to inspire the next generation of productivity and profitability. Read More
Citrus
January 17, 2017
The Future of Agriculture is in Your Han…
Can farmers actually reach the point of having too much information? Read More
Equipment
January 17, 2017
Agricultural Robots No Longer Science Fi…
New automated technologies could help specialty crop growers deal with labor crisis. Read More
Citrus
January 16, 2017
First Bee in Continental U.S. Listed as …
Rusty patched bumble bee receives protection from activities that could cause it to go extinct. Read More