When most people think of farmers, they envision an American Gothic scene – pitchfork and all. But California citrus farmers couldn’t be more different. We wear many hats (not just straw ones!). We’re environmentalists, engineers, scientists, entrepreneurs – but, most importantly, we’re family farmers!
No one embodies a family farmer more than first generation citrus grower Brian Neufeld. Brian, his wife and their three children farm citrus in Exeter, CA. Brian isn’t your stereotypical pitchfork-holding, overall-wearing farmer. He’s a college graduate who chose to build a future for himself and his family doing what he loves: working the land and feeding people around the world. Read on to learn more about Brian, a true California citrus grower!
What does a day’s work look like for you? I manage other people’s farms throughout several counties in California – Riverside, Tulare and Fresno – with multiple farms in each county I am responsible for. We grow all different kinds of citrus, both conventionally and organically. Some of them are family farms, and some are owned by private equity firms, so we have a wide diversity of what we grow and for whom we grow.
Why are you a citrus grower?
I got into the business by chance. I did not grow up in citrus; I grew up farming row crops. I didn’t know much about this business until 2009, when I moved to the San Joaquin Valley. I came into citrus because I wanted a new challenge in farming; there weren’t many young people involved in the industry. I recognized there was a need for the next generation to carry on, and that was really the allure of it all.
What is your favorite part about farming?
Before I started working in a citrus business, I assumed it was a “gentleman’s farming” gig – I learned pretty quickly that was definitely not the case. It may have been that way in history, but it’s changed – today there are different dynamics of what we need to grow to be successful farmers. I love the challenges of growing the right fruit for the right market and the right customers. I try to tailor specific crops to meet certain markets; it’s a hard thing to do and that’s what I enjoy. I enjoy the challenge.
What is the hardest part about farming?
The hardest thing about farming today is we, as farmers, as caretakers of the trees and the ground, are under constant pressure of change. We have to pay attention to what’s going on in our surroundings very carefully, and we need to watch what’s happening in water and regulation. We have to pay attention to the specifications for shipping fruits to different countries. We have to become part of the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act and implement it into our growing practices. Labor continues to be an area that’s ever-changing. The most difficult part of farming is not only trying to grow that crop to meet specifications, but to do it in a manner to meet all regulations and keep out of trouble. We’re farmers, but we also have to be diplomats.
How does your farm contribute to the local economy?
Citrus is beneficial for keeping the local economy strong. Probably the most important thing our farms do for our communities is create jobs. Farming citrus is a team effort. I have employees for pruning, harvesting and general care for the land.
We are growing food that people eat. We are growing a global product that is healthy. When I was a kid, it was a thrill to send a box of navel oranges to people in Nebraska, but now food is so abundant with transportation and shipping. When I see a piece of fruit and know it’s going to wind up on a shelf in South Korea, I know what I’m doing is protecting the economy in a global way, and it’s pretty cool to think about.
What’s the one thing you want your legislator to know?
We are a big contributor to local economies, cities, counties, California and around the globe. We are providing strong economic growth, and we need to continue to provide this to our local economies. State legislators need to recognize that the citrus industry is a necessity and that continuously pushing laws, prohibiting our industry, hinders the economy.
What are your goals for the future?
I hope to have a lifelong career growing citrus; I want to stay prosperous and leave my children a healthy farming business 20 years from now. I want to create a second generation of Neufeld citrus growers.